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→
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→