Thursday, May 31, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again!!

In case anyone out there is just as behind in their Bloglines as I am and hasn't noticed - I've been a little absent from my blog lately. It started with a week of no television - as imposed by my first grade niece - and then morphed into some self-reflection about why I blog in the first place. I mean - if a tree falls and no one hears it........

Anyway - I'm back and while not 100% re-entergized, I am on my way!! I began this blog for two reasons. One - to get my passion about writing (and my writing) out in the open. I've always talked about why writing was important to me but I never really wrote about it. Pretty ironic.

But I was challenged by someone I care deeply about - basically, "who cared what I had to say and who was I to impose my feelings about writing on others, especially kids?" In his experience, you couldn't inspire someone to write. They loved it or they didn't - and no teacher was going to make a difference.

Now remember - I care deeply about this person and what they said hurt. And I know that deep down inside he is wrong. But I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was alone in this!! I mean - I don't get a lot of comments on my blog and maybe no one reads it. Or maybe they read it and have secret conventions of the anti-writing society and because they are anti-writing don't post. Regardless - I did feel a bit alone.

But then I remembered the second reason I started this blog - to find and build a community of teacher writers. My hope was that if I shared this blog during my workshops on writing, one or two like minded folks might read it and post. And they might challenge my thinking a bit - as I hoped I challenged theirs. And we would all learn and make the world a writer friendly place. (Well - I exaggerate a bit but you get the point!) And I realized that there are a few folks who read and sometimes post (Thank you Karen and NYC Teacher!!) and that maybe I need to start small and stay firm. And maybe there are things that I could do differently in order to build this little community. And maybe it's my growth as a writer and a teacher of writing that I should be measuring instead.

So - nearly a year after I began this adventure in blogging, I begin again.

Tin Woodsman: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I - I think that it - it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em - and it's that - if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Writing and State Assessments

We recently hosted a two-day session with Lois Easton on Powerful Designs for Professional Learning. She is one of my favorite consultants to bring in as she really adapts to meet the needs of the group and has so much knowledge that she can do it on the fly!!

We engaged in a protocol that I use pretty regularly - the Tuning Protocol. I was in a group where a very brave local teacher brought in student work to share. Specifically, reader response journals. She wanted feedback on how she could comments in their journals to promote deeper thinking and writing beyond retell. As an aside - she wondered whether she should do something differently to promote the skills that might be needed on the NYS English Language Arts assessment.

These journals were amazing!! Students were to reflect upon what they had read each night and mark how long they had read (20 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.). The teacher provided a list of open ended prompts in the beginning of the notebook and also asked for a drawing/quick sketch page as she believed that the pictures would help to generate details in the writing (I agree!). And in several of these journals - I could really see the growth of some reluctant readers/writers over time. Isn't that the best part of having kids keep journals?

As we started to give feedback, the members of our group who came from a local charter school began to hone in on the piece of her questions about state assessments. They made some suggestions that I think were really good: practice some timed writing so that students can gauge how long they write and the quality they produce, exchange journals with students to practice editing passages. But then, the conversation turned to prompts. "Provide the students with writing prompts that more closely mirror the state assessment" was the advice.

This was where I really began to struggle. I don't enjoy prompt writing but recognize the need (due to assessments) that we need to practice them. But as I listened to the teachers talk, I thought about all the creativity and voice we had seen in the student journals. And in my heart - I knew that we would lose that if we forced prompt writing at this juncture. The reading the students were doing and the reflection afterwards would become another routine in a class where assessment is a four-letter word and soon, it would no longer be enjoyable for anyone: student or teacher.

So I try to practice caution when it comes to writing - I love to write and I want students to love to write. It isn't punishment and they should always have an outlet to be creative and give their opinions - in short, stretch their wings. We can't always make it be prompt or assessment driven or the heart of the writing will disappear. As Susan Ohanian said (with apologies to Carl Sandberg):

"Ordering a child to write a CTB/McGraw-Hill writing prompt in the narrative, informative, or persuasive mode is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child."