10 minutes of uninterrupted writing

Once a week, on Mondays, my students have writing homework.

They write, anything, for at least 10 minutes without stopping. A parent used the term “uninterrupted writing” in an email message to me earlier this year, and so the phrase has stuck.

10 minutes of uninterrupted writing

child writing pexels-photo-256468

My students keep track of their writing on a sheet of paper. They record what they wrote that night and how it went for them. Comments range from “no one interrupted me” to “I wrote more than I have previously”. Although this is a start, we’ll be working on being more metacognitive over the next few months.

 

Sometimes my students

  • write a letter to someone
  • write the next section of a story they’ve been working on
  • write about their families
  • tell a story about an after school activity
  • make lists.

And, sometimes, they don’t even share their writing with me.

But, when they do, I am often pleasantly surprised and secretly pleased.

Last night two students wrote poems.

The first poem was about getting writer’s block in the middle of writing her poem, and how she overcame it.

The second poem was shorter than the first poem. It rhymed, just like the first poem. It was written on a loose sheet of paper, unlike the first poem. It was about running and walking at the same time.

My students are finding their voices. Slowly. Tentatively.

They are learning to explore their ideas and feelings through their writing. They are discovering, whether or not they know it yet, that writing worth reading isn’t about the extraordinary experiences in life, although it is that too. But, writing worth reading,the kind of writing readers gravitate to, is about the everyday. The mundane. The ordinary.

It’s writing that mirrors all of our stories.

what's your story pexels-photo-261734

If that is my students’ one takeaway from our writing experience this year, that will have been enough.

Crossposted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge

Writing Does That For Me

Writing has always been a cathartic activity for me.

I write when I’m upset or confused and, after just a few minutes, I start to feel better.

Writing about failures or challenging situations helps me clarify my thinking so that I can sort through the muck and figure out what my next steps might be.

Writing allows me to uncover what was hidden and is no longer so.

Writing can free me up so I can discover a better version of myself.
To uncover something I didn’t know.
To sift through the parts in order to get to the whole.
The whole that matters.

Writing does that for me.

And, just as quickly, a perceived barrier to making my writing public can shut me down.

If I can’t write publicly about a controversial topic without feeling vulnerable, then I feel lost.

Untethered.

Groundless.

Without a backbone.

Trapped.

I want to write without worrying that I will offend someone. But the fact of the matter is that every piece of good, honest writing will always offend someone. If that someone is a co-worker, friend or family, then I have to censor myself. Either I have to dance around the topic or simply write for myself, rather than for a larger community. Of course, while there’s nothing wrong with that, this is the kind of writing that begs for an audience outside of myself.

Sigh.

So, the last few days have been difficult. 

I have been working with my students on declaring strengths, and setting goals and plans for reaching those goals in academic and social areas. 

And, it has been hard! 

We haven’t done any reading or writing outside of what was needed for setting goals. 

Tomorrow my students will confer with their parents about their goals. 
I look forward to seeing how my students frame their goals and how they respond to their parents’ questions. 

I look forward to stepping back and thinking about this process. About how to make it more authentic. How to guide my students to set goals that are truly theirs. Goals over which they feel ownership. In order to do this, I will be asking my students for their perspectives. 

After the feelings of frustration and helplessness wear away, I will reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly in order to hopefully create something better and more meaningful.

I can already feel the waves of frustration and anger slipping away. I feel the calm settling in. 
I am ready to witness my students’ brilliance shining through.

Writing does that for me.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

DIY Literacy Chapters 5 & 6

This is the last in a series of blog posts for the #CyberPD16 book study on DIY Literacy, Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. This post will address chapters 5 & 6. You can read my previous posts here and here.


Chapter 5 is all about differentiation. Kate and Maggie ask, “How can you make sure your teaching matches your kids”(p. 71) so that your relationships with students are not compromised? In other words, how can we sustain high-level teaching practices that generate vitality for us andfor our students? To me, these are powerful questions since teachers’ energy level in the classroom is often derailed due to a myriad other demands out of a teachers’ sphere of control.
In order to provide some perspective on this issue, Kate and Maggie make an analogy between the scaffolding provided by yoga instructors and the role classroom teachers can play to address students’ individual needs. The authors describe the yoga tools (folded blankets while sitting to ease movement, blocks for keeping the body stable during certain positions, or ropes for stretching) used by instructors to allow all students to access the instruction provided.
As reading and writing teachers we need to make similar supports (tools and strategies) available to our students so that they can access the instruction we provide. The yoga students choose from a variety of tools offered by their yoga instructor in order to perform challenging poses with the goal of eventually discarding these tools altogether. According to Kate and Maggie, “By giving students the tools they need, the instructor is helping the students to differentiate for themselves. It is no longer necessary for him to observe and directly teach each student in order for them to make progress,” (p. 72).
It is our responsibility to provide a range of supports (tools) in the classroom to our students so that they can learn how to use them to further their learning. These supports or teaching tools (repertoire and process charts, demonstration notebooks, bookmarks and micro-progressions) assist students as they continue on their individualized learning path. One-on-one conferences or small group instruction then become a place for teachers to elevate student learning beyond what they are currently able to do alone. The instructional tools allow students to proceed along their learning path preventing them from becoming stagnant or bored as they wait for us to instruct them further. In a sense, teaching tools serve the role of surrogate teachers leading our students towards greater and greater independence.
In the remainder of this chapter, Maggie and Kate describe several lessons that illustrate the main intent of this chapter: how to differentiate instruction for our students without creating 20, or more, different lesson plans. Teaching tools provide just-in-time support as students read and write freeing us up to address our students’ individual needs. The tools are stand-in teachers that students learn to use to enhance and support their learning. However, they are not meant to replace the teacher or to serve as props that hold up students temporarily or indefinitely. Consequently, it is important to continuously observe and confer with students to help them determine when they have internalized these strategies and don’t need the concrete, visual support any longer.
In chapter 6, Maggie and Kate remind us that the purpose of these teaching tools is to address the multiple dilemmas associated with helping students remember what we teach them so that they can use it intentionally. By making instruction and tools vigorous (rigorous) enough to meet the individual needs of our students, teachers are able to address the issue of how to differentiate so that all students are able to access the instruction we provide at a level that is appropriate for them.
Maggie and Kate encourage us to use the following approaches to preserve the novelty of and interest in teaching tools for our students:
  • Pop culture – references to sports, music, video game characters
  • Metaphors, such as comparing the writer’s revision process to how a gamer revises (p. 91)
  • Keeping charts and other tools fresh by moving them to high traffic areas or simply taking them down when they are no longer being used independently by students
  • Soliciting student feedback as to the usefulness or placement of the tools
  • Co-creating teaching tools, as a class, in a small group or one-on-one with students
The authors also provide words of encouragement and tips to those of us (me!) who feel challenged as artists and therefore may hold back from creating charts and other instructional tools. For example, they suggest selecting color combinations that can be used repeatedly for charts, such as always using black for titles. They also offer ideas for how to use space effectively on a chart by making the writing BIG so it’s visible from all points in the classroom; using simple icons over and over again to minimize the amount of text on charts; using capital letters if your handwriting is sloppy or illegible; asking for help from other teachers; and finally, ‘embracing our inner Picasso’.
Although the ins and outs of creating charts may seem trivial, it is something that has previously held me back from using charts extensively and effectively as a teaching tool. I worry too much about how they look and fluctuate between creating them any old way and taking too long to do them in front of my students. Both of these approaches end up defeating my purpose, which is to create a tool that students will use and refer to as needed. In the end, I have often given up despite having observed my students struggle to apply a lesson because they can’t remember what we did and have no visual cues to help them.
Thanks, Kate and Maggie, for taking painstaking care to write this book. I will keep it close as I continue to make plans for the new school year. Thank you to the #CyberPD16 group – administrators and participants, alike – for making this a memorable book study.

I’d love to hear others’ reactions to these last two chapters or any part of DIY Literacy in the comments section below.

Try it Yourself First!

As teachers of writing, we know that using precise words in our writing allows our readers to visualize and understand what they’re reading. Therefore, we advise our students to select precise words when they’re writing. We take this aspect of our instruction seriously. We also know that avid readers develop an extensive vocabulary which they can use in their writing. That’s why it’s so important for our student writers to become effective readers.

As avid readers we are also discriminating readers. We read and delight in exquisite writing. We know what good writing sounds like and feels like.

Now that I am becoming more aware of my own writing process, I can empathize with my students: this is truly challenging work. And that’s why it’s important for me to write every day to experience what I am asking my students to try out in their own writing.

Playing close attention to my own writing process has been eye opening, if not painful. However, this emerging awareness will make me a better teacher and a better writer.

Several years ago I attended a post-conference institute at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) with Katie Wood Ray and Isoke Nia. I know the day-long institute must have been full of wonderful learning events. How could it not be? It was led by Katie and Isoke, but my biggest take-away from that day was Katie’s advice to always try out any writing task we assign our students, preferably before they do it on their own. By experiencing what we ask our students to do as writers we will be more effective teachers of writing to our students. Unfortunately, I haven’t always followed this wise advise. However when I do, it makes a difference in my teaching and my student’s learning.

This month we are starting a new unit on argument writing with research. I plan to write and research right alongside my students. I will be reporting here about how it goes.

No WiFi

Missed two days of writing.
The WiFi in the hotel was not working when I needed it.
So, I had to admit that I was going to miss slicing for two days.
I had to let go.
It’s not about the prize.
It’s about the challenge.
Pushing myself to write more.
I am behind on commenting, as well.
So, now that I’ve commiserated with myself,
I’ll pick myself up and just start again.

Another day.
Another opportunity to get it right.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge, Day #8

Distractions

As soon as I got home from work, I sat down at the computer  to write and do some research for my doctorate.

Now, more than 90 minutes later, I am finally getting around to writing today’s SOL post. I did do some checking of a few sources but most of my time on the computer was spent answering emails and reading blog posts. Procrastination? Perhaps. Fear of not having anything to write about? Most likely.

So, here I sit, with no more of an idea of what I’m going to write about than when I first sat down and faced my computer screen. The truth is, I do have some ideas for what I want to write about but they are all connected to school and kids. And, they are mostly reflections of my day or a particular lesson or one of the endless situations that happens at schools. Frankly, I don’t think I would want to subject any slicers to reading about those at the moment.

It’s Friday. As I look out the window I realize that although it’s cloudy right now, I can’t remember what the weather was like earlier in the day. I think it was mostly cloudy but I’m not sure. That’s not a good sign. It means I was too busy to stop for a moment and take a look around me. It means I probably spent most of my day inside my classroom, or walking to and from another classroom where I provide push-in support to my ESL students. It means I was probably preoccupied with petty things to smell the roses or the coffee or anything else for that matter.

So, I am making a promise to myself to take a walk every day around my school (we have an outside campus), and to sit down for a few minutes to wind down and be mindful.

More on that next time.

Cross posted to March Slice of Life Challenge, Day #7.

Noticing and Taking Note

Angela Maiers, in this TED talk, recommends that we take note of what we notice. And, by taking note, I think Angela means taking the time to appreciate everything that happens every day. There are many noteworthy things to notice and we need to take the time to appreciate that which we notice. For me, this means naming the noticing and writing about it as a way to reflect on it. Writing serves as a reminder that things matter, people matter, and that what I think about all of this matters a lot.

Yet, I notice so many things but I rarely take note of anything.

Writing about what I notice sometimes feels beside the point. Ostentatious. Unimportant. Too much work. But, I know that the act of writing, no matter the topic, gets me to writing that really matters. I also know that for this to happen, I need to establish a regular writing habit. Daily is best, even if it’s just for 15 minutes at a time. And, I have to protect that time at all costs. Surely I can find 15 minutes every day to write?! Or maybe I’ll start with a five minute writing session every day for a week. Then, I’ll add five minutes the following week and so on. Fifteen minutes being my goal for now. Once I have this habit firmly established, I can add five minutes every week until I reach thirty minutes. That would be heavenly.

It’s funny that I should be writing about this – a teacher of writing and a writer of…of…of all kinds of things. But my writing is often measured by deadlines rather than nurtured by a daily habit.

That’s the next step.