Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's Stop Calling Them Reluctant Writers

I have never been a fan of the term, reluctant writer. I firmly believe all kids want to be able to write with ease. What the hesitant writer needs to build is, confidence and self-belief.

Every teacher at some time has to struggle to help a student overcome self-doubt about their abilities. To grow confident, self-directed readers and writers requires a lot of teacher investment. When teachers create a classroom climate that encourages risk taking, values mistakes as a learning opportunity and works consciously to build trust, students begin to engage with greater certainty. 

Children who experience positive learning experiences feel successful and supported. When a learner has such experiences a greater energy surrounds that person.

Blaming kids and labelling them reluctant does nothing to address the reasons for the student’s behaviour. Where the teacher controls most aspects of the writing from topic to genre, there is little incentive to buy in. Choice and ownership has been removed. Writing becomes an assignment given out by a teacher. The student writer has no real voice.

It is quite possible the earlier writing experiences the student has endured have negatively impacted on their perception of writing and given them a sense that there is little to inspire them in this activity. Writing may be associated with discomfort, - somewhat akin to kneeling on uncooked rice.

A sense of dejection and failure may result. The willingness to take risks erodes with time. It therefore requires remedial action to change the picture the students holds in their heads regarding writing.

Attitude is everything. It is the quality of such interactions; the quality of subsequent instruction that determines success or failure. Setting kids up to feel some measure of success from their own attempts is critical to building resilience and ‘stickability.’

But buy in also relies on what a teacher actually does. So, if a teacher writes and shares the resultant struggles and achievements, this provides authentic support to the less experienced student writer. I share this exchange I saw posted on Twitter by educator and writer, Linda Rief:

Students writing on computers-one googles me-
'Mrs.R, you write books!'
Whole class jumps to see
'OMG, you actually write! 
You're not a fake teacher!'

It speaks strongly about the power of being a credible teacher of writing.

In the writing workshop it is important to remind students about what they know and what they bring with them to the classroom. Help them to realize all the reading and writing they have ever done can be harnessed to work in their favour when attempting a new writing project. Emotional support, encouragement and feedback for effort provide essential re-assurance.

Learning to listen is also critical to student participation. When teachers ask questions and listen to the thinking behind a student’s actions and words, we further encourage students to want to work with adults. Encouraging the metacognitive writer to emerge is essential to ultimate success in the classroom.

Self-esteem and participation rise when your efforts to overcome uncertainty and face challenges result in some measure of success.  As teachers, we are more powerful than we think. Consider this, we control the very climate of the classroom. We can be either, makers or breakers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Planning For Writing, Let's Make It Count

When teachers look closely at the writing students produce; when they understand how writers operate, the forward planning they undertake endeavours to focus on the point of need for each writer. 

The instruction that grows from such planning occurs on several levels- whole group, small group and individual. The planning doesn’t limit the young writer’s choice, nor deny them opportunities to add to their growing repertoire of craft strategies.

John Hattie’s research has revealed that up to 70% of what teachers ‘present’ to learners, they already know. To avoid such a scenario, planning must aim to build upon prior learning and move the student forward. For this reason alone, examining writing samples and conference notes is critical to effective planning. This is planning that sets high expectation for teaching and learning.

Planning that disregards such important considerations often places arbitrary limits on the student writer. When teachers plan using arbitrary or rigid guidelines, it has the effect of limiting the growth of writing. Curriculum guidelines are just that. They are guidelines. They are open to interpretation. To translate them so rigidly, does the student no great service. A packaged view of curriculum does a disservice to teacher professionalism and restricts agency in the classroom.

Take for instance, the craft strategy, ‘show, don’t tell,’ -should it only be introduced or taught at a particular grade level?  Some schools have determined it should not be taught before Grade 3.

Would it make more sense to allow it to be introduced at the discretion of the teacher having taken into account the needs of the writer and their particular development? An individual student or students may indicate through their writing they would be further empowered by exposure to such a transforming craft strategy. The teacher determines to teach at this point of need.

In the past, I have introduced this strategy to some of our youngest writers. I watched in awe as they transformed their initial words into more powerful pieces. They used their writing to convey strong visual images to their readers. They set their characters in motion rather than telling their readers what had occurred. This strategy possesses a kind of magic. Kids will inform us through their writing when they are ready to receive this writing wisdom.

When teachers alert young writers to possibility, they embrace it. If teachers nudge themselves when planning and nudge students by consistently applying high expectations, so much more is achievable.

Planning must take teaching to the edge of possibility, rather than impose doubt and uncertainty. Uncertainty borne out of a lack of understanding about what writers need –and when they need it.

Some Considerations:
·   Have I used the formative and assessments identify the current needs of my writers?
Can I describe my vision, focus, objectives, and student needs?
Is my plan for teaching aligned with standards, objectives, and guidelines?
Is there a balance of teaching strategies, learning strategies, and authentic tasks that engage and meet the needs of diverse learners?
Have I developed plans, methods, and processes?
Have I sequenced the learning clearly?
Have I Identified resources I need to support my teaching?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Some Recommended Reading For Teaching Writing

A List of Professional Texts -Recommended Reading for Teaching Writing

                                  TITLE                                                     OVERVIEW

‘Breathing In, Breathing Out, Keeping A Writer’s Notebook.’ Ralph Fletcher, Heinemann

A slim, but precious book that reminds us of the need to capture the spark of being a writer and using the notebook as a safe place to experiment. I keep returning to this time and again…
‘What You Know By Heart - How To Develop Curriculum For Your Writing Workshop.’
Katie Ray Wood. Heinemann.

Katie Wood Ray reminds us how important it is to envision curriculum ideas through the writing we read. It was here that I learnt the importance of reading like a writer. Before Revision comes vision!
‘Wondrous Words’  Katie Wood Ray, NCTE
A practical book that draws on stories from classrooms about the way students learn to write from their reading. Links theory and practice to supply valuable knowledge for teaching writing
‘About the Author, Writing workshop with our youngest writers’ Katie Wood Ray with Lisa B Cleaveland, Heinemann
This book focuses on the work of our youngest writers encouraging them to write and design books. How to set up and maintain a writing community is also covered in depth. Excellent resource!
‘Juicy Writing, -Inspiration and Techniques for Young Writers,’ Brigid Lowry, Allen & Unwin,

New Zealand, Australia based author Brigid Lowry has written a book chock full of practical advice for the young writers we teach. Pre-teen and adolescent writers will get a lot from this book.
Poetry Everywhere’
 Jack Collom, Sheryl Noethe.
Teachers and Writers Collaborative.
This book presents a wide array of poetry forms with the work of student writers from K- 12 featured throughout.
‘Writing Workshop –The Essential Guide.’
Ralph Fletcher, Joann Portalupi.  Heinemann.
A great overview for the inexperienced writing teacher. Provides an entre level framework that includes practical advice and examples.
What A Writer Needs’ Ralph Fletcher. Heinemann.

Provides a wealth of specific strategies for challenging and extending all writers. Voice, setting, characters effective leads and endings are among a host of chapter headings covered in this excellent book
‘Non-Fiction Craft Lessons, Teaching Information Writing’ Ralph Fletcher. Heinemann
Provides essential support K-8 in craft strategies to develop non fiction writing
How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring With Student Writers, Carl Anderson
Anderson has written a definitive guide to ‘conferring’ with writers. Practical and informative it will assist all teachers to become better listeners and better writing teachers.
Take Joy A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, Jane Yolen Writer’s Digest
Easily read volume that explores how to focus on aspects of the craft that bring joy to the writer.
Writing Down The Bones Natalie Goldberg, Shambala
Goldberg teaches us that sometimes we can make writing too complicated…
Writing Fiction, Garry Disher. Allen & Unwin
Australian author Garry Disher unpacks the craft required to write credible fiction.
Boy Writers, Reclaiming Their Voices, Ralph Fletcher, Stenhouse
Focuses on engaging boy writers through topic choice and practical suggestions for the classroom.
Notebook Knowhow, Strategies For The Writer’s Notebook, Aimee Buckner, Stenhouse
A practical book that provides oodles of ideas for implementing notebooks into the writing program. Great resource!
Mentor Texts –Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 Lynne Dorfman & Rose Capelli, Stenhouse
While many of the texts mentioned are American, the ideas formed around them are easily transferred. The authors provide lots of support for teachers.
Using Literature to Enhance Writing Instruction, Rebecca Olness, International Reading Association
The more I read this book, the more I find I like it! The author talks sense about the links to literature and how best to use it to enhance student writing
I Can Write Like That –A Guide to Mentor Texts and Craft Studies, Susan Ehmann & Kellyann Gayer, International Reading Association
A resource for identifying craft ideas in children’s books. The name says it all!
Study Driven, A Framework For Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop, Katie Wood Ray, Heinemann
Outlines for teachers how to immerse students of all ages in a close study of published texts and what constitutes good writing. A great book for planning inquiry units.
Finding Your Writer’s Voice, A Guide to Creative Fiction, Thaisa Frank & Dorothy Wall, St Martin’s Griffin
A book aimed at adult writers, which has implications for the way we teach.
The No Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing, Judy Davis & Sharon Hill, Heinemann
Davis & Hill have written a practical book that covers the organization of the writing workshop, the writing process and the use of the notebook to promote writing and thinking. A boomerang book for me. It’s strength is its practicality…
Lessons For The Writer’s Notebook, Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portalupi, First Hand
Provides 20 lesson ideas that are open ended for launching the writer’s notebook in the classroom. Thought provoking…
Crafting Writers K-6, Elizabeth Hale, Stenhouse.
Identifies specific craft elements when assessing student writing and helps teachers to present craft techniques aimed at moving writers towards forward. Stresses writers becoming the owners of their writing –Like that!
Assessing Writers, Carl Anderson, Heinemann
This books is a wonderful adjunct to Carl’s earlier book on conferring. It deals with what teachers need to know about student writers in order to assess. It also assists the reader to make sense of the information gathered and how to link it to instruction.
In Pictures And In Words, Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study, Heinemann
Explores the way the young writer’s thinking deepens when they explore book illustrations and other book elements.
Day By Day, Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz, Stenhouse
Ruth and Stacey’s book offers encouragement, support and practical advice on how to implement an effective writing workshop to meet the needs of all writers across the year.
Thinking About Memoir, Abigail Thomas, Sterling
Examines different ways to explore this accessible and rewarding style of writing.
Igniting Writing- When A Teacher Writes, Alan J Wright, Hawker Brownlow Education
Examines the pivotal role a teacher plays in an effective writing program when they make a conscious decision to share the learning journey and the writing process with their own students.
Making Non-Fiction From Scratch,
Ralph Fletcher
Non-fiction writing can be full of passion, voice and accurate insight. Ralph Fletcher shows how to use mentors texts to craft meaningful texts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Importance of Noticing To A Writer

Noticings are a writer’s life source...

Part of the writer’s role is to draw attention to the details of the world. For this reason writers need to develop a capacity for keen observation.

Think for a moment what this means for teaching student writers. Teaching writing needs to delve way beyond structural considerations.  If teaching energy and focus remains solely on the mechanics of writing, the writing will remain functional at best. It will undoubtedly lack voice and precision. 

A teacher who assists the developing writer to grow as an observer, to connect strongly to the world in which they operate, provides the student writer with vital skills they can apply, not just to the writing they undertake, but to learning in general. Developing the writer as observer, creates an all-round curious learner. To teach writing in this way, empowers the writer, empowers the learner.

In order to achieve this, the writing teacher must practice detailed observation in order to become a model of a vigilant writer. Such observations become critical sharing events in the classroom. The young writer needs to be exposed to a world of possibility. We must open this world of possibility to student writers. They deserve no less.

 The writer who closely observes, strives to make the everyday aspects of the world sparkle with renewed appeal for the reader. They write in ways that aim to shake the reader out of complacency, alerting them such possibility. As Ralph Fletcher states, ‘Writers react.’ They react to the various things they encounter as they go about their lives. They notice and record things other people pass by, omit, or discard. 

Writers also notice the range of human emotions that pervade life. They record the various aspects of mood swirling around us as we negotiate each day, -Anger, happiness, irritation, contemplation. When we become aware of the emotional world, we are better placed to describe such feelings with greater authenticity and understanding. When we learn to write with such descriptive honesty it assists our readers to see themselves in the words we convey.

Jerry Spinelli uses the craft strategy, show don’t tell to accurately capture the extent of Amanda’s anger in this passage from ‘Maniac Magee.’

‘Amanda cried. She tore a magazine in half. She punched the sofa. She kicked the easy chair. She kicked Bow Wow. Bow Wow went yelping into the kitchen. ‘See!’ she yelled at the front door. ‘See what you made me do. Jeffrey Magee! Jeffrey Maniac Crazy Man Bozo Magee!’

As teachers of writing we must alert student writers to the ways writers capture small moments and add small details to illuminate, and write with precision.

I am currently reading the verse novel, ‘Another Night In MulletTown,’ by Steven Herrick (A young adult novel). Steven Herrick demonstrates his keen observational skills and sharp noticing when he writes:

The ability to read like writers develops by noticing the craft moves of writers we encounter in our reading lives. It requires practice and develops across time. A teacher's noticing of such craft is essential if student writing is to flourish.  

As teachers of writing, we do our students a disservice if we don’t draw attention to these important aspects of writing. In order to do this most effectively, we too must learn to pay attention, be alert to possibility. We must learn to collect scraps of detail in our notebooks as we negotiate the days of our lives. Noticing is a writer’s life-source providing an essential connection to our readers. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Making Provision For Revision in Student Writing

Revision is a phase of the writing process frequently ignored and commonly misunderstood. Because it is misunderstood, it is often glossed over. And yet it is in the revision phase that the writer has the greatest opportunity to lift the quality of the writing.

Recently, I found myself reading curriculum documents that only referred to editing. Revision did not warrant a mention. 

There are currently commercial companies pushing so called ‘writing programs’ to schools that only focus upon the surface features of writing- essentially editing. This lack of attention to revision means young writers are being denied the opportunity to appreciate how this important action assists them to noticeably improve the content of the writing. Revision is a lot more than the teacher merely telling the young writer they need to add more details, or they need to use more describing words.

When teachers inform me students passively resist revision as a tool for improving their writing pieces, I begin to wonder about the way it is being presented.  Their students are yet to understand that ‘revision is the magic behind great writing.’  If we, as teachers of writing want students to embrace the idea of revision, we must remove some very obvious obstacles that may be hindering meaningful revision.

Let’s Start With Topic Selection
When students are able to choose what they really want to write about, then they usually display increased commitment to producing their best writing. As a consequence, they are more likely to indulge in their best revision efforts. They are more engaged in the writing because they have ownership. It is important student writers realize how important it is to only choose topics close to their hearts. Writing to please a teacher will not engender much in the way of passion for revision. Student writers need to be helped to understand a good piece of writing can grow into a great piece of writing with revision.

If the teacher owns the topic, the idea, the response, the student experiences a disconnection from the piece. Allowing students to choose topics is central to the philosophy of an authentic writing program. If students feel a sense of passion about what they’re writing, they’re more likely to produce something worth persisting with and worth reading by others.

The Principle of Purpose
The writing our students are doing must have a real and obvious purpose. It is critical that the writing has authenticity at its heart. For this to happen it must be linked to the notion of audience from the beginning. We must ask questions that nudge the young writer to think:

Who are you writing this for?
Who are your readers?
Where will this be read?  
Why is it important to write this?

Without a reason to write there is little point being invested in the effort required to write the piece in the first place. It saddens me to hear students respond, ‘It’s for my teacher’ when I ask them who the writing is for. As teachers we need to invest adequate time in establishing an awareness of audience in writers. This implies publishing and a range of audiences. This is where purpose resides… 

As teachers we need to be more creative than merely pinning the writing up on the walls of the classroom. Taking writing beyond the classroom walls is critical. It is imperative to encourage student writers to consider not only HOW they will share their writing, but also WHERE the writing will be placed.  When writing goes public, it leads to feedback. This leads the writer back to the purpose and value of revision. 

Is This Editing or Revision?
If we as teachers are confused about these processes then it will hamper the level of revision that occurs. If students just ‘fix up’ the surface features of the writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) they are not revising the piece, they are editing. Revision requires the writer to re-vision the writing. This means revisiting the content and working to improve the way it is written. The writing is re-crafted, not just fixed up. Sometimes this may involve surgery, cutting and pasting chunks of text. Young writers need to be shown how to do this. Telling them to do this important work without showing them how it actually works is a waste of time.

Did I Mention Mentors?   
All young writers need regular contact with someone willing to share their writing. Someone willing to share their writing at all stages of the writing process. Students need to see how another writer uses revision to improve the content of their writing. This is the action that most effectively breaks down the resistance to revision. It is up to the most proficient writer in the class to demonstrate how revision works for them as a writer.

There are many ways a writer can improve a piece of writing. Inexperienced writers can easily be overwhelmed by the idea of reworking the words they have written. The developing writer has little experience of re-visioning their writing. To assist the young writer to gain this important insight we must show them how a writer improves the content at various levels.

-the word level (word choice- verbs, adjectives, nouns)
-the sentence level (beginnings, variety of sentence lengths)
-the paragraph level (expanding on ideas, zooming in)
-craft strategies (show don’t tell, simile, metaphor, alliteration, repetition, voice Inside/outside, lift a line)

Let’s not forget that an understanding of how revision shapes a piece of writing is very much developmental. Our youngest writers have little experience of such authorial actions. We must foster the awareness of revision and its power to improve the quality of a writing piece with deliberate and mindful teaching.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ideas For Writing Need To Involve Asking, HOW?

Finding writing ideas does not have to be difficult, but it does involve some thinking time. Sometimes using your senses can be a catalyst for writing ideas. Recently, as I sat in my favourite writing space, the sound of my neighbour's lawn mower buzzing and roaring triggered a memory.

I had an idea, but then I had to think about the genre in which I wanted to write. A recount would have been easy, and also a little predictable. As a writer, you have options. In my mind I had numerous thoughts and memories triggered by a familiar sound. The challenge this time was not what to write about, rather how?

Student writers need to engage with their peers and teachers around such ponderings. Once they have identified what they want to write about, what messages they wish to convey, the question of how needs to be discussed.

Last week I found myself in a brief conversation with a young Grade 3 writer who had recently visited the Lerderderg Gorge situated in the Lerderderg State Park less than an hour's drive from, Melbourne. 

Rather than write a recount of her visit to this special place, the writer chose on this occasion, to write a poem capturing the atmospheric aspects of her experience. She wanted her readers to know how she felt while walking in this space and noted in particular the sounds and the smells she recollected as she walked the track. It was a refreshing choice. It was an inspired choice. A brave and thoughtful writer is emerging here.

So, here is my response to the sound of my neighbour's lawn mower. It triggered memories of childhood chores and this little poem evolved complete with paradoxical ending. The repetition of the line, 'mowing the lawn' pays homage to the obvious patterns lawn mowing involves. It can be repetitive too.
Lawn Thoughts
Mowing the lawn
Is clippings in your hair
Up your nose
In your socks

Mowing the lawn
Is smoky fumes
Swishing blades
Aromas of cut grass

Mowing the lawn
Is hugging the edges
Avoiding the cat
Gliding past Mum’s chrysanthemums

Mowing the lawn
Is refilling the tank
Dumping the clippings
Raking and sweeping

Mowing the lawn
Is a summer chore
A neat grassy haircut

-And pocket money

Friday, July 22, 2016

Writing Opposite Poems

 Opposite Poems

In his book, 'How To Write Poetry,' Paul Janeczko presents the idea of opposite poems. Paul suggests they could also be referred to as antonym poems. This is wordplay and it's fun to try.

Here are some examples Paul provides to help us see very clearly how these short little poems work.

I think the opposite of chair
Is sitting down with nothing there

What is the opposite of kind?
A goat that butts you from behind

Paul Janeczko

You will  notice the poems are written in rhyming couplets. They can be extended so long as you remember to write in couplets. Paul shows us how this is done.

What is the opposite of new?
Stale gum that's hard to chew
A hot-dog roll as hard as rock
Or a soiled and smelly forgotten sock

You might notice that some of Paul's opposite Poems begin with a question. The remainder of the poem answer the question posed.

Opposite poems are a challenge, but it is a challenge worth trying. Not every thing has an opposite and not every word has an easy to find rhyming partner. 

It might be a good idea to begin by brainstorming a list of feelings, thoughts and objects that clearly possess opposites. Make a quick list in your writer's notebook. Adjectives are a good place to begin when looking for opposites.
Paul advises young poets not to be satisfied writing all two line Opposite Poems. Try and challenge yourself to compose a four line poem. 

So, with Paul Janeczko's sound advice in my head, I had some fun creating my own opposite poems

I think the opposite of skinny
Is the bottom on my Auntie Minnie

What is the opposite of dark?
A flashlight beam- bold and stark

What is the opposite of  fit
Someone who prefers to sit

The opposite of sweet, I think
Is my brother's shoes-they really stink

The very opposite of happy
Is someone cranky, nasty, snappy
It's screaming, yelling, don't come near
It's go away, don't want you here

The very opposite of morning
Is late at night when I start yawning
It's darkness falling around
When nightfall covers all the ground

Finally, I give you this poem by Richard Wilbur.

Some Opposites
What is the opposite of riot?
It’s lots of people keeping quiet.
The opposite of doughnut? Wait
A minute while I meditate.
This isn’t easy. Ah, I’ve found it!
A cookie with a hole around it.
What is the opposite of two?
A lonely me, a lonely you.
The opposite of a cloud could be
A white reflection in the sea,
Or a huge blueness in the air,
Caused by a cloud’s not being there.
The opposite of opposite?
That’s much too difficult. I quit.

Opposite Poems, give them a try...