Saturday, June 25, 2011

Inviting ALL Students into the Writing Process

I have never been confident in my writing and editing abilities.  While attending the All Write!!! Summer Institute, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Jeff Anderson speak.  In his keynote presentation, he made me think about my history, as a writer.  Sadly, it has not been a very positive history.  I came from the world of writing that was returned to me, looking as if it had just lost a very bloody battle, with a red pen. Quickly, I became discouraged and unsure in my abilities as a writer.  This is something, I do NOT want any of my students to experience.  I just have never been sure how to make that happen.  As Jeff stated, in his keynote presentation, "a writer in motion, stays in motion."  I just now need to find a positive way to set my students in motion.

After listening to Jeff Anderson speak, I knew that I would be purchasing several of his books.  The first book, of his, that I read was Everyday Editing: Inviting Students to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer's Workshop.  This book is a simple, common sense read.  I have such a better understanding of myself, as a writer.  I am beyond excited to get back into the classroom, in August, and start using these techniques with my students.  Everyday Editing is about inviting students into the writing process.  Students should be editing their own work, my red pen should not be doing all of the work.  

Throughout the process, of this book, Jeff Anderson discusses how to teach serial commas, colons, capitalization, apostrophes, simple sentences, appositives, paragraphs, compound sentences, and dialogue.  I don't know about you, but my students seem to struggle with all of these concepts!  The students are able to identify the errors when completing the redundant Daily Language Reviews, but in their own writing, they will continually make errors.  Jeff Anderson does a great job explaining how to get students to own and understand all of these writing conventions.

For students to understand writing, they need to own the process. Forcing students to make corrections, that  they don't understand, is not going to help them own the process.  Teachers should be inviting students into the writing process.  Jeff talk about several steps to use, when inviting students into this process.  Teachers can use all of the steps or just a combination of steps, depending on the needs and processing of the students.  

These are just a few of the invitations that I think my students will greatly benefit from.  Invite students to notice by using real examples, from forms of literature the students are reading or have read.  Don't use examples where students have to find errors, but where students tell you what they notice correct.   Invite students to imitate the examples that they have just noticed, by repeating the pattern in the examples.  The final invitation, that I wish would have been done while I was learning to write, is to invite students to celebrate by sharing examples in their own writing or books that they are reading.  Again, these are just a few of the invitations described by Jeff Anderson.

I highly recommend that every special education and language arts teacher reads this book, to learn how to invite students into the writing process.  Students need to own the process, and I truly think inviting them into the process will put them on the path to owning their writing and becoming confident, life-long writers. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Adventures in Graphica - A Review

I had the privilege of meeting and listening to Terry Thompson speak at the All Write!!! Summer Institute, this past week.  Terry is the author of Adventures in Graphica - Using Comics and Graphic Novels to Teach Comprehension, 2-6.  I have never used graphic novels or comic books, in my teaching experience.  However, Terry made this process seem so common sense, that I would be a fool not to try it, especially since I work mainly with struggling readers.  Listening to Terry speak, as well as reading his book, he had my full attention with his sense of humor and common sense information.  

As stated by R. Sylvester, "emotion drives attention and attention drives learning."  That's exactly what graphica does for some readers.  It grabs their full attention and introduces them to literary conventions, that they may struggle to grasp in traditional novels.  Terry Thompson, in Adventures in Graphica, says that, "because comics are engaging they often can perk up our passive readers and offer them the experience of what it feels like to be an active participant in the reading process - a feeling that regrettably, many of them have never had before."  

I would just like to mention a couple aspects of this book that I found the most beneficial, for me.  Having never read a comic before, in terms of using it for teaching, I was nervous about using them with students.  In this book, Terry does a great job of explaining the parts of a comic and how he had used them in supplement with other texts.  He does not recommend using graphica as a replacement text, but in a supplemental integrated way.  In my experience, many students seem to struggle with the concepts of  summary and inferring.  After reading this book, I plan on using graphica to teach those concepts that tend to be complex for struggling readers.  The narrative boxes, in graphica, provide a pop-out way for students to understand the summary of what they are reading.  As for inferring, the white space between each panel, the gutter, is where they students practice this skill.  Terry does a phenomenal job of going into detail about how to teach those two skills, as well as many others, while using graphica. 

Another aspect of this book, that I found beneficial were the "translate the transfer" boxes.  Terry goes into detail on how he used graphica for many different reasons in his classroom (struggling readers, vocabulary development, ELL students), but after the graphica lesson he explained how he would translate that lesson to a lesson using a traditional novel.  I love how he makes the process so simple and user friendly! 

If you are one of the "on the fence" educators in regards to using graphica, I highly suggest you to read this book!  Terry had me hooked after the first 30 minutes of his presentation, and this book had me reeled in after the first page!  This book also addresses the history and downfall of graphica, sites and publishers to access graphica and so many other common sense practices with the use of graphica. 

Here's just a list of a few graphic novels I plan on purchasing for my classroom:
Owly by Andy Runton
Babymouse by Jennifer Holm

A final recommendation, please review all forms of graphica BEFORE using them in your classroom.  Terry Thompson goes into greater depth about this issue.  Some forms of graphica are wrote for a more adult audience, using not only language, but pictures not appropriate for all ages. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Lester Laminack speak at the All Write!!! Summer Institute in Warsaw, IN, this past week.  He was the closing keynote speaker, and inspired me beyond what I ever thought was possible, to open the world of reading and writing for my students.  I plan to recap the conference in upcoming posts, but I wanted to take a minute and share Lester's dream for schools.  I share the same dream as Lester!
[Delivered first in May 2008]

I dream of schools where children’s art hangs in gallery spaces filling the hallways

And children gather in clusters in the mornings before class to hear books and poems flowing on the voices of teachers

I dream of schools that host conversations about books in the corridors and in alcoves throughout the building

Of schools that post poems and quotes in public spaces where children wait for lunch, queue up in line for water and restrooms, to enter the library or wait for buses.

I dream of schools that feature teachers’ favorite books face out throughout the hallways and in the office

Where children don’t know what AYP means, and don’t know where their class ranked on any test, and are greeted at the front door each morning like family returning from a long trip.

Where children are treated with the same respect afforded the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Where mistakes are seen as evidences of valiant attempts.

Where kindness is spoken with sincerity

Where collaboration and cooperation trump competition

Where all people are deemed worthy simply because they inhale and exhale

Where everyone is assured of both physical and emotional safety

Where your last name, country of origin, skin tone, sexual orientation, gender identity, language facility, economic status, politic views, religious traditions have no bearing on the attention you receive from teachers and others in the school

I dream of schools where days are not scripted by those who could not find the Post Office in your town

Where time spent engaged in inquiry, reading, making art, writing, interviewing, dancing, problem solving, dramatizing is more highly prized than time spent filling in bubbles, choosing the right answer to someone else’s questions or logging on to prove you read.

Where libraries will be as important as stadiums and auditoriums rival gymnasiums

Where children are eager to arrive and reluctant to leave

Where devotion to time for reading and writing can rival attention to the lunch schedule

Where teachers read aloud with the zeal of a street performer and the frequency of a birdsong

Where principals lead by example, know children by their successes, place books over bus schedules, teachers over test scores, students over stanines, communication over control

I dream of schools where teaching is judged by the character of the students leaving, their treatment of others, their concern for humanity, and their ability to think and reason with clarity and compassion

Where a teacher’s knowledge is the map used to chart the course of learning and his/​her heart is the navigator directing the journey

Where learning “how” is more important than learning “what” and knowing “when” and “why” are as important as getting the right answer

Where trying is more important than triumph and successive approximations are valued as much as success itself

Where children sit in small clusters for lunch gathered around a book discussion, a quote of the day, an issue to resolve in the classroom community while dining in a civil setting

Where children learn to engage in open dialog, respecting the ideas of others, entering and exiting a conversation in civil ways without raising a hand to be given permission to share their thinking in a free, civil, democratic society

I dream of schools where teachers do not feel forced to turn the pages and do what comes next in a program they do not believe in

Where teachers are treated with respect and professional courtesy, where their voices are listened to and trusted

Where hallways are read, viewed, puzzled over, seen as bearers of clues to riddles and brain teasers found throughout the building

Where walking in straight lines, and raising hands are less important than caring for classmates

Where writing is evaluated more on what is said, how it moves a reader, stirs an emotion, evokes a response, causes one to pause to think or change than on how many sentences were in a paragraph or how many paragraphs are in an essay

I dream of schools where readers are asked what they make of a text rather than asked to log on to give the correct answer to someone else’s questions

Where children are found discussing the actions and motives of a character instead of recording the details of that character’s home or clothing

Where children are more familiar with poets than NFL players, more familiar with authors than actors, more familiar with illustrators and artists than with athletes, more familiar with inventors and social activists than the names of video games, more familiar with mathematicians and scientists than sit-coms and March Madness

I dream of schools where children know they are cherished and trusted, where they feel safe to risk being wrong in order to learn lessons more important than arriving at the right answer

Will you join me? Will you stand up for the children of this nation? Will you take a stand on the issues that matter most to the preservation of their one, precious childhood.

Lester L. Laminack
Asheville, NC