In the April 2014 edition of Educational Leadership, renowned reading and writing teacher Kelly Gallagher writes about the power of mentor texts and how teachers can use them to help students improve their writing. The article, entitled “Making the Most of Mentor Texts,” begins with an anecdote about how George Lucas and his special effects team solved the issue of how to make the space battles in the Star Wars films more realistic. To do so, they relied on airborne dogfight footage from WWII documentaries as their ‘mentor text.’ Gallagher goes on to say that this process — the act of watching and analyzing someone or something that already encapsulates the outcomes that we want — is “how we learn how to do something unfamiliar.”
However, Gallagher also notes (and is echoed by many others, including Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Donald Graves, and Lucy Calkins) that when it comes to student writing, we can’t just hand students a mentor text and expect them to know how best to imitate it. We have to guide them through the process of analyzing those texts multiple times if we want to see the true power that they can have.
On August 25, the Chippewa River Writing Project welcomed Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein — authors of They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing — to Central Michigan University. During the morning, they led a roundtable discussion of approximately twenty-five CMU graduate assistants and writing/writing intensive faculty. After lunch, they led a similar roundtable for approximately fifteen teachers 6-12 who represented school districts across the lower peninsula. From 3:30 – 5:00, Graff & Birkenstein gave a public talk in French Auditorium of the EHS Building, followed by an informal reception.
What follows is Liz Brockman’s introduction to Graff and Birkenstein’s public talk:
My name is Elizabeth Brockman, and I’m an English professor here at Central Michigan University and a founding co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project. On behalf of the writing project, I’d like to begin by thanking our partners in the sponsorship of today’s event: the CMU Writing Center, the College of Humanities and Social & Behavioral Sciences, the College of Education and Human Services, and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.Continue reading A Visit with Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein→
I was reminded again this past summer that Michigan is truly one of the most beautiful places on this planet …
At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, a unique opportunity was presented to my science colleague Jeremy Winsor and me to apply for a week-long science literacy professional development at the Central Michigan University Biological Center located on Beaver Island, Michigan. The event was led by the Center for Excellence in STEM Education and the Chippewa River Writing Project. Several schools from the middle of the state were represented by a team of teachers looking to improve the relationship between science and literacy within their school districts. It was a week promising instruction on how to implement reading and writing strategies into the already complex subject of science.
Fast forward several months to August, and my colleague and I were watching the waves crash on the side of the Beaver Island Ferry while we crossed Lake Michigan along with colleagues from other schools. Schools included: Fulton, Central Montcalm, St. Louis, Carlton, Saginaw Township, and Bridgeport. Though all of us had a basic idea of what we were about to do for the week, we weren’t prepared to begin what would be one of the best professional development experiences of our teaching careers.Continue reading The Beaver Island Institute 2016→
As a second grade teacher, I always started out the year reading the book, Call Me Marianne by Jen Bryant. In this book, a young boy named Jonathan notices an eccentric woman, Marianne, dressed in black cape and tri-cornered felt hat, carrying a notebook, and studying a newspaper article written about the new lizard exhibit at the zoo. When he returns her lost hat, she is “scribbling” in her notebook at the Reptile House. Intrigued, he asks her if she is a scientist. She replies that she is a poet, “watching and noticing details that other people miss,” recording those details through sketches and phrases in her notebook. She hands Jonathan his own notebook so he can sketch, record, and write about details he notices that other people might miss. When the story ends, I take that moment to be like Marianne, passing out brand new writer’s notebooks for us to begin our noticing of daily details that others might not take note of: the smells from the cafeteria, the sounds on the playground or how body language reveals feelings. I teach mini lessons on where to find ideas for personal writing. When read alouds spark memories, we write about it in our writer’s notebooks. We discuss our favorite authors and what their inspiration might have been for their books so that we too might find writing inspiration from our lives.
A few days later, I hand out another new notebook and introduce reader’s notebooks. This is our spot to explore stories, informational articles, and our thinking about reading: a place where we draw and write about characters and their connection to other characters, text-to-text connections, responses to what we read, as well as a plethora of other entries. That is where the confusion begins. Even though the notebooks are different colors and are clearly labeled WRITER’S NOTEBOOK or READER’S NOTEBOOK, someone always comes to the meeting area with the wrong notebook, even after I clearly said, “Your reader’s notebook, the green one,” multiple times. Because of this and my new role as an elementary instructional coach, I wonder is there a need for different notebooks, a writer’s notebook to collect ideas and play with mini lessons about writing craft, a reader’s notebook to notice author’s craft and to respond to reading, a science journal to observe, hypothesize and write lab reports, or could the same notebook be used for these different genres of writing? Continue reading Writer’s Notebooks: A tool that is as individual as the writer→
My students didn’t consider themselves readers until I began using audiobooks. Before audiobooks, nothing was more difficult for my students than sitting down with a book and trying to make the letters into words and the words into sentences that meant something to them. All of my students have disabilities and many are bilingual (but not biliterate). Though they can readily blend in with their general education peers in social situations, reading is an entirely different matter. When it comes to simple decoding of words on a page, my students are stumped, but it’s exacerbated by their complete and total lack of interest in books. They come to me downtrodden and disappointed with the written word. They say they “hate” reading and that they’ve never been “good” at reading. When we first meet, students usually identify reading as an area they want to improve in, but they say it because they assume it’s what I want to hear and not because they really want to read.
I immediately saw that my students weren’t interested in the books at their lexile level because intellectually they were beyond Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants. The problem was they weren’t able to read something like The Hunger Games without a read-aloud provided by a fluent reader (which in my room was solely me). I stumbled upon audiobooks as a solution partly out of desperation to manage the limited time I had with my students. I quickly signed up for an Audible account, loaded my iPod with the books my students’ homeroom classes were reading, and stocked up on headphones and a headphone splitter. It’s embarrassing, but my primary goal in introducing audio books was to free up myself to teach a mini lesson while another group was reading a chapter. I did not expect the kind of results I got. My students were transformed into readers once they were provided with high interest books and quality literature. They felt good about reading the same books as the rest of their classmates and took pride in the assignments we completed. That winter break, one student even asked if she could borrow the iPod and some books. Naturally, I agreed and sent her home with several books, their audio counterparts loaded onto my iPod. I was hopeful that she’d return after the break having read maybe just one of the books, but she returned in January and proudly announced that she’d read them all, except The Outsiders because she couldn’t “get into it.” This was a student who had claimed she couldn’t ever “get into” any books. I was stunned and thrilled. Continue reading In Defense of Audio Books→