Process is Messy

In my high school classroom, I have a poster:  Writing is messy. 

My students’ interpretations fall somewhere between, “Well, yea, my handwriting IS messy!” to “No, that’s not true. I have nice handwriting, so my writing isn’t messy.”  What’s missing from their interpretations?

The real meaning of ‘messy’ as it relates to learning.

And so begins our year-long discussion about the ‘messiness’ of learning:  writing, process, thinking, figuring stuff out, process, product, process, discussing, process… You get the idea.  It’s m.e.s.s.y. And there’s an awful lotta ‘process’ goin’ on!

By the end of the school year, they’ve got it.  (Well, some of them, anyway.)

Since ‘process’ is my middle name (or should have been… mom, are you listening?), I chuckled when I saw this illustration in Austin Kleon’s newest book, Show Your Work! 10  Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered.

Process is Messy

Yes, it is!  Messy, indeed.

Note to self:  Enlarge the image and put it in classroom.

Is your process messy?  Does messy make you happy or uncomfortable?

Without messy, I’d be a mess! 🙂

Writers Write….

I keep reading this. I keep not doing this. At least, not online.

I do write.

A lot.

In my head.

Since returning to the classroom fulltime in Sept 2011, my days are filled with teenagers, lesson plans, grades, more teenagers, questions, answers, epiphanies, and frazzled moments. Oh, and more teenagers. For an age group that thinks anyone over 20 is old and stupid, they sure are needy!  🙂  The hugs are the best.

I laugh out loud every day at the crazy things my high school students say and do. I tell them, “Now THAT is going in my book!”  And it is.

In the past three years, my writer’s notebook and my head have filled with writing. Lots of it.

But Austin Kleon, in his newest work, says, “Share your work every day.”


Okay, Austin, here goes…

5 Ways to Build Authentic Reading and Writing Into Any Class

Why do you read? 


Chances are pretty good your answer goes something like this:

  • I don’t read much.
  • I don’t like to read.
  • I like to read, but don’t have time.

Or, if you’re a reader, your answer might be more like this:

  • To escape.
  • To learn new stuff.
  • To keep up with the world.
  • For my work.
  • I read to my kids/grandkids.
  • I read to my students.

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.

She says,

“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:

Our experiences (or perspectives??) with fellow teachers are clearly very different.


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* …

“I’m not a reading teacher. I don’t want to teach reading.”


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:

  • they really do like to read ~ if it’s something they’re interested in
  • reading is necessary to function in daily life ~ in and out of school, and for many ~ at work
  • that it doesn’t have to be a battle to get the reading done
  • different kinds of reading = different kinds of focus (purpose drives path: fast vs. slow, loosely vs. closely, testing/studying vs. pleasure)
A few tips for creating authentic reading and writing in your classes:

time1.   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:

  • It made me think about…
  • It reminded me of ….
  • I wonder…
  • I feel …
  • I agree with ….
  • I disagree with ….
  • I predict…..

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.


book reviews2.   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,, or 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:, and Of course, there are dozens more, but these come to mind.  What are your favorites you share with fellow teachers?


This I Believe

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!

~ Robin

The Pocket Muse 2: Endless Inspiration for Writers {Great Reads}

The Pocket Muse 2“Anybody can write a book, ’cause everybody has a story to tell.”
Marianne Moore, Author/Poet

Last week I found myself in the bookstore again, this time to replace a book I loaned and haven’t seen since.

The Pocket Muse 2,  an entirely different genre from the missing business book, spoke to my interest in writing, with its inviting photography, creative type-set and graphics, and beautiful language.

Monica Wood explains in the Introduction that this book was a result of her own despair, feeling as though she was facing, “mortal combat with a novel in progress… stranded and miserable with my sheaf of false starts and dead ends.”  She invites the reader to use the book as a source of both “inspiration and advice” in the journey to find one’s own words in what she calls an “act of faith.”

Ready to tell your own story? Because everyone’s got one to tell, apparently.  Ready to tap into your own creativity… find it, develop it, maybe share it?  The Pocket Muse 2 is a great tool to get you started.

By the way, the Missing In Action business book, (reason for the bookstore drop-in), didn’t get purchased.  Guess I’ll have to plan another visit soon.   😉