I’ve always got a stack of things to read, don’t you? My stack’s typically related to my latest interest or project. I’m a nonfiction reader, my current stack a mish-mash of art techniques and inspiration, small business ownership, and the craft of writing. When writing evaded me over the past year, I figured I’d read about writing until my own writing mojo found its way back! And my dear husband, who reads mostly on his iPad or iPhone (BIG screen) feeds my wish to have books near me… Christmas 2014 found a stack of Writing books and Writing magazine subscriptions under the tree…. a welcome diversion in a year that was often silent.
Here are a few that make my short list in an other otherwise long list of Writing resources, some found in the quiet of 2015 and several from years past:
First up – Stephen King’s, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a fascinating read about the man behind the typewriter. The best part is, you don’t have to be a fan of his fiction to get a lot out of this book, though it’s definitely a bonus. One of hundreds of tips to ponder as you read his book:
“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”
Remember his gruesome accident in 1999, when he was hit by a car while out for a walk? That chance encounter makes a small appearance in this book….
Another favorite is one I wrote about [here] in 2014, How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. In that post, I ask:
How many words was your last blog post or article? Under 100? 500? 1,000? Did you get your message across? How do you know? Could you have said it in fewer words without losing its essence? What would have been the benefit of doing so?
Mr. Clark discusses the history of language and communication in this book, with an emphasis on short-form communication, a style that continues to be one of my favorites. I’ve read a few of his books, even buying a copy for a few friends…. good stuff!
Third on my list, 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form, by Dom Sagolla, one of the co-creators of Twitter, is a nod to short-form communication, too, with a pretty cool discussion about the telegraph and Twitter. I originally blogged about this book in 2010 and did a remix in 2014 [here]. Brevity. Practicing. 😉
Next up on my list is a little book with a big message that was actually the second one I read by author, Austin Kleon, Show Your Work!
A newer favorite, A Writer Teaches Writing, Second Edition, by Donald M. Murray, is ironically a much older publication, but a serendipitous discovery while reading Roy Peter Clark’s work. He referenced his ‘good friend Donald M. Murray,’ and in an instant I was taken back to a time I couldn’t remember clearly, but the name tickled my brain. Turns out, the copyright date is 1985, the year I graduated from high school, and the book appears to be a soft-cover textbook, like the ones found in high school and college composition classes … I suspect we crossed paths during my tumultuous high school and early college years – the book and I – it waiting patiently for me to be ‘ready’ to read it… which came 30 years later.
I also suspect I may have read some of his work back then and just don’t remember it specifically. He summarizes his first chapter titled, Learning to Allow Learning, this way:
Several key assumptions underlie this book:
- Writing is Thinking
- Writing is a Process
- Effective Teaching is Responsive
- Writing is an Interaction of the Global and the Particular
- There is No One Way
When I read this book in the past year, I remember thinking, It’s as if I wrote some parts of this book, like he was in my head! Now, I’m no Donald M. Murray, but my teaching/learning/writing philosophies are incredibly similar… Somehow, this man’s writing must have influenced me earlier on… lucky me, indeed.
The last book is one that arrived in the Christmas 2014 stack, but only recently made its migration from bookshelf to nightstand when I ‘re’discovered it on one of my Amazon Wish Lists and was about to buy the Kindle copy (because I was too impatient for Amazon Prime …overnight or two-day just wouldn’t do!) and realized, ‘Hey! I think I’ve got this book!’ Sure enough, waiting for me to find it when I was ready, A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement, sat quietly on my bookshelf.
Barbara Abercrombie’s compilation of anecdotal stories and quotes from fellow writers is a pleasant read and a joy to share.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are there others you’d recommend? I’m always looking for new titles to replenish that nightstand stack. 😉
Become unnecessary? Why would I do that?
Because as teachers and as parents, it’s our responsibility to our students/children.
Teach kids the definition of integrity: what you do when no one is looking,” … and get out of the way.
Ever wonder why some teachers seem to just have it all together? You walk into their room and things are humming along. These folks might be your colleagues or they might be your own kids’/grandkids’ teachers. What makes things different in these classrooms?
If you’re a teacher with a classroom, a student in a classroom, or have visited a classroom, how would you describe it? Chaotic? Organized? Learning-centric? Student-centric? Teacher-centric? Lacking any learning at all?
Let students own their learning, own their behavior, own our daily routines, and let them know they’re in control. If you’ve dealt with a toddler, tween, or teen, you KNOW what I’m talking about.
Let students/children do what they choose, within established parameters. Teach them to run the classroom, so when a Substitute Teacher (hardest job on a campus!) fills in, students can carry on their daily routines. Whether they actually do can be a 50/50 crapshoot, but set the standard and watch for the outcome. When they miss the mark, it’s time to pay the piper. When they shine, it’s time to celebrate!
It’s not perfect, but Subs often report after my absence, “Great day! These are good kids. Please call on me anytime.” THAT is what I want to hear. Students are in control – of themselves and our classroom. Bravo!
As I write this and think about kiddos in general, I think these five could be applied to home life, too, right? Kids need structure and organization. Heck, we all do … to be successful. Well, the seating chart might be a bit overboard for home ….
1. Establish policies and procedures. Spend time thinking about how you want things to look and sound in your classroom. Make a list. Be clear about policies vs. procedures. Then, describe in detail, all of the policies (what we do) and the procedures (how we do) for your class, in writing, in your syllabus/Wk 1 packet. Leave nothing to chance.
2. Color-code everything. Yes, even in high school! Think about it: Isn’t it more efficient to say to a student who asks (and some always do!), “What did I miss yesterday?” to go check the pink notebook on the shelf than to say, “Go check the notebook on the shelf” and there are three other notebooks. What’s the student say next? “Which notebook?” (even though they’ve asked you ten times already this year). Now you’ve got lots of extra discussion. Avoid it. Color-code everything (including notebooks and baskets) and teach students from Day 1 the routines (When you are absent, you will check the pink notebook when you return to class).
3. Create a seating chart. For sure, there are several ways to go about this. I’ve tried most. Try and try again, right?? Here’s my take on a few:
In case you’re wondering, Option A stands for Awesome in my book. 🙂
4. Label everything. Everything: cabinets, drawers, crates, doors, teacher area, student areas, pen/pencil cups, computers, tables in specific locations, folders, notebooks …. eveeeerythiiiing.
5. Rock the wall space! Make it count. Display things that help students be successful, you be successful, and help classroom guests understand what they’re observing.
In Florida, teachers are currently evaluated under the Marzano model, with unending requirements, also known as 41 elements. While I agree with the philosophy behind the model, I am annoyed at ~ and exhausted by ~ the relentless directives about how to do things, all to get
crappy ineffective teachers on board (or out the door). I’m annoyed because compliance doesn’t work. Ineffective teachers do a dog-and-pony show when someone walks in, then go back to doing crappy as soon as the door shuts, while the rest of us are exhausted, working 10+ hours a day just to keep up with all those ridiculous mandates. *Administrators, pleeeeaaase, get these people out of our schools!
teachers people have NO business being in the classroom (because they’re not teachers… they’re paycheck collectors).
Climbing down from the soapbox ……
Back to those walls….
How about quotes that teach, inspire, and encourage? A few of those strategically placed, go a looong way. One of my first Community Building assignments (weeks 1 & 2) asks students to look carefully around the classroom, choose a quote that speaks to them, and write about it.
What kids choose, says a lot about them. What kids say, says even more.
To your students? To your employees? To your family??
What can you teach others to do for themselves? How much are you willing to turn over?
If you home-school, do your children own it, or do you?
What would happen if you let go …. a little?
If your kids/grandkids are in school, what’s their teacher’s classroom looking/sounding like?
I encourage you to visit.
Oftentimes, when I tell people I’m a high school teacher, I get this response (or a slight variation), “Oh, wow! I could never do that! Teenagers these days….”
Truth is, the teenagers have been the only reason I keep coming back to the K-12 classroom. Let’s be clear ~ some are a royal pain in the buttola: mouthy, lazy, disrespectful, not interested in anything an adult (especially a teacher) has to say, and well, just teenagers. Increasingly, they have no boundaries and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement… products of our changing culture/society.
If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, big brother/sister, fellow teacher, remember being a teenager, or have the ‘pleasure’ of interacting with any teenager, anywhere, then you KNOW what I’m talking about.
Interestingly, though (and many of you have probably discovered this, too)…. get them by themselves, away from their peers, and they’re generally pretty awesome
monsters, ummm… kids. 😉
My response to incredulous people, “Teenagers are awesome. Give them a chance to show you who they are, and they just might surprise you.”
And to my high school students, I say, “I love working with you guys. You teach me new things every day!” … and THAT is a true statement.
So really, my title is ‘teacher,’ but the truth is, I’m Chief Learner in my classroom. Students are the reasons I teach. Check out a few real-life reasons below…. *NOTE: Passing the reading portion of one of three standardized tests is required to meet the FL graduation requirement (FCAT, ACT, or SAT). Students in my classes are juniors or seniors who have not met that requirement yet and are working toward passing one of the three.
1. From a senior who struggled all the way through my class: “I have good news to share with you Mrs. kyle, I forgot to tell you that I got accepted to Valencia college and got the Bridges to Success Scholarship. I wanted to tell you this because you helped me with my first essay which was one of the hardest essay I had to write because it was so personal to me. Thank you for helping me and believing in me.”
2. From star bowler and college-bound kiddo, Justin T: Ms.Kyle I passed FCAT!!!! Thank you 🙂
What did you learn this week?
I love to learn new things, and think a day’s wasted if something new doesn’t make its way into my already-bustling brain. A few random things learned this week:
Chances are pretty good your answer goes something like this:
Or, if you’re a reader, your answer might be more like this:
Recently, while visiting blogs discovered via Twitter, I ran across a great post from Heidi at 21st Century Classroom, titled Blogging Helps Me Understand Reading, in which she talks about authentic reading and writing.
“If you were to ask teachers to list their priorities in the classroom, the teaching of reading would most likely be near the top of that list. Developing good readers is what we do. This would be closely followed by the teaching of writing. Reading and writing are the foundations upon which our instruction lie.”
She adds, “Most teachers that I know are passionate readers. There are not many, however, who are also writers…..”
Being a literacy educator who also facilitates professional development and is a lifelong reader and writer, I was hooked.
Heidi shares her insights into how creating a blog has changed her understanding of the process of reading:
“One idea that I thought I understood before beginning this blog is that readers create meaning as they read, that the text has no inherent meaning except that created by the reader. Intellectually it made sense and I taught with that in mind… I’ve gained new insight…. What is interesting is how readers interpret my blog …..I get this now in a way that I didn’t before.”
Wow! The bells were going off in my head as I read Heidi’s words… for a few reasons:
First, I was intrigued by the idea of blogging affecting a teacher’s instructional perspective. I’m always looking for ideas related to educators’ professional development (what can we do to improve our instruction??), and with so much misunderstanding of social media and Web 2.0 tools, school districts often deny access to blogs on their servers to protect their students. Understandable, but short-sighted?
Since a typical teacher’s school day is hectic from start to finish, then they head off to do a gazillion other things from coaching to parenting to classes to keep up their certification, to grocery shopping, to (maybe) meeting up with friends, to probably grading papers, well, you get the idea … the last thing most are going to do is go home and get online to write a blog post or read others’. Why can’t reading/writing a blog post be done during a planning period, since after all, the blogging community can be part of our PLC (Professional Learning Community)?
As Heidi discovered, engaging in authentic reading and writing is a valuable tool for professional development that also offers benefits to students. When we do things that are real and purposeful, we grow as learners. We engage because we see the value and purpose. We want to share what we’ve learned (with colleagues and students.) Imagine that!
Another reason Heidi’s words caught my attention:
As a middle/high school and college-level remedial reading instructor and a staff developer/teacher-mentor, I have spent my entire career trying to convince content area teachers why and how we all need to build the process of reading into our classes, regardless of content. In fact, after seventeen years in education, I still hear these words from teachers *all*the*time* …
Okay, so you don’t want to be a reading teacher.
I get that.
But what if (just hear me out for a minute….)
we all built a little authentic reading and writing into our classes?
While supporting hundreds of students on the road to more authentic reading and writing, and some of their teachers, too, I’ve watched students not only improve their comprehension (make meaning out of the text) along the way, but also discover:
1. Build time in for Open Reading: We like to read our own stuff, right? The things we find interesting? Not just things that are required for work or a class we’re taking. Students are no different! Build 10 minutes into a class period OR (I know time is super-tight on a 6 or 7-period schedule) plan 30 minutes one day a week into your weekly lesson plans. It takes practice for everyone to actually just sit and read during this time (including the teacher!), but it’s possible. Suggestion: Start in small increments to acclimate everyone to reading for extended periods of time. I typically start with 15 minutes and monitor students’ body language for tolerance. Add five minutes at a time. Eventually, you and your students will be wondering why you waited so long to do this! Want to add authentic writing? Ask students to write a short note to a friend with 1 – 2 sentences about what they read and how it made them feel or think, such as:
“Dear Joey, Today I read an article in Car and Driver magazine called ‘Tires: Which Ones are Best,’ and it made me think about that cool car I’m going to build with my dad this summer. I’m wondering if the ___ tires would be better than the ___ ones?”
Give students a list of prompts and ask them to choose the one that works best for them this time. For example:
These are just a few reading response prompts. There are lots of them online. *Caution: Don’t overwhelm students with too many prompts from which to choose. They will spend their time deciding instead of writing, especially when they’re still learning this writing process. Ask students to exchange notes with a friend. Then, collect them as Exit Tickets (formative assessment) as students exit your class for the day.
2. Online book reviews: My students did this before “Web 2.0” existed (I’m dating myself!), and book reviews were one of the few online tools for sharing content. Creating an account on sites such as amazon.com, bn.com, or borders.com gives readers a place to share their thoughts about what they read and teaches them how to analyze, evaluate and synthesize. Can you say ‘critical thinking while having fun’?? My middle and high school students loved this!
3. Professional journals/magazines: Do you teach a technical class? Do you read things related to your profession? Invite students to read about your course content. For example in my current role in Career and Technical Education, our teachers teach gaming, culinary operations, early childhood education, health and dental sciences, business applications, pharmaceutical tech, etc…. I’m betting most students do not read professional journals and magazines related to these professions when they’re at home. Why not build time in to your class and make these resources available to them? Then, how about writing a short letter to a potential classmate who’s thinking about taking the class? Authentic. Interesting. Purposeful. (*and excellent marketing for student recruitment!) Not sure how to fund those subscriptions or how to order? Your media specialist is a master and always willing to help!
4. Real World Reading: This can be built into nearly any content area. Build a lesson plan around reasons why we read & write in our daily lives: job applications, memos, text messages, e-mail, notes to friends, parents or children, reading prescription bottles, road signs, and labels. I’m sure you can think lots more ‘real reasons’ we read. Ask students what they read in their daily lives. Build activities with purposeful discussion. Working with older students? Have them bring applications (work, school, financial aid, etc…) in to class for review, discussion, and how-to ideas. Maybe your students do the cooking at home because a single parent is working? Can you support them (and their classmates) in how to read a recipe, including measurements and directions?
5. Read and write on educational blogs and websites: If you’re fortunate to be in a district that doesn’t block access to online content, then introduce your students to ‘the good stuff,’ and teach them how to evaluate online content. Makes for great discussion, reading, and writing. A couple of favorite student-oriented resources: wonderopolis.org, discoveryeducation.com, and nationalgeographic.com . Of course, there are dozens more, but these come to mind. What are your favorites you share with fellow teachers?
Are you a classroom teacher/instructor/professor? What does authentic reading and writing look and sound like in your classes? Is it time to build more in? Do you have ideas to share? Would love to hear from you.
Are you a parent/grandparent? What’s happening in your children’s classes? How do you know? Feel free to share this post with their teachers. Chances are, if we’re talking about elementary-age children, authentic literacy is happening. However… if the ‘wee ones’ are in middle or high school (or beyond), chances are much slimmer than their elementary counterparts….
Thanks for stopping by!