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.
Thunder rolled. The lightning stuck. And I woke up 40 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Woke up widely with the same giddiness I feel upon waking on a party/big event day, or a painting/redecorating my house day, or new-project-that-you-know-is-going-to-rock-at-school day. Why — in the name of Garth Brooks— why?
I just wanted to sleep for 40 more minutes, but my brain turned on and immediately stopping, planting, and pointing like an Irish Setter, I was focused on the list I had made the previous day… You are about to read the best top 10 list (This is not the list that woke me up; keep reading.) of reasons why you should take part in any National Writing Project Invitational Institute. (Find one here!)
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”
I shared my writing with my students and it was really powerful.
I know what you’re thinking:
Of course it was.
We all know this.
We know that we should write with our students, model for our students, share with our students.
But, I know that we don’t. Or, at least, I know that I don’t.
I have 5 preps. I have 150+ students. I am so far behind in grading, I would lose credit in my own class if I was one of my students.
When my students write, I am circling the room like a trapped bat, trying to simultaneously rescue introductory paragraphs from rhetorical question soft starts, shut down copied theses from Sparknotes, encourage students to find the balance between looking for their playlist and taking the entire class period to create their playlist, squelch the Snapchat selfie parade, and answer “how long does this have to be?” 14,535 times. When my students write, I am too busy desperately trying to do my job to write with them.
“I think you should see if the Writing Project is doing a Summer Institute this year,” my mentor teacher, Chanda Stafford, said to me during one of our many meetings last year. As a first year teacher, I had no idea what that meant, so I nodded, and absent-mindedly made a note of it on her enormous list of goals and tasks for me this year. A few days later, an email appeared in my inbox with the link to the Chippewa River Writing Project.
The next few months flew by in a flurry of drafting applications, preparation, and coaching. When the acceptance e-mail appeared in my inbox one morning, I felt a rush of emotions. I was mostly excited, but extremely nervous. I wasn’t sure what a newbie in this profession could really bring to the table, and at the end of my first year of teaching, I was feeling the PTSD blur that many veterans in the career warned me I would feel. Was I really ready to be a part of this professional organization?
After I completed the first day of the institute, I called my mentor and said,“These people are nuts! How in the world did you survive?” My head had been swirling with nightmares of the prodigious multileveled project portfolio, hours of research driven on the gallons of caffeine I’d consumed, and the stomach churning nausea that appeared every time I heard the words ‘teaching demonstration.’ I was a brand new teacher! I had nothing to contribute to a room full of veteran teachers! Even the other first year teachers had more teaching experience than me! Continue reading “Growing as a Writer and as a Teacher of Writing”