Happy Birthday, Moving Writers + Some BIG News!

One year ago today, we started a blog. Inspired at NCTE13, we felt compelled to join the global English teacher conversation. So, we picked a name, paid a graphic designer $5 for a logo, and hung a sign in our little corner of the Internet.

We started writing. And we have loved it. We love the conversations this blog has sparked with you. We love the way the blog has pushed our own writing. We love the way that, on occasion, the self-imposed pressure to post something new has driven us to experiment in our classrooms to exciting results. Moving Writers has made us better at everything we do.

Moving Writers has moved us.

And all this thinking and writing has propelled us into some very exciting new work. We are writing a book! Actually, we are very nearly finished writing a book for Heinemann that will be published in August 2015.  Mentoring Writers (the working title — we hope it sticks!) gives teachers an approach for using a steady flood of mentor texts from the first day of school to the last, from planning a piece of writing through its polishing and publication.  The mentor texts we use are the same as those you see featured regularly on this blog — hot-off-the-presses, just-published-this-week, relevant, and engaging.

With our FABULOUS editor, Katie Wood Ray, at NCTE14.

With our FABULOUS editor, Katie Wood Ray, at NCTE14.

We are humbled and amazed.

One year ago in our inaugural post, we posed a series of questions we hoped to explore through the blog. Below, you will see how we have started to address some of those big ideas. As you can see, there is a lot more to discuss — lots of territory for exploration, new questions to pose.  Grab a cup of coffee and spend some time looking around.

What does writer’s workshop look like in the secondary – particularly the traditional high school –  classroom?

What conditions, tools, structures, and norms help guide writers towards independence?

What works in our writer’s workshop classrooms? What doesn’t work? How can we improve our craft as educators?

How can we help students maintain control of their own ideas while guiding them as writers? (Penny Kittle)


What are the short and long term benefits of writer’s workshop?

What makes a good mentor text? Where do we find them? How do we use them? Can we enlist students to find them?


Besides editorials, commentaries, and narratives, what other genres could and should be taught to secondary students?


What would a writer’s workshop scope & sequence look like?


How do writer’s workshop and reader’s workshop speak to one another? Build off of one another?

What would it take to change the way our students see themselves as writers?


How can we develop these characteristics in our students: curiosity, clarity, self- confidence, autonomy, and mastery? (Penny Kittle)


How do we bring joy and meaning into the writer’s workshop?

Posts sharing lessons:

Posts sharing mentor texts:

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for going on this journey with us. We can’t wait for another year of thinking, discussing, and teaching alongside you.

What do you want to discuss? What are you itching for us to explore? Leave us a comment below and find us on Twitter — @allisonmarchett and @rebekahodell1.

- Allison & Rebekah


Finding Time for Technology in Writing Workshop

I think my students would tell you that our classroom is a happy, productive place. They would also tell you that it’s predictable. Monday through Thursday, we write during notebook time, read mentor texts and take notes during the lesson, and write and confer during workshop. We do this for 46 minutes four times a week. On Friday, we read. We repeat this schedule the following week.

For a long time, I worried that students were bored. I feared they found my class plodding. I would hear them talking about the simulations they did in history or the fun activities in science and wondered if they compared those activities to workshop. Our simulation was the writing. Our fun activity was the reading. How was this for them?

I wrote on this topic last April after coming across a quote by Katie Wood Ray on the predictability of workshop. In Study Driven, she writes, “Now the fact that it is predictable doesn’t mean in any way that it is redundant or boring. The way you go about a study is predictable, but the content that comes from the study is anything but predictable” (2006, 110). These words we so reassuring to me then and now.

Still, I felt a little guilty. I felt guilty at technology workshops. I assumed the apps and programs they were offering wouldn’t plug into workshop without unhinging the essentials: time to write, time to confer. I followed plenty of technology blogs and was so intrigued by what they had to offer; nonetheless, I dismissed the ideas, thinking I would have to sacrifice what mattered the most. I could barely squeeze everything we needed to accomplish into a 46 minute period as it was. How could I possibly add something in?  I wanted badly to leverage technology in my classroom, but didn’t see how it would be possible.

That is until my colleague Maria introduced me to Socrative.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 2.09.53 PM

(Maria rocks.)

It seemed simple enough — after all, she had explained the gist of it in an email. And Maria was doing reading workshop with her writers at the time, too. So I decided to look into it. I played around in the website a little bit, and within 20 minutes, I had a plan. A plan that I hoped would add a new dimension to my workshop without sacrificing valuable writing and conferring time.

What I Did

The next day I projected our notebook time prompt as usual. That day we were studying a sentence written by James Wood from the New York Times article “Why? The Fictions of Life and Death”:

Here he was, jumping off a boat into the Maine waters; here he was, as a child, larkily peeing from a cabin window with two young cousins; here he was, living in Italy and learning Italian by flirting; here he was, telling a great joke; here he was, an ebullient friend, laughing and filling the room with his presence.

As usual, I asked students what they noticed about the craft. Here is their list:

  • He repeats the phrase “here he was” several times
  • Each “here he was” phrase is followed by a comma and an -ing word (participle)
  • The entire thing is one sentence
  • He presents little scenes from this person’s life in chronological order
  • He does all of these things to give a broad picture of this person’s life — like a sweeping brushstroke
  • All the commas and semi-colons create a musical rhythm

Then I gave students four minutes to write their own version of this sentence. I told them to close their eyes and visualize a person they knew well, someone whom they could picture in multiple settings. I provided laminated photographs from Work and Love for students who needed more support.

Then I asked students to take out a device, go to socrative.com, and choose Student Login.

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They were prompted to enter a Room Name (you have to set this up before the lesson — see here for a very basic tutorial showing how I prepared for this lesson).

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Then they were greeted by this screen:

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I asked them to carefully type the sentence they had written for notebook time. While they worked, I logged in to Socrative.com and pulled up the Live Results page.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 2.37.44 PM

Suddenly, my screen became populated with all of their responses, and since I was projecting it, everyone was able to read the sentences as they were submitted in real time. Fingers flew across keyboards as students raced to get their sentences up on the board for all to see. For the record, I had not framed this activity as a race!

We ended up taking a few extra minutes in notebook time that day to read the submissions out loud and share in our writing reverie. It was FUN and different and meaningful and essential.

Some of the students even had the idea of supporting the writers whose sentences needed some help in the punctuation department. I quickly copied and pasted these sentences into a Word document and invited student volunteers to come to the board and use the noticings they had made during notebook time to add punctuation to the sentences.


Here are two of the sentences they made stronger with semi-colons and commas:

Here we were, playing with our action figures; here we were, going to the neighborhood pool; here we were, gradually falling off during middle school; here we are, not talking anymore.

Here he is, hanging on to his life; here he is, clutching his wound with blistered hands; here he is, watching the light fade from his eyes; here is is, listening to the chorus of war play in the background; here is here, knowing he isn’t coming home.


The Results

The energy going into the lesson that day was palpable. Students who have never volunteered to share after notebook time had shared — though anonymously — and received positive feedback on their work. We had engaged in a mechanics lesson with students up at the board assisting their peers. This small bit of technology hadn’t eaten into our workshop time at all. If anything, it had begun to eat away at the trepidation that many of my ninth graders feel about sharing out loud.

After my short but powerful bout with Socrative, I’m convinced there must be other forms of technology — apps, websites, digital tools — that could compliment the routines and structures of writing workshop without sacrificing what’s important. So now I’m on a mission to find them.

How do you incorporate technology into your workshop without forfeiting the essentials? Do you see other uses for Socrative in workshop? Please tweet us @allisonmarchett and @rebekahodell1 or respond in the comments below.

Questions from NCTE14: “How can writing workshop fit into the curriculum I’m given?”

writing-1At NCTE, Allison and I spoke to two different teachers who both shared that they want to use writing workshop in their secondary classrooms but teach in school systems with very specific curricular demands — “You must teach these novels”, and “You must do this many timed writings in response to prompts”, and “You must use this rubric to score writing six times per year”, and “You must do this many days of test prep.”  So, how can the beauty and freedom of writing workshop exist for secondary teachers in an educational world gone mad?

Our advice is this: take baby steps until the day you can go all the way.

We have been there, and even though we all know that writing workshop transforms writing and writers, it seems to conflict with the curricula designed by school boards and departments of education in so many ways.  And the answer we have heard so many times before from writing workshop advocates — “Oh, it just works” —  isn’t satisfactory.

While you may not be able to overturn the established curriculum overnight, there are ways that you can nudge the curriculum to allow room for writing workshop, too. Below are some ways that you can take baby steps toward bringing a full-fledged writing workshop into your classroom regardless of the constraints of the curriculum.

Incorporate elements of writing workshop into what you already do

It is truly a beautiful thing when all of the elements of writing workshop flow together, when students learn and love these routines, when the patterns become familiar and organic. But even without integrating every piece of workshop life, you can incorporate many of its central tenets.

Choice –  Even if your curriculum doesn’t allow you to give students free reign over what they write, you can give students some choice in nearly any writing assignment. If they have to write in a certain genre (say, persuasive writing or literary analysis), consider giving them choice of topic within that genre. (Not only will it empower and engage your students, but it will be far more interesting for you to read when it’s time to assess each piece.) If students have to practice writing to a prompt, consider giving them a choice of prompts.

QuickWrites or Notebook TimeQuickWrites and Notebook Time both help students gain fluency and playfulness in their writing. This low-stakes (really, no stakes) time for experimentation usually happens at the beginning of a class period and lasts no more than 10 minutes. A quick Google search for QuickWrites will give you lots to choose from. Additionally, check out 100 QuickWrites (Linda Rief) and My Quick Writes (Graves & Kittle).  We have also posted about how we use Notebook Time — an expanded version of Quick Writes. You can find that here.  You can add the routine of a QuickWrite or Notebook Time to the beginning of your class period, giving students a regular chance to build writing muscles.

Mini-LessonsMini-lessons are the heart of teaching (rather than assigning) writing. At a mere 5-15 minutes in length, this is an easy element to slip into your current routine. Give a brief burst of direct instruction in the aspects of good writing that you want to see in your students’ writing. (This is also a great opportunity to walk through the craft of a mentor text!) For loads of ideas for possible mini-lessons, check out Nancie Atwell’s Lessons that Change Writers.

Time for Writing – In many secondary classrooms, one of the biggest paradigm shifts when bringing in a workshop model is giving time in class for writing. This is important for so many reasons — it allows for students to try new things in their writing as soon as they learn them in a mini-lesson, it gives teachers a chance to confer with students and lend support on the spot, it builds a community of writers, it gives routine and habit to the practice of writing, it shows our writers that we value writing. (I could keep going.) It’s important, and so we give our time to it.

It is also the piece of workshop life that is most tempting to give up. After all, it’s  easy for us to say, “Okay, now go home and write for homework.” But this isn’t the same and  doesn’t yield the same quality of student work. Even without a full workshop model in place, you can give your students time during class to write and ask questions and share what they are working on. (More on actually finding the time to do this below.)

Think about what you could send home for homework instead. Reframe your thinking and eschew in-class activities in favor of time for writing — make writing the activity instead.

ConferringTruth be told, conferring was the part of workshop I was most wary of before I tried it on for size. If a student’s writing was just bad, what would I say? What if they asked me a question I couldn’t answer? What if I hurt their feelings? What if they didn’t listen to my advice?


There are whole books written on the topic of conferring with student writers, so I won’t delve too deeply into the how. What I will say is that giving our students the opportunity to touch base with us about their writing while it is in progress is a true gift — to them and to us. Writing is hard and writers need support. And when we meet regularly with our students in the messy midst of their writing, we the teachers begin to learn, too. We learn what they are already good at and where they are struggling. We learn where they need clarification, where they could use reinforcement, what they know, and where we can help.

If you can give your students some time to write during class, make the rounds. Check in on each student. Most conferences start with a very simple, “How’s it going?” or “Tell me what you’re working on.”

Find a way to fit workshop into your routine

So, where does the time for all of this come from — when there is literature that has to be taught? Tests that have to be prepped for?  You may or may not have flexibility in how you organize your classroom time, but here are some ideas that might help you:

Split your class period —  If you teach in a school with block scheduling, consider splitting your block in half. Use half of the period for literature study (including vocabulary or independent reading) and half for writing workshop. When I used to teach in a 90-minute block, I would use the first 45 minutes for literature/reading and the second 45 minutes for writing. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable. It’s also gratifying to be able to see your students meaningfully reading and writing every single day.

Split up your week — Designate two days or three days per week as writing workshop days, with the other days for literature study and reading instruction. This works well because you aren’t splitting your time or your brain. When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

Split up your year  — This is my new favorite. Focus your energy by quarter or semester. For one stretch of time, do only literature/reading study. In the next stretch, do only writing workshop.

The Writing Workshop Blitz — This is the least ideal in some ways because the routines of workshop don’t become as enmeshed in classroom life. And so students never become as independent in the workshop as we might like them to be. However, this is probably the most realistic for you if you are beginning. Grab hold of all the structures and routines of writing workshop, and use them for one writing unit. Carve out a couple of weeks at a time and really do workshop.

If you are a newbie to workshop, we have also written a couple of posts in response to a reader’s question about how we plan for writing workshop over the course of a school year.

Let’s continue to talk about this — we love these questions. They are real,  and they are hard. Sadly, it so often feels like all of our best intentions are thwarted by the systems within which we teach. Let’s share the ways that we have found to do the very best for our students (and their writing) within these systems — how we can find joy and share joy in spite of the constraints.

Leave a comment below with tips for taking baby steps toward a workshop in your classroom or join the conversation on Twitter by using #movingwriters.


“Where Do You Find Mentor Texts? How Do You Select Them?”

We loved seeing so many of our Twitter and blog friends at NCTE this weekend! Yesterday, during our presentation about technique-driven studies, two of the big questions that emerged were: Where do you find mentor texts? How do you select them?

Our criteria:

 To select mentor texts, we begin by visiting our usual haunts (listed below). We look for current, hot-off-the-presses writing that will engage our students and connect them with the writing real writers are doing right now. We also look for pieces that are excellently crafted, and easily digestible (sometimes we pull excerpts of longer pieces to meet this criterion). If we can find a text that teaches more than one element of craft—texts that do double or triple duty—all the better. Below we’ve listed a few of our favorite go-to places.

  • The A.V. Club – great for reviews & pop culture analysis
  • Grantland – sports/pop culture analysis & news
  • FiveThirtyEight – raw data, infographics & visuals
  • Vulture – pop culture analysis & reviews
  • The New Yorker – news, longer analysis, feature articles, narrative writing, cartoons

On the drive home from NCTE, we pulled up our Twitter feeds for each of these sites and searched for a few mentor texts that anyone can use in class tomorrow—texts that can be used to teach myriad skills in myriad genres. Below we’ve listed some of these possibilities: Continue reading

NCTE14 Preview: Do Your Student Writers Need Technique Study?

Where does writing workshop go next?

Traditionally, writing workshop is organized around genres. We write editorials, learning about the conventions of that genre, incorporating it into pieces of student writing, and then move on to narrative. Then literary analysis. Then, perhaps, a This I Believe essay. And this is great. Genre is important. Students must understand the differences between the genres — both in terms of purpose and conventions — in order to write anything at all. We love genre study. We do not want to get rid of genre study.

But, over the years, we have encountered a few classroom circumstances and a few students who pushed us to think about something else, something new, something beyond genre study.  This is technique study, and this is what we will be exploring in our session.

Here are some questions to answer to see if, perhaps, your student writers could benefit from a technique-driven workshop:

  • Do your students have rich ideas that don’t necessarily all fit into the same form at the same time?
  • Do your students need to move toward increasing independence in their writing?
  • Do you teach writing in a class that focuses on the writing of a single genre, but you would like to use a workshop model? (Like AP or IB English which focus primarily on the writing of literary analysis)
  • Do you need a way to differentiate instruction between grades or between class levels? A place for writing workshop to grow as students move into new English courses?
  • Is your whole class proficient in their knowledge of genre-based writing and in need of a new challenge?
  • Is your whole class struggling with a particular element of craft and in need of reinforcement?
  • Do you have a student who wants to take her writing to the “next level”?
  • Do your students crave practicality and the direct transference of skills from one writing experience to the next?

A technique-based workshop or strategic technique-based studies can do so much for students — our excellent writers, our struggling writers, our bored writers, and our super-engaged writers.

Join us SUNDAY at 10:30am in Magnolia 2 to hear more about this new kind of workshop, to listen to students tell you how this experience has transformed their writing, to play in a technique-based study yourself, and to get materials to take directly into your classroom!

Connect with us on Twitter to let us know where you will be at #ncte14! We are so excited to see you! @allisonmarchett and @rebekahodell1

NCTE 2014 : Sneak Preview #1

Rebekah and I are gearing up for NCTE 2014 in just a few weeks! This week’s post is a special preview of our presentation: Moving the Writer: Embracing a Vision for a Technique-Driven Workshop. Here is the description printed in the convention program:

What does it take to move the writer and not just the writing? We envision a writing workshop in which ideas come first and form later. Participants will receive a curriculum centered on author’s purpose and elements of craft, mentor texts that cut across genre, and tools that promote independent writers.

The idea is simple: to teach units of study that aren’t organized around genres but around elements of writing that are intrinsic to all kinds of writing. For example, rather than teaching a workshop about memoir or critical review, we might teach a workshop on argument or evidence or punctuation. Students hone their skills in one particular area of writing and choose whatever genre fits their purpose best.

Our presentation will feature a few short interviews with students who experienced a technique-based workshop last year. You can watch one of these videos below–a short but compelling interview with Isabella who talks a little bit about the work that emerged from her technique-driven study (of evidence), as well as her thoughts on genre-based vs. technique-based workshops. Enjoy!

Note: This version of the video is unedited. We will be showing an edited version during our presentation.

Are you coming to NCTE 2014? We would love to connect with you. We will be presenting on SUNDAY at 10:30 in the MAGNOLIA room. Please connect with us @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1, and let us know where you’ll be!

All Writing, All the Time — My Plan for Semester 2

Maternity leave has given me a huge gift — the excuse to teach all writing all the time when I return to school in January. That might sound daunting or boring (writing every day? five days a week?), but for me it’s an enormous mental relief. Let’s be honest: the absolute most challenging part about teaching writing and teaching it well is finding the time.

Leaving reading and literature instruction to my sub in the first semester has eliminated half of what I normally try to find a way to squeeze in alongside writing workshop. The reading part of class will still be important to us in the second semester — they will continue their independent reading, and they will use all of the close and distant reading skills on a daily basis as we study mentor texts and write about the things we have read. But, delightfully, as I sit back and plan, I feel like I get to teach this writing thing exactly the way I would want to teach it if I had all the time in the world. Because, to an extent, I do. (And when does that happen in teaching?!)

So, today I thought I would share some of my intentions with you — the big, broad strokes I am drawing to conceive of a whole semester of writing instruction. Continue reading

Whole-Class Writing Studies vs. Individual Writing Studies

Every year I write on my syllabus that students will produce a new piece of work every four weeks. And while I do create units of study that typically span four weeks, students aren’t necessarily finishing a new piece every month. It often takes us longer than planned to move through a study. Holidays and vacations set us back. Sometimes, I extend studies if I think that even a few students are not ready to move on. Stuff happens.


Students reviewing the traits of a book review.

But sometimes students can’t reach this writing quantity because they are waiting for me to move on. Waiting for the study to end, even though they have finished their pieces. Waiting to begin that new writing that started as a flicker at the back of the imagination and has since grown into something large and real and ready to be written. It’s at that point–when I see that some students are itching to move forward and begin something new and others are still stuck in their early drafts and in need of more support–that I begin to wonder if whole-class writing studies are about as effective as whole-class novel studies.


from zinkshappenings.edublogs.org

Many of us have made the move from whole-class novel study to independent novel study in reading workshop. We differentiate assessment, teach through conferences, and cheer on students as they move from one book to another at their own appropriate pace. What’s preventing us from adopting this structure in writer’s workshop?


by woodleywonderworks, used under Creative Commons lic

Nancy Atwell describes an approach to independent writing studies in her book In the Middle. Her 7th and 8th graders produce two pieces of writing every six weeks. Some of these pieces are written in genres the class has studied as a group, but much of the writing students do is completed independently of any whole-class genre study.

At the beginning of each trimester, Atwell’s students set writing goals (I want to write 6 pieces this trimester, I want to write in a new genre, I want to experiment with poetry, I want to try a new approach to drafting, I want to write about my dad, etc.) and are evaluated based on progress made towards these goals. A student who has met all of her goals at the end of a trimester and engaged thoughtfully and deeply in the writing process will receive an A in writing for that trimester. A student who has met some but not all of his goals may receive a B, etc. Individual pieces of writing are not assessed; only a student’s writing portfolio and work ethic hold the key to his or her true abilities as a writer.

In another book, Lessons that Change Writers, Atwell offers a chronology of the mini-lessons she teaches in one year. She places an emphasis on free-verse poetry in September and October, fiction in November, holiday gifts of writing in December, book reviews in February, punctuation in March, essays in April, and humor writing and Mother’s Day poems in May. However, students are moving among these genres and making choices that suit their interests and needs as writers. Atwell expects her students to try the work of different genres as she spotlights them, but my sense is that students are ultimately choosing which pieces to take to final copy.

These books show us that it’s possible to create a rich workshop based on individual writing studies (one look at her chronology on page XXVIII and XXIX of Lessons and you’ll understand the power…).

Still, I long to sit down with Atwell over coffee and ask the hundreds of logistical questions I have about this approach to instruction:

  1. Without an understanding of various genres, how do students make informed choices about which genres they’d like to write in? As genres are spotlighted throughout the the year, their knowledge will grow, but what do those early weeks and months of workshop look like?
  2. How might I create a sequence of writing lessons that would somehow speak to what each particular writer is working on at any given moment while creating some grounded understandings and reference points that will carry any writer through any writing situation?
  3. Deadlines are a fact of writing life. How can I set appropriate and fair deadlines for individual writers while creating momentum in the workshop?
  4. Should I require students to write in certain genres throughout the year but allow them to choose when?
  5. If coupling individual study with whole-class units of study, should I require students to bring all whole-class pieces of writing to completion? Or should they be given the choice to abandon these pieces if they are not working?
  6. What is an appropriate number of pieces to ask a high school student to complete?
  7. If one student is working on a long short story that requires in-depth research, is it fair to ask him to turn in the same number of pieces as a student working on several shorter blog posts?
  8. As a teacher, how will I manage so many writing projects happening concurrently? When will students be asked to submit drafts? Asked to bring pieces to final copy and submit again for editing by me?
  9. How can I create the feeling of a newspaper or magazine staff climate in which writers are working both independently and interdependently towards personal and collective goals?
  10. What if a student only wants to write editorials for the whole year? How do you celebrate that passion while nudging him towards different writing territories? Do you make it a requirement that students write in certain genres throughout the year?

I am fortunate to teach a semester-long creative writing elective in the fall and spring each year. In the past, this class has been my guinea pig: many of the writers are returning students who are better able to navigate a new approach or idea and understand my “let’s try this” enthusiasm. Additionally, I have more autonomy in this class than any other and thus more room to experiment. My goal is to try individual creative writing studies in the spring. But before then, I may have to flag Nancie Atwell down at NCTE ‘14 and buy her a coffee in exchange for workshop wisdom. Wish me luck.

~ Allison

If you have had success with individual writing studies, particularly with middle or high school students, please comment below or find us on Twitter @allisonmarchetti @rebekahodell1. We’d love to know more about the logistics of it all.

Mentor Text Monday: Engaging Students with HUMANS OF NEW YORK

Mentor Text:  Humans of New Yorkblog and book by Brandon Stanton

Also: LIttle Humansbook by Brandon Stanton

Writing Techniques:

  • Effective interviewing
  • Fusing images and text
  • Concision & drilling down to the essentials


While I’m off, I am dreaming of the mentor texts and units of study that will fill my second semester when I return to school. One text that keeps popping up is Humans of New York, a popular storytelling blog-turned-book by photographer Brandon Stanton. On his blog, Stanton features a photograph of someone he encounters on the streets of New York. The photo is accompanied by the subject’s brief response to an intimate, probing question posed by Stanton. Both the portrait and the accompanying quotation capture something truthful — often raw — and essential about the subject.  The result is captivating, as evidenced by Stanton’s millions of followers and imitators around the world.

Beyond the interesting visuals and quotations that will capture students’ attention and the blog’s huge relevance and popularity, one of the greatest  things about Stanton’s work in the context of a classroom is that he is neither professional journalist nor professional photographer. In a way, he’s just like our students. While his work is great fodder for mentor text work, this fact makes him a great mentor for our writers as they uncover his process and become inspired by his craft. Continue reading

Note-taking Possibilities in Writer’s Workshop

I think most of us will agree that we’d like our students to keep a record of the lessons we teach in workshop each day. They need something tangible to look back at as they progress through each study. And in a perfect world, they’d want something to take with them at the end of the year, a record of learnings they might use in subsequent years of school. But what form should that record take?

I have tried many different forms of note-taking over the years: Cornell Notes, bulleted notes, notes in full sentences, teacher-made notes, student-made notes, class secretary-made notes. Admittedly, some years I told myself that the students would figure it out, would cobble together some iteration of the lesson in their notebooks and be just fine. Other years I’ve taught explicit note-taking techniques and styles. Regardless of what I do, note-taking in workshop has always felt a little awkward to me. Why?

Taking notes in workshop is very different from taking notes in science class, for example. In English, the majority of my lessons are skill-based, not content-based. How does one capture the essence of a skill lesson in note form? Continue reading