Review: THE WRITE THING by Kwame Alexander

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Have you ever wanted to start a writing workshop in your classroom? Do you run a writing workshop that needs some…tweaking? THIS is your answer! Kwame Alexander’s The Write Thing: Kwame Alexander Engages Students in Writing Workshop and You Can Too is THE how-to guide to get started (or to change your boring routine). Kwame leads you personally through the steps to write, publish, and present student writing in a new way – with poetry. Why poetry? Kwame explains that question in chapter one of this fabulous new professional development book.

In The Write Thing, Kwame is right there with you all the way. As I read, I could hear his voice talking to me. Kwame’s Book-in-a-Day approach (2006) inspires new and veteran teachers alike to start and continue a student-led writing workshop and publishing “house” in the classroom. The book is organized into three essential parts, with features called “Kwame QuickTips”, “Solo Acts” (voices from other writers and teachers), “Lessons in Action” (plans), “KwameTime” videos, “You Can Too!” (reflection questions), and “Questions for Kwame.” You are never left alone in this writing PD. It’s like your own teacher preparation class, with Kwame as your teacher.

When I watched the “KwameTime” videos, he was in the room, guiding and encouraging me to use poetry to teach writing. In each chapter of The Write Thing, we read poetry, looked at possible mentor texts lists (organized by grade level), and used the writing workshop approach to help students learn to tell their own stories through writing, publishing, and presenting their work.

Kylene Beers wrote the foreword for The Write Thing, where she nudges the reader consider poetry as “the neglected genre” and to adopt a new vision for teaching – she asks teachers to use poetry at all times of the school year, not just during the designated month in the spring. I found myself reading this book straight through, but I will also take Kylene’s advice to slow down and “linger, muse, reread, mark…” I look forward to seeing students succeed as writers because of this book.

As a bonus, The Write Thing includes Appendices (A-D) that will make your teaching life easier. (What teacher doesn’t want that?) It’s ALL “write” there. Kwame Alexander is the “life force” (say Greg David and Priya Sitaraman) – “a captivating authentic leader who connected easily and deeply with (our) students during our writing workshops…”

If you’re a writing teacher, buy The Write Thing by Kwame Alexander. Start your school year with a fresh, new, exciting approach to writing class. Encourage your students to write and present their stories. And don’t forget, have fun!

 

Reflections from the All Write Institute — #5

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The Title of This Session Hooked Me and Reeled Me In: Reflections from the All Write Institute — #5

After finding out that Kylene (Beers) and Bob (Probst) were not going to make it to the institute, I quickly looked at my choices and found this: “Structuring Reading Workshop for the Magic That Might Go Down” with Christy Rush-Levine. I was hooked! Who wouldn’t want some magic in their reading workshop? I know I need some new sparks to start next year off right. I sat near the front of the auditorium and watched; the magic unfolded right before my very eyes! Christy reeled me in — showing me that a reading workshop classroom, even in middle school and above, can be a desirous, illuminating, and magical place.

Christy started with the WHY (the theme of the institute). Why? Why do I have to do this? (Read, write, etc.) She shows her students that thinking about their understandings, making connections, and gathering ideas for their own writing is important. She takes the standards (never mentioning “standards” or “testing”) and shows them HOW they can achieve. “In response to a text, write down thinking for your favorite part, questions you have, connections you made…” When I looked at the standards for my first scheduled reading workshop in the fall, I could “check off” almost all of them by following her plan for students! For example, Standard 6.RL.2.1 (and its RN version) want students to “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says and inferences drawn from the text.” By using metacognitive thinking to analyze and response writing to show  what they know about texts, I predict that my students will easily “pass” the formative assessments of the workshop.

Christy’s rules for response writing are simple: write (the whole time), write quickly (it’s not editing time), and relax, have fun, play! I love it! Relax, you can pass the standards! Have fun (I want to have fun in school again)! Play! More time to play and create leads to higher achievement. It’s true. (Administrators don’t look for that on their observations; they look for engagement. Same thing!)

Reading territories, assessments that follow students’ goals, reading ladders, and conferring with students kept the audience engaged. All the research — put into practical practice — helps students meet the goals. I learned that classroom teaching can be enjoyable and manageable again. Christy reminded me of what it was like to be a student; she told me that I can bring the joy of reading and writing back to my classroom. It’s not a trick — the MAGIC happens! So inspiring!

 

 

 

Reflections from the All Write Institute — #4

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To Lunch…and Beyond! Reflections from the All Write Institute — #4

The lunch session took me by surprise. I didn’t want to miss the session called “From Boring to Enjoying”, but I was hungry, so I ate some wonderful food catered by a local BBQ. After filling up and meeting with some blogging buddies in person (!), I headed off to see teachers from Fort Wayne, IN talk about how they used Notice and Note strategies (Beers/Probst) in their classrooms to make reading come alive. The speakers were wonderful, entertaining, and knowledgeable.  I loved hearing how they used journals, Edublogs, and stations to keep students interested in reading. “Tabletop Twitter” sounded engaging — a way to have kids respond to reading or writing — a way to collaborate and also have some fun.

One of my main goals next school year is to get students started with blogging. I have found blogs to be a fulfilling way to spend time with writing, and it’s social, academic, and fun! Students can write stories, poems, reflections, and share their views — all from the comforts of “home” (school classroom). Blogging also allows for differentiated instruction and small group work; I can have students easily save their work without losing papers, etc. as well. If there’s one thing I am learning as a veteran teacher, it’s that technology is available and useful, and I need to work with more technology in my classroom.

After lunch, it was time to talk books! This was my favorite part of the day! Tammy and Mary Helen were also wonderful, animated presenters that shared their favorite books for mini-lessons and read alouds.  Although many of the books were geared towards the primary grades, I know for sure I will be using many of them in my middle school classroom next year. Why? Because research (and my own experience) shows that reading aloud to students works. Many higher-level thinking skills are used in reading these books, yet they are easy to read (so students can focus on craft and not so much vocabulary), and teachers don’t have to use more time than a mini-lesson to make teaching points (time management). Plus, these books are engaging! (What administrator isn’t looking for that?)

For example, Pitter Patter by Martha Sullivan, shows different ways to say Hello (kids love “different ways to say…”), has information about the water cycle (meeting the standards), and provides extra activities with interactive apps (centers or at-home extension). I love books that include extras at the end. “For more reading, go to…” This keeps students engaged after the school day is over.  Another engaging book is I’m a Shark! by Bob Shea. This incredible author is a favorite in schools, and this book includes connections to life, grammar/spelling reminders, and figurative language (also meeting the standards!). One book I have not used before, but I will this fall, is Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin. I learned about the “Power of 3” many years ago in writing workshop, and the students always love the lesson when I teach them this “magic”. This book has voice, which some students find difficult to write. Also, everyday happenings CAN be stories, which students learn quickly in writing workshop. We work on personal narratives first in our curriculum, and Dragons…can help us, I’m sure!

Sharing books and joy is an amazing way to spend time, not only in the classroom with students, but also during a summer PD institute! I was inspired; as I left the room, the only question I had was, “I wonder how much money we are allowed to spend this year on books?”

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Dreaming

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                                                                            Live Your Dream!

That was the theme of the first instructional window at school this year. Teachers tell students that nothing is impossible; dreams can become reality. All you have to do is learn to read and write (and know the way the earth works, and maybe some calculus), work hard, and make an effort, no matter what. And that’s why I won’t give up. I want to live my dreams, too.

Why should children and Martin Luther King, Jr. be the only ones who have dreams? All people need dreams. Gloria Steinem said, “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities…dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Teachers plan all the time. Why can’t teachers have dreams?

My dream is to write a book. Maybe a series (let’s not get ahead of ourselves now). Ok, one book — for now. Planning to achieve this dream gives me hope and excitement to live my life each day. Oh, the possibilities! Gloria Steinem was right.  I am currently planning the parts of the book. Each time I realize an idea floating around in my brain, I take out my Evernote app, log in to the notebook, “book,” and record my thought bubbles. Each note is one bubble that I don’t want to pop; I want the ideas to swirl around until I choose to organize them, to ground them into a page.

I love talking to my students about dreams. They have been reading and researching people who live their dreams: Ryan and Jimmy and the well in Africa…, Derek Jeter, and Samantha Larson, who climbed mountains — they all lived their dreams. Then I showed my class this quote by George Bernard Shaw: “You see things, and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'” It was a joy to hear one student say to another recently, “Why not?” when asked about an idea.

Can you write about (insert topic)? Sure, why not?

Can you read that book in the library you have been eying? Sure, why not?

“Hey, Mrs. S, do you think you’ll really write a book?”

Why not? I’ll even dedicate it to you, my class of dreamers.

 

“What Did She Say?” — Second Chat This Week!

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Twitter chat: ‪#TandCwriters

September 7, 2014 8pm EST

Q1: What do you expect your students to already know as writers?

A1: The writing process is not a one-day or one-period event. The basics. Parts of a story + some text knowledge

Q2: How do you find out what your students know as writers?

A2: “Write about the Bear” fun way to get to know style and learning profiles of writing.

Q3: How do you give and track feedback that shows you believe in writers?

A3: Many ways to write! Not just “my way.” Read and have conversations with Ss

(I favorited a Tweet,

Another A3: I try to spread my feedback and ensure all students hear from me in a positive way.)

Q4: How do you get writers to believe in one another?

A4: Make a point to state out loud what we like about everyone’s work during the sharing sessions.

(I favorited a Tweet here, as well:

Another A4: “each student ends up being an expert about something. Helps to give them each a boost.”)

Q5: What read alouds inspire writers to believe in themselves and others?

A5: So many! Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, If You Were a Writer…

Ruth Ayres (host) said, “Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon”

Another Tweet! Amazing conversations on Twitter tonight!

Another A5: “An Angel for Solomon Singer by Rylant is not about writing, but builds belief that all stories are important, people matter.”

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and others for a second amazing chat this evening. Time for bed now!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Writing to Stay Awake

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I just looked at the date for my last post: August 12. What a disgrace! How can I expect my students to write daily if I cannot write daily? Well, we talked about that today in a conferring session. I was sharing with a student who hates to write (her words). We discussed how writing is a mindful activity, one full of thinking and acting and thinking…it’s exhausting! I shared with her that sometimes I write just to keep myself going. Maybe I look at a favorite picture, then write to describe a part of it I have not viewed before. Maybe I write a “to-do” list for the next day. Maybe I send one of my kids a text with a little information and an “I love you” reminder. Anything to keep going, keep writing. All writing counts. My goal for her is that she will see writing as an outlet, and as an effective means of communication. I told her I wanted her to publish something great — whatever she wants!

I promised this student that we would keep in touch throughout the year. She will share her thoughts, experiences, observations, and writing with me, and I will do the same. I love that I am able to share my writing with students, and I look forward to reading their writing as we move through the school year.  For now, I continue to write, to stay awake.

For those of you starting a new school year with students today, Have a GREAT Year!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Original Ideas

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What is an original idea? Who has original ideas, really?

The definition of the adjective, original, is “belonging or pertaining to the origin; the beginning of something.” (dictionary.com) Synonyms include new, novel, fresh, and inventive.  I’m sad to say that I don’t have an original idea in my head. When I looked at the webpage again, there were a few more definitions, including: “arising or proceeding independently of anything else” and “capable of or given to thinking or acting in an independent, creative, or individual manner.” Still not feeling better, people! One more look: “created, undertaken, or presented for the first time.” There. Here on my blog, an original post — presented for the first time? Ah…nope. Not doing it for me.

Teachers are thieves. It’s a researched fact. We steal from each other all the time. Ideas, topics, “mentor texts…” yes, it’s all stealing. As I was thinking about writing something original today, I remembered that I heard that phrase often: “Teachers are thieves.” I feel badly, but why? “If everyone else is doing it…” (no, I don’t want to jump off a cliff, Mom.)  I really just want to be original, just once.

Many times, students have trouble writing because they feel like I do now. They don’t know what to say, or how to say it in a way that makes the topic original. What do we do? We tell them, “It’s ok.”  We show them mentor texts, we have them read more, and we have them keep on writing. The action of putting the pencil to the paper is what teachers are really looking for. We want to see evidence of thinking, and that students are willing to write what they think. They produce, then, their own, original ideas.

I read an interesting post on http://www.ted.com (TED talks!) about “What according to you is an original idea?” (www.ted.com…2011). Reading the comments section, the replies made me feel better about this “originality” problem. I don’t have to come up with the idea, but I have to DO something new and different with it.  I asked myself, “What do I want to DO?” Well, I want to write a SOL post right now, that’s what I want. And I want it to be original.

So here’s my first ever — original — post on originality. Or is it? Have I written this before?

Let me check.

(While I’m doing that, you have a great week!)

 

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