Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to School

I can't believe we are in the third week of school already! I have three blocks of language arts classes that total 100 students. My classes are huge, but the kids are really awesome. My 6th graders are so smart I don't know if I can keep up with them. They want to know everything about everything. I am presenting a lesson this week based on the book Dreams by Susan Bosak. Has anyone read it? Leslie and I attended a workshop last summer where the author presented and read the book to us. It was awesome listenting to her read her own words! Since the book focuses on dreams and goals, I plan to have the kids make their gold stars and write their own goals and dreams for this year on them. After they make their stars, I'll hang them from the ceiling for the parents to see on open house night. What do you think? I think I'll bring the book to share with all of you on Saturday.

Is everyone writing? So far, my students love to write--my 6th graders do, the 7th graders are more reluctant. We talked about modeling this summer, and I have really taken it to heart. I am writing everyday with my students. When I ask them to write in response to a jounal topic, I write with them. So far we have all responded to Chrysanthemum, Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and numerous poems. This dinosaur is right there with them.

Do I sound excited? Am I rambling? I guess it's because I am so pumped about this new school year and sharing my experiences from this summer. My principal, assistant principal, and counselor are coming to share the 'dream' lesson on Thursday.

Okay all you Bluebonnets out there. I want to hear back from you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Response to Janelle

Life is a journey that we all make. I want my classroom to be a positive stop on that journey. Students dance in and out of our school lives, and we should let them sing. We should encourage them to sing during that stay. When we present lessons that encourage choice and creativity, we allow them to sing and dance their way to learning. Choices help students develop voice in their writing. We have to prepare students to pass that pesky test in April or February or June or whenever they take it, but we don’t have to participate in that hoax of drill and kill. All we do with that is kill creativity and voice. In short, we perpetuate the hoax. Keep things real for kids. Give them skills they can use when they leave our studios. Give them the skills to sing and dance and perform on the stage of live.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Aunt Sister

Aunt Sister

She resembled a penguin in her back and white habit, but she wasn’t one. Her voice lilted with a very slight brogue from her parents’ homeland. She was my Aunt Sister—Sister Joseph Catherine to be exact. My dad’s big sister. Her entry into the convent just out of eighth grade was expected of the eldest daughter from an Irish Catholic home in those days, and my Aunt Sister heeded the call. Her hair was shorn; in fact, I had never seen her hair. I think she had some. Nuns really never took vacations; they were lucky to spend time with family. Most people thought they were born as nuns. The kids who went to St. Benedict’s with me thought schools came with nuns. Build school, sprinkle holy water, nuns appear.

Yes, Aunt Sister was a nun from the old school of nuns, but that didn’t stop her from having a great time. I knew a different side of this ‘penguin.’ A secret side.

The cars were crammed full of people and possessions on that trip to Florida in 1966—all 10 of us, including Aunt Sister. How uncomfortable she must have been in that penguin outfit what with the black wool dress and veil and starched white collar and wimple, but Aunt Sister didn’t complain; she waited for her chance to be free. Her sights were set on the beach—the water, the sand, the shells.

I traveled to Florida before with my family and strolled the beach many times, but this was Aunt Sister’s first venture to this new world. She had traded that hot, hot suit for a pair of long black shorts and a long-sleeved white blouse adorned with her silver cross. I didn’t see this as a major difference, but Aunt Sister relished it. Her eyes lit up at her first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico, and I hate to admit, her feet were much faster than mine as she dashed to the shoreline and scooped up some wet sand. Granules slid through her fingers and floated back to the ground, but something remained.

“Patty, come here. What kind of shell is this? Ooh, there’s a creature in here! A snail, do you think? Would your dad let us take this back to the room? I could slip it into my suitcase before we leave. Have you ever seen anything like this before? Do you think we can find more?”

Question after question, comment after comment, smile after smile. The joy was there.

Aunt Sister only made that one trip to Florida with us, but her joy in seeing the beauty of God’s creation stayed in her heart and mine for a lifetime.

Six Word Stories

Feisty leader, soar, up and away.
Jeannine, leader, soaring to new heights.

Workshop fosters voice. Sing on, writers.
Choices are good for writers—challenging.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Literature Review


So much emphasis is put on high stakes tests. Not only do we want students to pass these tests, but we want them to be commended. Sixth, seventh, and eight grade students must now pass the reading test in order to move onto the next grade level. What happens when a student does not like to read? Does not want to participate in class? How can this student be encouraged? By modeling. This is the path I took with one seventh grade student. She entered my classroom as a nonreader, but she left it hooked on reading. I kept a pile of books on my desk for her to see, I read during her RICH time, I responded to the very short letters she wrote about her books, and I recommended books to her. All of this modeling helped her become an avid reader. This modeling helped this one student not only pass the test, but she made commended. Since this method, modeling, worked so well with my reading students, I wanted to see if it would work with writing as well. That was the emphasis of the research for this review: Since the practice of modeling is helpful to student success in reading, can it also be helpful to student success in writing?


Research shows that a reading/writing workshop is the best approach to get students to write. As I read article after article, not only was the emphasis placed on the workshop method, but also on teacher modeling. Keaton Shenk (Writing from the Heart, 1996) implemented the reading/writing workshop in his classroom and determined that not only was this a good way to encourage student writing and participation, but it was vital that teachers write alongside their students, sharing drafts of their work with students. “I could identify more keenly with my students’ feelings each day in class as I asked them to write and revise, persuade and publish.” (Shenk 1996).

This same line is shown in articles by Tom Romano. In his April 1996 “Crafting Authentic Voice,” Romano shares his own writing with students in his writing class and together they analyze his craft—how he develops his authentic voice. Romano encourages the “death of adverbs’ and the “use of verbs with muscle” to craft voice. Romano revisits this idea of voice
in “Writing with Voice” (2003). Students used prompts from 100 Quickwrites by Linda Reif (2003) and When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant to spur writing. Not only did Romano write as students wrote, he shared his writing with them. Modeling.

William P. Bintz and Karen S. Shelton focus on a unique strategy in their 2004 article titled “Using Written Conversation in Middle School: Lessons from a Teacher Researcher Project.” Bintz and Shelton showed that note passing is a way for students to do something they enjoy, passing notes in class, and combine it with something they really do not like all that much, studying a novel. Shelton modeled the note passing procedure for her students. The model included: the format for each note, the manner in which students respond, and reflection at the end. Once again modeling for students.

Joyce Armstrong Carroll, in “Drawing into Meaning: A Powerful Writing Tool.” (1991) relates how drawing is not just for children who cannot write, but images at any age are part of making meaning. Use of images can be a valuable writing tool. This is shown many times over, I think, when we utilize a slideshow presentation. These slideshows are full of words and pictures to make our points. Even though Carroll does not make a direct case for teacher modeling as a strategy or idea, she shows models of drawings and books to enhance her idea of ‘drawing into meaning.’

Students must be exact in their writing by ‘showing not telling’ (Anderson, 2003). He shares how teachers can take skeletal sentences and flesh them out into full images. Use concrete nouns to help writing stick in the readers mind. Add absolutes and participles to create a telephoto lens that enhances the focus on specific details. Pull passages from novels to model this for students.

These ideas can be used in drafting as well as in revision. Writing is all about revision (Saddler 2003). Revision is hard for students, I think it is hard for all writers, but it is easier if teachers model specific revision strategies and give students time to practice them.
Students need several things to help them develop as writers. They need time, choice and models (Rief 2006). Students need good models of writing, professional writing and peer writing, to help them develop their skills. Using these models is learning to read as a writer. Models from all genres should be shown and shared to allow students to step inside and gain understanding of its characteristics.

Nancy Atwell, in my opinion, offers language arts teachers the best model for teaching reading and writing, the reading/writing workshop. Atwell encourages teachers to keep things real for students. She tells us writers thrive and create when they are motivated to work hard, have regular opportunities to practice and reflect, and benefit from the knowledge and experiences of a teacher who writes and knows writing (Atwell 2003). In other words, a teacher who models writing for them. She brings this to the forefront once again in “Hard Trying and These Recipes” (Atwell 2003). Students can accomplish good writing if they have lessons about topics, lessons about principals, lessons about genres, and lessons about conventions. The information she collected for this article became the focus for her book Lessons That Change Writers (2002). Each of these types of lessons is modeled for teachers and students in the book.

Much of the research I found cited Atwell’s workshop method for language arts classes. Sherry Guice (“The Second Time Around” March 2000) chose to implement the workshop when she returned to a middle school classroom. Sheryl Lain states, “My students learn to write better when I use the writing workshop because they write more and practice more thoughtful process.” (Lain 2007). No matter where I turned or what research I read, writing workshop was a main focus. Not only was writing workshop the method chosen for students, modeling was a major strategy used.

Modeling takes on many forms. It can be sharing examples, models, of your expectations for students, sharing examples, models, of your own writing with students, and simply doing the same thing your students are. No matter how your look at it, modeling is a must for student success in both reading and writing.

Article 11

I. Title: What’s Right with Writing
II. Author: Linda Rief
III. Author’s Purpose: Linda Rief shares with readers the progress that
has been made in writing and the teaching of writing over the past twenty years.
IV. What are the points made in the review of the literature? Do they
support the need for the study? Rief tells readers that teachers must
be researchers in our own classrooms, gather information from our students over time,
question ourselves about what is working and not working, and act on this information to
help students reap the benefits of writing. Rief comments, as well, on the following points:
A. Writing is thinking; it is a way of communicating our understanding and
misunderstanding of ourselves and the world around us.
B. There is no one process that defines the way all writers write. Writing is recursive, and
the writer shifts back and forth between steps to make ideas clear.
C. We learn to write by reading extensively and writing for real audiences. Model for
students and share samples of good writing for students to read and imitate.
D. Writers need constructive response. Let students know what you noticed about their
writing, what was done well and questions that came to mind as you read. Put away
the red pen.
E. Evaluation of writing should highlight the strengths of process, content, and
conventions, and give the writer the tools and techniques to strengthen the
weaknesses. Allow students to verbalize their thinking as they moved through the
process helps them. Evaluation should move the writer forward and help them grow in
their thinking.
F. Writing is reading. For too long, the past ten years, the focus has been on literacy as
reading. We have forgotten writing. Since writing is a recursive process, students
engage in critical thinking and questioning and reading and writing.
V. Author’s Inquiry Question/s: What is right with writing and the
teaching of writing? How did we reach this point and where do we go
from here?
VI Author’s Methodology: Observation of and reflection on the
development and progress of writing instruction
A. Who is being studied? Students and teachers
B. Over what length of time: Twenty years
C. What data is being collected? Rief gathered teaching methods and strategies,
student writing samples, and other literature on writing to analyze ideas on how the
teaching of writing has changed over the past twenty years or so.
D. How is it being analyzed? Rief has taken the information gathered and looked at
where we were twenty years ago and where we are now
E. Any other interesting or pertinent data: Rief tells readers what our students need to
help them write well. They need time, choice, and models. This seems to sum up most
of the articles I have read for this review. She also mentions the need for professional
development for teachers that focuses as much on writing as on reading. Certainly,
The National Writing Project has done this around the United States.
VII. How the author collected information? I think Rief collected her
information through reading the works of John Dewey, Donald Murray, Peter Elbow,
Donald Graves, Tom Newkirk, Shelley Harwayne, Tom Romano, and Nancie Atwell in
addition to observations in classrooms and analysis of student work.
VIII. What the Author Discovered or Conclusions/Implications: Rief
also mentions in her article that testing is standing in the way of powerful writing
instruction. She even mentions that she met two young teachers who had to sign a clause
in their contracts that if they didn’t raise the scores of the students in their classrooms
from one year to the next, they understood they would be let go. What a difficult task to
accomplish! We need to do what is best for our students. In addition to her thoughts on
testing, Rief wants teachers of writing to stay focused on their own writing because this
helps us to understand what we are asking our students to do every day. Rief feels that we
have come a long way in the past twenty years, but we still have a long way to go.