Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Nation of Writers

I love to be with people who have a passion for education. Yesterday, I was able to meet with some leaders of my organization to plan for an upcoming series we will host on "Changing Perspectives: 21st Century Learning." We've been reinvigorated in our region with some initiatives and it was great to collaborate and harness our collective wisdom.

One of the pieces that we will be hosting will be on educators as writers. It has long been interesting to me that many educators don't consider themselves writers. And it makes me wonder about what the definition of a "writer" is. The Free Online Dictionary defines a writer as (1)writes (books or stories or articles or the like) professionally (for pay) and (2) a person who is able to write and has written something. It seems to me that most of us fall under the category of (2) - although we might not practice it much!

In a recent blog post by Roy Peter Clark (one of my favorite feeds), Clark lays out ways for us to create a "nation of writers" as inspired by the late Donald Murray. In the words of Clark;

"Murray left us -– students, teachers, writers all –- a path to follow. He dedicated his life to a simple proposition: that the act of writing was not a magical power possessed by a precious few. Writing was a process, a craft, a set of tools within reach of us all."

I know that lots of folks are worried about the state of writing. And many blame technology for some of that - "look at the kids IM'ing - it's not even a real language", "no one cares about spelling anymore - they just use spellcheck" and on and on. But I liked the take of a recent news article that argues that "rapid fire lingo" actually shows that our language is evolving!

As my team and I have learned more about the new technologies available to us, we have begun to adopt them as a matter of doing business. We all have tried our hand at blogs and wikis, we use Google Docs and more recently Google Groups. We are trying to find out how they "fit" into our work - as opposed to just adding them on. Some have adopted these easily - for others it is a bit of a struggle. But it has helped us grow as a team and interestingly, as writers.

Embracing the new technology is not easy. But we are educating our students for a world that we are not experiencing today, and in fact are not even sure what it will look like. Integrating the technology is not throwing out the old, looking at screen still requires reading and typing an email still requires writing. We just need to find a balance and teach our students which language is appropriate when.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Relaxing Friday

I'm taking a personal day today as I am just burnt crispy by my schedule and to help out my mom - who, caring for four children under the age of six and my grandmother with Alzheimer's each day this summer, is similarly crispy. But before I head over to corral the children, I thought I would blog.

I've had writer's notebooks on my mind since last week and in reviewing my own entries it's interesting to see how some of my entries have changed. I've been jotting things down but rather half-hearted it appears, as more recent entries are richer in details and bigger nuggets to mine. I'm debating getting a new notebook to serve as my own "action research" piece about what I write and trying some of the ideas that teachers are using before I put the workshop together. Borders is on the agenda today so I am sure that one will leap off the shelf at me.

Lots of folks in the blog world participate in something called Poetry Friday, where they share their favorite poems and how they use them. It is hosted by a different blog each week and is here this week. Poetry has not been one of my favorite things but when I am touched by one it is amazing. I don't think I have enough to really share and participate but I do read all the posts and am increasing my collection.

This poem, posted at Two Writing Teachers, really struck me given the topic:

My Writer’s Notebook by Brod Bagert

It’s a black and white composition notebook,
A hundred pages
with blue line
that await my words:

Diamond Search

My life lies before me
Like the bed of a shallow river.
My fingers sift sand and gravel
For the rough diamonds that lie hidden.
And as I find them
I put them in this notebook.
I write… I cut… I polish…
And they shine.

My words on an empty page
In an ordinary notebook,
The silver setting for the jewels of my life.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Just Read It!

I can't do it better than they do and I certainly can't write like they hook up your RSS feed and read Two Writing Teachers!! And read it often!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Word Counting

During law school, in a particularly long and over-crowded class, a group of friends and I used to play bingo. We'd create a chart of the words that certain folks in class liked to use a lot : jurisprudence, estoppel, caveat, in toto, controlling decision. You get the picture. The words that lawyers use as code and are generally what my students would call "dollar words." It was a tradition that I carried on after I left the legal profession to opening day speeches from superintendents, BOE members, and outside consultants - only this time we counted educational jargon. Probably not the most mature way to spend my time in either scenario, but I like to spin it now that I have always had a fascination with words. (See what law school will get ya??)

The words we choose when speaking or writing are what helps to define our voice. Do YOU have a signature word or phrase? If you aren't sure - ask your family or colleagues and I guarantee that they will let you know. For example, I have a good friend who expresses her surprise or shock at something by saying "Holy (fill in the word) Batman!" It makes me laugh every time I hear it - and I tend to repeat it often when I am with her. Holy secret code, Batman!

And so I found this link from Cool Cat Teacher's tags very interesting. Using tag clouds (a visual depiction showing the frequency of word use), someone charted the words used by the Democratic presidential candidates in an April 2007 debate. The type size of each word varies according to how often it is used - with the largest words being used most often. Even more interesting are the comments that follow about how the readers were surprised about which words were used and which were not - showing that those who closely follow this type of thing already have an expectation of the words certain candidates will use. (NOTE: This is not a political stance - I couldn't find a tag cloud of Republican candidates or I would link to that as well in all fairness.)

It got me thinking about word choice as a writing trait and how we could use tag clouds with kids. Perhaps the students could focus on parts of writing - like leads or conclusions - to see how often they use certain words. Or perhaps students could use one or two different pieces of writing to find the words they tend to use often. I also wondered about taping the conversations we have with students about their writing to see which words we use most often.

It's not that using words repetitively is bad - it would just be interesting to know and be able to point out. By the way, using the free service at TagCrowd, I made a tag cloud of this post:

created at

Sunday, August 19, 2007

All Written Out and Powering Up

I had four straight days of writing workshops last week so you would think that I have plenty to blog about. I am sure that I do - but I am still trying to process some of the questions/issues that the participants raised as well as what I learned. The reason that I love teaching about writing and teaching writing is that I learn something every single time. So, in the spirit of a new blog that I am reading, I will consider this a Writer's Notebook blog entry. I like their style so much that I'll tag all Writer's Notebook entries as they do- WN - so that I can be sure to come back to them later.

Power of Picture Books: I pulled a number of them off the shelves and brought to share with the teachers. I haven't taken time to really organize them with the lessons but will be fast-tracking that soon. The picture book with the greatest impact was Not a Box and my colleague Chris helped me with an extension activity using pom-poms. Great fun!!

Power of Conferencing: Early in the week, the teachers wanted help with what a writing conference would look like, particularly as young writers bridge pictures to text. Lucky for me - I have a ready and somewhat willing niece who loves to help her aunt and we created a video for the teachers that night. I was far from perfect and Amelia had no problems letting me know when I crossed the aunt line! But I learned a great deal from that conference and the teacher reflection that followed!!

Power of Voice: I am always asked how to "teach" voice - and I answer that it isn't something that can be taught, it needs to be uncovered. But that is not a good answer. The last two days spent with upper elementary teachers has be pondering what comes first - voice in the abstract or the more concrete traits that help to make up voice (sentence fluency, word choice, conventions). I am chewing hard on this one.

Power of Collaboration: The best part of the four days was each time the teachers worked together in grade level teams to make plans for the upcoming year and using their new K-5 writing rubric. They did amazing work and asked incredible questions. Made me miss my classroom more than ever. But I did get to spend all four days with a colleague and get valuable feedback and ideas. We don't take the time to do that often enough and I am putting it on my work plan to do more often.

Power of Writer's Notebooks: I actually chose to call them Treasure Books (as I learned from Primarily Writing). I like that turn of phrase better - makes them be more than just a class assignment and an exercise in compliance and more personal, more authentic. Chris and I brainstormed a workshop on just using treasure books and I think we purposefully integrated them much better in the last two days. While I keep a writer's notebook myself, I haven't spent much time thinking about what I keep or how I keep it. I need to do more of that to model for teachers.

Power of Re-Charging: Seriously - I was exhausted by the end of the week and it felt good to re-charge my batteries. I didn't do anything monumental - cleaned two of the seven downstairs rooms, loads and loads of forgotten laundry, watched movies with the family. I took a break from writing, from the gym, from work - all the things that while they make me happy, also tend to stress me out. I dread Mondays - but maybe this one won't be quite so bad.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Trippin' Over Myself

It's August already! Hard to believe that it won't be long before school is in session and I feel like the "to do" list has not gotten any smaller. I'm on a mad mission to conquer Google Earth as a means to link Social Studies and ELA with a frequent visitor to this site. (Hey - you visit and comment once - you're frequent!)

It started with a simple conversation about a visiting author for this spring and the fact that this Super Teacher has already signed her kids up for an essay writing contest around the book Hana's Suitcase. Since the conversation happened in a DBQ development workshop, we starting talking about Google Earth, which let to Google Lit Trips - which led to us creating one (right now - hoping to create one!)on the book.

The plan is to map the locations in the book - with the pushpins pieces to be DBQ like questions. I haven't mastered how it all fits together and it is complicated a bit by the fact that I am blocked from Google Earth at work and too hot and tired when I get home to play too much.

I know I will conquer this because as a teacher in my district shared her plan to read Judy Moody Declares Independence, I was already imagining not just the Lit Trip but how my planned trip to Boston in September could provide a wealth of Flickr activities for her.

I see this as a pretty powerful model to use with kids. Once they have taken a few lit trips - I can imagine them creating their own for the book they are reading. It gives them a global perspective and can help them make powerful connections.

So now I am wondering - what other books might make a good basis for a Lit Trip. What types of questions would teachers want to see at each stop? How can we get around the blocks that many districts have put in place around Google Earth?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Kids 1, Lunch Lady 0

I loved reading about the power of the pen in this article!

"The menu at William V. Wright Elementary School is getting a makeover after Constantine Christopulos' class went on a poignantly polite letter-writing campaign aiming to see less of that particular vegetable in the cafeteria.

"A little boy said, `Anything, anything, I'll even eat broccoli,"' said Connie Duits, the lunch lady. "So that one touched my heart."

The children were careful to offer praise as they expressed their concerns."

The article goes on to explain that the letter writing campaign began after reading Frindle, in which the boycott of the cafeteria there was deemed a bit less respectful. Students weighed in on which foods they wanted to replace the green beans (and it was not peas!)and while they may not be getting "'stake' and lobster" it does appear that the new choices will be a step up!!

In case you missed it, these kids are in second grade!!