The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Begin at the Climax

     I am in the midst of Jodi Picoult's book 19 MinutesThis novel is about a school shooting, and I assumed that the shooting was going to be the climax, the most emotional and exciting moment in the story.  But of course, Picoult surprised me.  The shooting takes place in the beginning of the book, and the teenagers earlier years (described via flashbacks) along with the aftermath, is what (I guess; I am only into the first 60 or so pages) will make up the rest of the story.
      So many students think you have to begin with the beginning.  However, sharing stories that begin with the end, or the middle, and flashback, can be quite powerful.  
       When students have a hard time comprehending this strategy, have them literally cut apart their story, and direct them to rearrange the parts, like a puzzle.  When writers begin at the end---keeping the reader off-balance and a bit unsure of exactly what is going on---it can effectively engage the reader.
         I am off now to be part of the CUR (Canine Underground Railroad).  The dog rescue group I work with (Love a Golden) is transporting a senior Golden Retriever to an adoptive home in Colorado.  This place is "heaven" for dogs...Lakes...Fields...Mountains...We are driving halfway to get Monte to his forever home; his family is meeting us in Kansas. May you have as great of a day as a dog in a loving home. Savor every mouthful you eat.  Tell others when you want love and attention.  And snuggle up for an occasional nap...

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Life-Changing Class: The National Writing Project

For teachers who have not experienced the power of a summer institute with the National Writing Project, you have no idea what you are missing.

Every state has a writing project, or two sites, or three, or more.  Surf the internet for a project close to you.  To get your foot in the door, take the Summer Institute, a 4-5 week class. (6 graduate credits!  Wow!) The luxury of taking the time to work on your own personal writing (because that's the main assignment for the class) as you meet in response groups, and try various revision strategies, and learn from your definitely changed my life and my teaching.

For example, I learned how much deconstruction is involved in the writing process.  It's not all about getting words down onto the paper.  It's moving parts around, and crossing things out, and putting them back in, and cooking the piece down until the flavor is rich and thick.

The importance of writing for an audience, and the value of getting feedback from fellow writers, became quite clear during the Summer Institute.  Becoming stronger as a writer, and finding out what works for me as a writer (because we're all different) made me become a stronger teacher of writing.

In St. Louis, my project is the Gateway Writing Project.  However, no matter where you live, there is a writing project somewhere near you.  Check it out, and don't be afraid that more will be added to your plate.  This is not another program to do.  What you learn via the NWP (National Writing Project) will become---seamlessly---a part of what you do, and will make your work easier. (I promise!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reflective Teaching (or DUID)

        Half of the summer is over already.  I've spent the last few weeks vegetating---padding around in my pajamas all day, watching junky television, and inhaling a pile of books.  Beginning this next week, I am going to have to think about the work at hand...

     One book I definitely recommend is Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry.  It's the story of two mirror-image twins, is set in London, and is just as thought-provoking as her earlier novel The Time Traveler's Wife.

      Another story I thoroughly enjoyed was Jodi Piccoult's Handle with Care.  The research that the author always does in writing her books is clearly evident.  Certainly not a "happily ever after" story (what realistic tale is ?), the surprising twists (even at the very end) make it a heartwrenching story that causes the reader to wonder, 'What would I do under the same circumstances?'

       This past year, my district began having teachers look seriously at data, stdent by student.  Too often, educators have such a packed day; there is no time to be reflective.  However,  this next year we are going to be examining student data in a very methodical way.  Pretests, interventive strategies, and posttests...making lists of proficient students and those who fall short of the mark...carving out time to assist struggling learners in creative ways...I am truly looking forward to DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Data).

          Carefully looking at student progress in the classroom and with colleagues, as well as having students graph their data, is empowering.

      Earlier this spring I attended the National Writing Project's Urban Site conference in Portland, Oregon. It was an incredible conference.  We visited one elementary school which does amazing things with very little technology.  (They do more with post-it notes and a chalkboard than many teachers do with a Smartboard!)  Their teacher's lounge was wall-to-wall data.

        Also during the spring I went to the NEA conference in St. Louis.  A workshop on "data dens" was led by a St. Charles district (Francis Howell or Fort Zumwalt).  Unfortunately, I was not able to attend that session, but my colleague did, and she was quite energized about it.

        In the next month, I will be setting up my third grade class.  I will be helping my principal set up our own "data den." And I'll be doing a lot of thinking about what I can do to best facilitate learning in my classroom...

         Anyone who has suggestions (or even photos of their data walls), I would appreciate if you would send them my way. And for those who still have some summer left, enjoy!