Showing posts from June, 2008

Achieving Independence Requires Writers To THINK

It has concerned me for some period that too many students approach the task of writing lacking any sense of freedom to explore and manipulate ideas. They experience emotional blocks when it comes to making decisions. A distinct lack of confidence is evident. They ask questions such as:

How much should I write?
Should I use paragraphs?
What should I write about?

-And yet, in other classrooms I gain a sense that the writers are reflective and self directed. They think, they solve problems, they articulate their writing intentions, they take risks and display a strong sense of ownership for the development of the text. The question arises, -What is the root cause of this difference in attitude?

The answer appears to lie in the classroom climate that exists. Frequently, when we dig a little deeper, it becomes apparent that a number of emotional blocks exist. -Blocks inhibiting thinking and prohibiting the growth of independence.

I invite teachers to ask themselves the following questions:

Are m…

Who Influenced Your Writing?

When I think about this question, I immediately recall the teachers who influenced my reading...

In grade two, Miss Edwards read to us from Dorothy Wall's classic, "The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill. " We loved it so much we pestered our parents to buy us our very own copies. In grade three, Mr Murphy, who took over from the wonderful Miss Warren read Rudyard Kipling's inspiring story of "Rikki Tikki Tavi" -a brave little mongoose who struggles with the menacing cobra snakes in India. We listened entranced as Mr Murphy skillfully built the tension for his young audience. We craved the next reading installment. The art of the serial story was the spell he wove over us.

In my final year of primary school, Mr Harris, my grade six teacher introduced me to poetry, especially the lyrical ballads of Henry Lawson and A.B "Banjo" Paterson. He shared the vision splendid. We all rleished the opportunity to bellow those famous words- "Murder, bloody …

Young Writers Need To Talk

Students need to be encouraged to talk about their personal stories, either to the whole class or a partner. It has been said that in any classroom, reading and writing “floats on a sea of talk.” We must begin by accepting the premise that there is more than one teacher of writing in every classroom and thus promote quality conversations.

Articulating their writing intention, clarifying thoughts and ideas, and practising how they will commence the piece of writing are most valuable undertakings for developing writers. Talk as a pre-writing exercise should not be undervalued. Teachers who rush towards 'silence' do their writers a disservice. Meaningful, focused discussion is exceedingly valuable as a writing lead up activity. This activation of prior knowledge connects the writer to ideas- and ideas are the lifeline every writer needs for survival.

The average student can speak at a rate approximating two to three hundred words per minute. When students tell their stories, they d…

Do You Hear What I Hear? -Writing With A Sense Of Voice

Writing with voice is writing into which someone has breathed. It has that fluency, rhythm and liveliness that exists naturally in the speech of most people when they are enjoying a conversation………. Writing with real voice has the power to make you pay attention and understand - the words go deep.

Source: Peter Elbow Writing With Power

Ralph Fletcher says that writing with voice has the same quirky cadence that makes human speech so impossible to resist listening to. It includes dark humor, cryptic asides, and terrific endings. Such writing has energy. It occurs when the writer's personality is captured on the page. Fletcher further reminds us that when writing has real voice, "You can sense the author pulling in close, cozying up to the subject."

Frequently people who are charming in person find it difficult to sound natural on the page. Developing voice in your writing requires awareness and diligence. It also requires a supportive mentor or writing teacher.

When working w…

Want Better Writing Outcomes For Your Students?

Writing is frequently perceived as the poor relation in the family of literacy skills- neglected, forgotten, and frequently misunderstood. Teacher attitudes are frequently coloured by bad personal experiences when learning to write. As a result, writing is taught, but there is no fond embrace. It's a bit like the way my father always told me when I was a child, 'Eat your vegetables, they're good for you." -He had to say that, didn't he? He did not fully embrace his own words. Time and observation proved that he was a somewhat restricted consumer of the good for you green stuff.

Too many classrooms still adopt a perfunctory 'eat your vegies' approach to teaching writing. The writing program never quite gets going and this may well have its roots in a distinct lack of confidence or knowledge about the needs of writers. It may well be that the students know that their teacher is not totally credible as a writer. If a teacher is a non risk taker with writing, …

Bold Teaching And Powerful Writing Go Together

Writing Territories
Nancie Atwell taught me that the range of things we do as writers define our writing territories. They include genres in which we write, or would like to write, or would like to try, subjects we have written about or would like to, and real or potential audiences for our writing. Our writing territories should be packed full of ideas, obsessions, experiences, itches, aversions, and feelings. The writing about these territorial issues may take many forms –poems, memoirs, novels, reviews, literary criticisms, essays, articles, letters, speeches, lists.

My Personal Territories inlcude:
Music and Memory
Travel adventures
Childhood adventures
My parents
Being an educator
Misadventures, mistakes and places beginning with “M”
Family matters/history
Learning about myself
Collecting –books, music, photography
Simple pleasures, tranquil places

The writing that my territories generate is therefore directed to many different readers: family, …

Feeding My Reading Life

As an educator and a life long reader I have always been interested in how and why we become readers. How do we develop into readers with rich, personal reading lives?

I find myself reflecting on those earlier years of my life and the journey I have taken to become the reader I am today. Think for a moment about your own reading experiences and see where your reflections take you. Do they inform what you do as a teacher of reading?

Thinking about my reading process helps me better understand the teachers and students I work with and provides many teachable moments to share. This reflection has helped me determine what I want students to discover about reading

I have become more acutely aware of my reading persona in recent years. I know that I read for different purposes and therefore the quality and range of my books vary greatly.

When I have extended time for reading I choose more challenging texts. The extra time enables me to savor the beauty of the author’s words, and to reread …

Nurturing Developing Writers

Over the years I have enjoyed growing fresh vegetables in my own garden. Lettuce, tomatoes, capsicums, cabbages, beans, peas and the like have all graced my garden plot at various times. I have even found room for the much maligned brussel sprout -not a lot of room, but enough.

I discovered early on that if I wanted my lettuces and cabbages to develop strong, succulent hearts, or my tomatoes to be juicy, when I bit into them, then I needed to invest time and effort in their development. I firstly had to plant them in fertile soil. I had to nurture their growth with adequate amounts of water and sunlight. I also had to protect them from weeds and pests. Sometimes I had to prop them up with stakes for support. It was vital not to allow them to wither and die.

It's the same situation when it comes to developing young writers. Their development requires much care and attention. They need nutrient care to sustain their growth. - and just like the plants in my vegie patch, I have to devo…

Young Writers Need Daily Practice

As a teacher of writing I want my students to come to the realization that there is a real purpose to the writing we all do. I want them to understand that through writing they can gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world in which they live. I want them to understand that through writing they can communicate with a specific audience across time and space. I want them to understand that through writing they can find a voice for their thoughts and ideas and that their writing efforts are valued.

To achieve these goals I accept that my students need adequate time and space to develop as writers. Available research data shows that when children are provided with opportunities to write every day they begin to compose even when they are not actually writing. In other words they begin to think about their writing beyond the confines of the classroom. As a teacher I have always gained immense satisfaction from hearing students, who upon entering the classroom first thing in the…

When A Teacher Is Joyfully Literate

Whether we are babies learning to talk or engineers learning to build bridges, our best learning resource is always someone who has previously mastered the skill we require and who will act as a model for us to follow.

Therefore, of all the things that teachers need to know, possibly the single most important idea for any educator to hold onto tightly is this: If you want your students to read and write with passion you need to model it for them.

Never forget to let your students know that you are a reader. Let them ‘catch’ you reading and talk to them about what you read when you are not at school. Let them know that you truly value your ability to read.

Your credibility as a reader will depend on your knowledge of children’s literature. Being able to recognize quality literature will develop as you read the very books that children need to be exposed to in the classroom and beyond. Your reading research will enable you to recommend titles to your young readers with some authority; conf…

The Magic of Mentors

You are not alone out there…
As teachers of writing we are surrounded by lots of authors we trust, respect and who are readily available to assist in the important task of developing young writers. By allowing these authors to become mentors you afford students the opportunity to acquire the craft of writing through exposure to a variety of writing styles. Share the information you have gained from reading relationships developed with authors you admire. Share willingly, the lessons you have learnt from your trusted mentors. Encourage students to investigate specific aspects of the work of these mentors. Encourage them to imitate the style of these authors. In time we should guide our students towards identifying favourite authors of their own.

The more we focus on the work of these mentors, the more we come to realize the critical importance of reading to the development of writing. If we choose texts carefully we enable the writing of others to influence us in the development of our w…

Observing My Own Writing Habits

I love to write. I need to write. Sometimes I find it is like an addictive force. I find it calling me back if I stay away for too long.

I write at a computer situated in my study. I am surrounded by my favorite books. The support of my fellow writers is close at hand.

Writers need to be observers of all things that happen around them. From the smallest insect scurrying across the path to a huge storm blackening the sky, writers need to watch and try to understand the ways of the world in which they live.

My writing ideas come mostly from such things as childhood memories, conversations with children friends and family, things I have read or seen, places and events. on one occasion I accidentally set an emu on fire and this strange and embarrassing experience became part of a story I then had to write.

I often find myself making mental notes thinking, " That might make a story" When I write poetry a single word or a phrase might just be the spark for a poem. I have always enjo…

The Urge to Write

A Cambodian man was very poor in his youth. He had barely enough money for food, let alone paper on which to write. Problem was, he had fallen in love with a young woman from a neighboring village. He longed to be able to write to her and share his feelings.

Every morning he would get up before sunrise, sneak down to the riverbank and write love letters in the wet sand. When the young woman came down to the river to wash clothes later in the morning she would read his words of love.

A young girl from the Bronx in New York was given a writing assignment for homework. After school she walked home to her family’s apartment only to discover that the electricity supply had been cut off because the account had not been paid.

It was winter time in New York and darkness arrived early. The urge to write was strong and so the girl walked out into the street and sat under a street light to complete her homework as requested. The girl had the perfect excuse for not writing, but the writer within re…

Memories of Red Pen People

It was said that Ms Dungan dipped the end of her strap in vinegar so that it stung even more when she belted you across the palm of your hand. Mr. Smith called his strap the ‘Accelerator’ He had actually written the word Accelerator along the side of this friendless strip of leather. He called it the Accelerator because the very sight of it made students work faster. Yet, it was Ms Dungan’s strap that everyone talked about. It was a legend among straps. At one end it had a double layer of leather fastened by a metal pin. The extra layer of leather added extra sting when it made contact with tender young skin. That’s what her students reckoned anyway.

The students in Miss Dungan’s class never actually spied her dipping that dreaded leather strip in vinegar, but that didn’t stop the endless talk and the rumors. What everybody did know was that when Miss Dungan swung that leather strap it never failed to inflict immense pain on the victim. You could hear it whoosh through the air as it sl…