Posts Tagged ‘writing workshop’

Slice of Life: Love Those Writers

May 25, 2021

Yesterday.

Yesterday was a pretty good day.

It was the day my first article as a contributing author got published on my very favorite teacher site, Two Writing Teachers.

And it was also the day that I asked my students to reflect on their experiences in writing workshop this year. I told them of my respect and admiration for them as humans, as writers. I told them how amazing it was to enjoy the process of writing alongside them this year. I told them that we’re going to have the chance to continue this work together next year, and I want their experience next year to honor their strengths and needs.

Here are the questions I asked:

How did you grow as a writer this year?
What did you learn from reading one another’s writing?
Describe your ideal writing workshop.
Looking ahead to next year, how would YOU like to grow as a writer?

I first used breakout rooms on Zoom (sigh. Always ZOOM) to let the kids discuss answers to these questions, to gather ideas and perspectives. I then gave kids a solid 20 minutes to complete the questions on Google Forms. And by 20 minutes, I MEANT 20 minutes. I told students they were not allowed to submit their survey before I gave the OK. If they reached a stopping point, they could stop, or think, or daydream, but I wanted the survey open for other thoughts that “trickled in” over the course of that 20 minutes.

I’m glad I did.*

My students brought it. And why shouldn’t they have? They’ve been bringing it every day we’ve been together.

As I read through their responses, I saw so many common threads, so many take-aways. I’m sharing a couple of highlights because they make me so happy.

On what we want writing workshop to look like, kids envisioned:
-Calm. Quiet. Peace.
-Solitude when needed.
-Collaboration when needed.
-Pens and paper and clipboards and fuzzy pillows and seating options.
-Freedom.

Word cloud showing how we envision writing workshop. Thanks, edwordle, for the resource!

On what we learned from sharing our work:
-We never gave enough credit to the skills of other writers.
-Other people have very different writing styles.
-Reading other people’s work made us want to write better.
-We’re better at giving and receiving feedback

Word cloud showing what we’ve gotten out of the experience.

On how I can help them learn and grow, students envision that I’ll be:
-Teaching specific writing skills
-Offering feedback
-Giving them the “push” they want and need in zones of discomfort
-Showing them text that mirrors the aspects they want to use in writing

This is just the tip of the iceberg, friends. I asked my kids to stop, to imagine, to dream about what writing workshop could be. They’ve given me so much to think about over the summer. And while summer canNOT come fast enough, I’m already looking forward to next year.

*(If we’re being 100% real, YES. There were plenty of kids who probably filled out the survey in four minutes and pretended to work longer. This is a COVID year. And it’s June. And Zoom. I’ll take what I can get.)


Today’s post is part of the weekly Slice of Life Challenge. Check them out!

“I Feel Like a Real Writer” – Guest Post

May 24, 2021

Friends, I’m so excited to tell you that I am now a contributing author on the Two Writing Teachers website. This community has helped me grow so much as a writer, a teacher and as a person. Honestly, I could gush for quite a while about how transformative the experience has been. Suffice it to say, I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.

So, here’s a teaser for my first article:

Teaching writing to gifted students isn’t the smooth, easy path some might suppose. Gifted kids often present a range of academic and affective needs. How can we encourage joyful and confident writing in this special population?

Want to read the rest? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy, and keep on visiting that site. There’s a lot to learn, and amazing folks to learn from!

Assigned Work: Growing Up

May 10, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: What does it mean to grow up?


What does it mean to grow up? Of course, I could joke around about the answer to this question and simply remark, “I never have!”

But I have grown up. Despite wanting to stay child-like in my awe and idealism, I have officially become a grown-up. And I have a few things to say about being a grown-up: we can pinpoint moments of transition, there are things we lose in being a grown-up, and there are things we gain.

First, I can pinpoint moments when I had to transition into grown-up-ness. All of them, unfortunately, circle around times of grief and loss. There was the time I had to go with my mom to tell my grandmother that my grandpa had just passed away. That’s a moment kids are shielded from, ordinarily. Being a part of that moment was the first time I realized I was no longer a kid. I’ve also experienced the loss of my brother, my father, my niece, a friend. All of these losses gave me a different understanding and wisdom about this world that I can only describe as a growing-up.

Growing up also means that there are things from childhood that I lose. Being a kid means getting to jump full-on into play and creativity. As much as I love to create and play, there is now a certain part of me that doesn’t let it happen with reckless abandon. I have one foot planted in joy and fun, and one foot planted in the idea that I’m going to have to stop at some point because I’ve got stuff to do. I also miss the deep feelings and thoughts I had as a kid. Being a kid is really hard sometimes. As a kid, you take a lot of hurt and pain and you have to figure out what to do with it, and there isn’t always someone to tell you how. And I remember how hard that was, and I remember the memories of those feelings, but it isn’t the same as experiencing them in real time. I can empathize, but I no longer feel and experience things in the same way. I can’t completely identify or understand any more, even though I would love to.

Growing up doesn’t mean that you’re all of a sudden better at organizing things, at making friends, or paying attention, or managing difficult feelings, or cleaning your room, or eating better, or doing homework, or staying out of trouble, or that you like doing chores. But it does mean that you’re coming to things with a deeper perspective, a bit more patience, and a LOT more experience (often gotten the hard way). Growing up means giving up some things, but it’s possible to hold on to a strong moral compass, a love of creativity, a sense of awe and wonder. Growing up means forgetting some of the feelings of childhood, but having more wisdom, more compassion, more patience. I don’t think, at this point in my life, that I’d trade any of it back.

Assigned Work: Cat Fiction

May 6, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: Write a fiction dialogue about cats.

Okay, I’m wondering. Is this a full fiction story about cats INCLUDING dialogue, or a story TOLD through dialogue? Guess I’ll trust myself as a writer! I know I need to work on narration, so I’m going with the first one.


“Hey! Lydia! Quit hogging the climbing post,” snapped Goldie.

“Nah, I’m not feelin’ it,” replied Lydia from inside the carpeted hideaway. “I’ve finally got this spot warm, and I’m not in a mood to move anytime soon.” She yawned, licked her paw and gave her ear a quick smooth-down.

“You KNOW this is my favorite spot, now get off!” Goldie’s hackles began to raise as her ears went back.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” retorted Lydia.

“What on earth does that MEAN?”

“I don’t know. I hear The Weird-Os say it all the time when they fight over stuff. I thought it might work.”

“UGH!” said Goldie, stalking off to her less-than-ideal alternative spot behind the couch. Goldie could have chosen the reclining chair, the spot in the sunshine by the window, or even the nubby blanket on the ottoman.

All of those places are perfectly wonderful for a cat, thought Goldie. But not a smart cat. Not in this household.

Smart cats in certain households know the only way to true happiness is to stay out of the way of certain humans. Smart cats in certain households know it’s better to stay hidden as a rule, and only come out for exceptions: catnip, canned food, feather toys, and humans who actually know how to pet a cat.

Whenever she thought about the Weird-Os, Goldie had to stop herself from growling. Those two humans have no business being in a cat household, she told herself.

Granted, Goldie was more than happy to be IN a home. She and her sister Lydia shared a kennel at the pet store until the Weird-Os’ parents came to an adoption fair, fell head over heels in love, and brought the two of them home.

Home.

Home to comfy blankets.

Home to food that tastes like food.

Home to windows with ample sunshine.

Home to a litter box in a WHOLE OTHER ROOM.

It was bliss.

Lydia and Goldie shared their home with two grown-up humans who had nothing to do but buy cat toys and treats, offer a warm lap for sitting, and keep the catnip coming.

Until.

Until the Weird-Os blew home one May day in a minivan packed to the gills with all kinds of junk. Before they knew it, the house was littered with dirty socks, backpacks, college wear and the undeniably ripe smell of humans in their late teen years.

“You know, the one with the earring and longer hair isn’t so bad, Goldie. He knows the best way to become friends is to stay away until we decide we want something to do with him.”

“Unfortunately,” mused Goldie, “he stinks so badly that nobody in their right mind would want anything to do with him. And the short-haired one with the blue jeans?”

“Don’t get me started!” said Lydia. “She’s a problem. I think she missed that memo about waiting for us to decide when to be friends.”

“I know, right? She’s always dragging us from under the couch or the bed. Like, if I wanted you to pet me, don’t you think I’d be purring in your lap by now?”

“And who’d want her to pet them?” said Lydia. “There’s a reason why our fur goes in a given direction on our bodies.”

“It’s like she’s trying to squeeze a purr out of us.”

“Well she can keep squeezing. I ain’t purring. Not for her.”

“Amen to that,” agreed Goldie.

So Goldie and Lydia kept themselves hidden in the cracks and crevices of their home, only coming out when their older humans had a treat or a lap to offer. They snuck their meals only after determining the coast was clear. When the Weird-Os entered the kitchen, Lydia and Goldie would streak back to the nearest hiding place.

One August morning, there was an uncommon amount of hubbub in the house. The Weird-Os circled the house searching for their stuff. Socks and shoes on the floor gave way to boxes, to suitcases, to backpacks stuffed full to bursting. And just when it seemed every square inch of the floor was taken by STUFF, the human family took it all out and packed their minivan to the gills once again.

They heard the car rumble to a start and move down the street.

The house was quiet once again.

After a time, the older humans came back.

Alone.

“Hey! Lydia! The Weird-Os are gone. Do you think they’re really gone, or is it a trick?”

“I don’t know,” replied Lydia. “The minivan came back without their stuff.”

“Well, I think we should just keep hiding for a little while until we know for sure,” said Goldie.

Sure enough, the house remained quiet and calm. The only humans were the older ones – the ones who knew how to talk to and treat a cat. Lydia and Goldie slowly made their way from the shadows to return to their laps, their recliner chair, their sunny spots by the windows.

Until the next May…


The original Lydia, our cat during and after college.
The original Goldie, our cat when I was a kid

Assigned Work: Video Game Writing

May 5, 2021

So. I committed myself to writing student-assigned topics throughout the month of May. To tell you the truth, I could extend LONG beyond May. The kids had a great time (perhaps TOO good of a time?) coming up with topics they thought I should write, topics they themselves had a tricky time with. Of course, some of them were just having some fun with me.

The topics included the functional: “write a horror story without gore,” “write ten sentences in Shakespearean English,” “write a dialogue-only poem.”

Others invited me to think on an entirely different plane: “what is your view on racism?” “what makes us human?” “how is your vision of yourself different from others’ vision of you?”

There were a couple, of course, that were downright savage: “write a 5-page realistic fiction story.” “write a story while doing push-ups (dictation allowed).”

This, my friends, is just a PARTIAL list from one class section out of four.

Today, I’ll dip my toes into the water with this prompt: “Write about a video game you’ve played – no research allowed.”

Here goes.

I still remember the setup in our back hallway. There was a tiny black-and-white TV plugged in to an Atari game system wedged in the bottom shelf of our linen closet. You’d think it was a terrible place to have it, but that placement was perfect. You see, that closet was all the way at the end of the house, at the end of the hallway with the kids’ bedrooms. My parents’ bedroom was at the opposite of the house. No way could they hear how often we were playing, or how often we fought over the games.

My brother Mike and I could play video games on that black-and-white TV absolutely any time we wanted to. And we did. There was the Grand Prix car race played on the paddle controls, there was Asteroids, and there was Pong, an early version of lots of Breakout games.

But the real star of the show? Without question, it was Space Invaders.

Space Invaders was a game where you had your rocketship-shooter on the ground that you could move from left to right. Up above you would be rows of UFOs that would march down left…right…down…down…and you’d have to shoot them all before they landed on you.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick went the UFOs as they marched. As they got fewer and fewer, closer and closer, they’d speed their march, coming towards the rocketship.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick you’d race back and forth shooting at the UFOs. Level by level you’d shoot them down. As you gained levels the UFOs would go faster, would start shooting back at your rocket ship.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick if you were lucky you’d score high enough (a whopping score of 9,999) you’d TURN THE GAME OVER! which was cause for celebrations and high-fives, and maybe a bit of resentment that *someone* was hogging the video game.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick I’d wait my turn patiently, patiently until my brother lost a game – unless he lost too early in the game and then he’d say that round didn’t count. And the rounds that DID count took forever because he turned the game over who KNOWS how many times.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick went the UFOs, faster and faster. I’d keep my fingers crossed that my brother would finally lose, because I knew he wouldn’t willingly give the game to me, knew I couldn’t tattle on him for being a game hog, knew my parents would just take the game away because we were fighting.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick I waited my turn to get control of that joystick, that Atari, that black-and-white TV in the linen closet.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick….

May Writing Challenge

May 4, 2021

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

My students are brave and inspiring and amazing – in writing AND in life.

So I’m dedicating May to them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much it takes for them to write, without complaint, WHATEVER it is we throw their way. Every genre, every challenge, every topic.

Yes, I do realize that we have things to teach them, and many of those things are important skills as a writer. Still. How does it feel when most of the writing we do isn’t actually of our choice?

That led me to think.

How would I do with assigned topics?

I’ve solicited my students for writing topics. I’ve asked them about the topics and assignments that were the most difficult, the most trying, the most frustrating.

And I’m going to write them, too.

Understand, this isn’t a knock on any of my colleagues. We have a job to do when it comes to writing instruction. Besides, several of the suggestions were assignments I had given them. I suppose I’m not always sparking joy, if I’m being honest with myself.

What it would be like if I truly walked the walk? If I made myself write whatever topic they threw my way, without complaint? How would I evolve as a writer? As a teacher of writing? As a human?

So, for the month of May, I’ll be picking up writing topics at the suggestion (direction!) of my students. It might be fun, it might be educational, it might be gray hair-inducing.

This month is for the loveys. Let’s go!

This post is for the Slice of Life Challenge on Two Writing Teachers. Check ’em out!

Slice of Life 2021 Day 4: Kid Wisdom

March 4, 2021

Today marks Day 4 of the Slice of Life challenge. Join me as I work to write every day in March – and maybe beyond!

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, I used my own writing as a mentor text for my fourth graders. The goal is to use student writing as the literature from which we conduct reading discussions. The REAL goal is to farm out the strategy, if it works. Who knows? Maybe we can have whole classes – whole SCHOOLS worth of children who see themselves as writers, who delight in creating literature that’s just as worthy of analysis as something they’d pick up off the bookshelf.

But I get ahead of myself.

Today, I read my students’ written responses to my work. I set them up with a 4-quadrant response chart before our class discussion. Reading their work, and then hearing them TALK about my writing? Friends, if you haven’t listened to other people talking about your writing, YOU. ARE. MISSING. OUT. I’m highlighting a few questions and ideas from my perceptive kiddos:

Something I don’t understand…
“Why is Lainie’s friend so mean? Why can’t Story be nicer?”
“Why should Story give Lainie a smirk if she already said ‘suit yourself?’ “

A question I have…
“Why does Lainie hate writing narrative fiction?”
“Maybe she is talking to her writing and doesn’t like it but STORY wants her to try again?”

Oh! This seems important…
“Story is telling Lainie she can’t tell her students to do one thing and do something else herself.”
“The friend is encouraging her.”
“Story is named…STORY.”

It’s interesting that…
“A lot of people don’t like writing things they can’t get wrapped up in.”
“Lainie always tries to encourage others but doesn’t try to encourage herself.”
“Lainie tells her students to do things she doesn’t want to do herself.”
“She is standing up for what she likes and doesn’t like.”

I want to let this wisdom stand, so I won’t belabor the point with a lot of extra chatter. But I will share TWO things:

  1. My favorite moment came when the students realized that Story smirked because she had tricked me into writing fiction. That’s when the kids were REALLY able to infer the “tough love” relationship I have with her.
  2. I mean, LOOK at what these kids observed and wrote. They have my NUMBER.

Now. If you need me. I’ll be sitting here, heart aflutter, waiting for what’s next around the bend. I can’t wait – and neither can my loveys!

Thought Bubble, Speech Bubble

August 25, 2020

Guess what brave things I did today?
a) I got out of my bed
b) I committed to working out – and did
c) I announced that I wasn’t cooking dinner tonight
d) All of the above

Of course, there was something I didn’t do today, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m wise, or because I was just plain chicken.

There I was, waiting for an ice cream order at our local spot. The place usually gets quite a crowd, and from what I’ve seen, most folks try and manage pretty well to give others space and follow social distancing rules.

But then I saw them. A group of about 8 or 10 upper elementary-aged kids crowded around a picnic table, no space, no masks, sharing fries and food here and there. There were about 4-5 dads nearby, from what I could tell.

Those random guys could have been MY students. Or of any of my other local colleagues who have to go in to school to teach them in person tomorrow.

A photo NOT of the folks I saw, because that’s how I roll. #WeGoHigh

It was really hard for me to see that.

It was REALLY hard – physically hard – for me to see that, and not say something to that group.

Because I didn’t want to be THAT person.

Still, I did have the time to imagine a speech in my head:

“Hi there. Listen, I’m not trying to raise a scene. I don’t want to start an argument with you or anyone. It’s actually really hard right now for me to speak. But there’s something I need you to know.

“I’m a teacher. My school leaders, colleagues and I spent our summer preparing for the logistics of an in-person return to school this fall. We have spent even more time lying awake at night anxious about our safety, about the safety of our families, and about the safety of our school community.

“I don’t expect anything from you, but I just need you to know that it’s really hard for me to see your group together, knowing how much we we do to keep kids safe while they’re in our care, and knowing how hard we work to keep our end of the bargain.

“And I just need you to hear that if I knew my own students were out doing this same thing, and perhaps putting classmates or other teachers at risk, I’d be heartbroken.

“Again, I don’t expect anything from you. I just…needed you to hear me.”

Then my ice cream came. I decided that I didn’t wind up saying anything to the group because:
a) I didn’t want my ice cream to melt
b) I’m not super into guilt trips
c) I’m not sure I’d actually have been heard
d) I didn’t trust myself to speak sincerely and without judgement or anger
e) All of the above

Instead, I took this evening as an opportunity to remember:
a) I can only control me
b) Emotions, even negative ones, are perfectly okay to feel
c) There is power in letting go
d) Sometimes ice cream really can fix things
e) All of the above

This is Not a Paper Clip

August 24, 2020

this post is dedicated to A.H., whose cleverness and sincerity make me deeply proud to know such wonderful people

I’m easy to please.

Which is good, because as a teacher and as a mom, I can’t wait for big grand gestures to bring me a sense of satisfaction or well-being. I’d be here all day.

No, joy comes to me in small pockets:
-The sounds of cicadas humming
-A dog who insists on curling up at my feet because I’m her person
-A plate of scrambled eggs and toast on a hard day

And what filled my heart to bursting today?

Some of you who have read my posts before know that I’ve been pen pals with some of my loveys. It’s been a wonderful way to stay connected during a difficult time. I started with about a dozen or so, then it trickled down to correspondence with about five kids by the time school ended. Summer…not so much.

Lo and behold, one of my former students has continued to write to me. What a joy it was to receive her letter and read it today.

I was most excited that my pen pal letter today contained this:

“This [paper clip] is an ant catapult”

It’s an invitation to play the game “What is This?”

You see, way back when, about five years ago, on the very first day of our group, I introduced a game to this girl and her friends. The game has been around, but I don’t know its actual name. I call it “What is This?” Here’s how to play:
-Start with an ordinary object (toothpick, pencil, scissors, roll of tape).
-The “starter” holds the object.
-Someone asks the “starter” what it is. “What is this?”
-The starter says EXACTLY what it is – “This is a _______ ,” then hands it off.
-The next person says, “No, it’s not a ____. It’s (makes up some imaginative idea for what it could be).”
-The object gets passed and re-branded throughout the group.

One rule is that the object has to possibly be used for that purpose, even if it’s silly. I could pretend a pencil is anything – a rocket ship, a pizza, a computer. But that’s not what this game is about. This game forces me to look at form and function. At shape and material. That pencil really could be a baseball bat for a rabbit. A back scratcher. A dart. A nose picker.

Every day, we as teachers do activities for fun, for enjoyment, for learning, never quite knowing what kids carry with them. We don’t often get the privilege of finding out what our loveys remember from our time together. Yet here is one of my kids, thoughtful and creative enough to remember this game and figure out how to start up a round together even though we’re apart.

It’s quite possibly one of the cleverest ideas I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m still smiling about it.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. I took that paper clip, taped it on to my own letter, and I wrote my response.

Are you feeling creative? Do you have something else this paper clip could be? I’d love to see it below in the comments.

Different, Different, Same

August 20, 2020
This year’s workspace. No in-person kids, just…me, a desk, some books.

There is so very, very much about this year that is so different, so strange, so foreign.

And yet, all of that change has only served to highlight the things that remain steadfast and sure.

It is 8:00 pm on the first day of school with children in attendance.

I am exhausted.

So much about today was different, foreign, awkward:

  • Lining the kiddos up along 6-foot spaced dots
  • Seeing all my loveys from the face masks up
  • Slow traffic into the building as kids hand-san on the way in
  • Kids staying in their room for recess. For lunch. For art. For music.

Its strange and eerie how all of our back-to-school videos and pep talks are all about social distancing and mask wearing and hand-washing.

It’s sad that after years of pursuing a “less me, more you” approach to student-centered learning, we are now in the midst of a structure that requires so much more teacher-centric direction. It’s not best practice as we know it, and I’m not sure what to do with all of that. I mourn this loss.

Amid all of this strangeness that’s alternately saddening and discouraging, what is it that remains steadfast and true? Here’s a start:

  • My cheeks were still sore this morning from smiling at all of the kids and families as I greeted them on their way in to school.
  • My colleagues were right back on their game, starting right in with get-to-know-you activities and routines.
  • Kids still came in at all the many levels of excitement and nervousness, with all of the honeymoon-like behavior that accompanies the first days of school.

But here’s what’s at the heart of things. Here’s a tiny bit of what makes me confident that we’ll be okay this year, despite everything being turned upside down.

If anything, this situation has more firmly committed us to the belief that our work is 90% social and emotional. Only when we take care of the humans in front of us can we begin the work of academics. This year gives us the permission to live that philosophy in truth.

Even though the world conspires to rob us of community (social distancing, masks, decreased interaction, remote learning, lack of human contact), my colleagues and I will STILL manage to create caring, tight-knit bonds because that is our superpower. That is what we do.

It’s what we always do.

It’s why teaching is our calling.

It’s what’s going to get us through what promises to be the most difficult year of our careers.

Buckle up, my friends.