Keynote - Lucy!
Lucy opened the Institute in the majestic Riverside church, my 8th, her 66th Institute! She began by pointing out how, in just the past three years, so much has changed in our writing instruction. Now students hold in their hands powerful checklists. Now read-alouds are not only oral or shared once. We reread, looking closely and quote the text during the Grand Conversation. Students now read, think and say "I take the position that..." Then she reminded us and herself that the change is with this goal in mind: to give kids world-class writing instruction.
However, she reflected that in the push to reach this goal in a CCSS world, she wondered if things we learned 30 years ago were being left behind. She found a 30-year old video from when she interviewed students to ask them about writing and was able to share an except with us. WOW! The girl responded emphatically that writing is important. "When you write, it is yours...You can get your anger out on your paper...It helps with your feelings...You write whatever you want...You are the mother of that story." This video seemed to remind Lucy of that important lesson she learned 30 years ago, that we author with meaning. "We take a moment, spin it, and make significance out of the grit."
She challenged me to reflect on MY life theme and then teach, bringing ALL of me to my work. She suggested, after reflection, that I reread the CCSS with the lens of my life theme. Just as she will ensure that she teaches about the CCSS Writing standards with the importance of authoring meaningful work, I plan to reread the standards with my own focus. No matter what, I will recall that girl speaking to Lucy on the black and white film from 30 years ago who was so wise - "I am the mother of my writing!"
Annie Taranto - Literature-Based and Researched-based Argument Essay
Annie reminded us that we can write about the thinking we had as we read as long as we are reading and thinking. She shared a structure that only took 5 minutes called "Speed Booking" to create a book buzz and encourage student reading. I planned a 30-sec buzz about my book, much like the kids at the end of a Reading Rainbow episode did. "Have I go a book for you!" Then I paired with one person and in a minute, we shared. Then we repeated 2 more times. Now I have 3 new titles to consider reading! I definitely plan to use this structure with my 5th graders this year!
Then Annie spent the rest of our time having us have an Argument about The Giving Tree - Is the tree weak or strong? I have done this before with Mary and with my 4th graders last Spring but doing it again gave me more practice! I was reminded that the skills involved are stating a clear claim, stating reasons, giving evidence, and offering a counterclaim.
She ended by pushing us to generate our own ideas about a text without being told the debatable topic. She suggested we: 1) go back to he text 2) Notice details 3) Write to grow an idea. We tried it with the text we are reading (I'm reading The Lightning Thief, finally - somehow I missed reading this series!) and for homework I am to create more writing entries.
Colleen Cruz - Mentor Text
Our first exercise with Colleen was to pick one of these five genres - Play-writing, Guide Book, Poetry, Journalism, or Biography and sit with the others that chose that genre and together think about what you know about this genre. Then we spent 10 minutes trying to write in that genre. However, we were to pick the genre that we knew the LEAST about.
I chose PLAY-WRITING and my group discussed how when writing, lots of dialogue would be included and also the stage directions. We thought about looking at Readers Theaters to help guide our writing or a familiar text and turning it into a Readers Theater.
Then we returned to our seats and Colleen reminded us that to write in a genre we don't know much about, it is really important to READ that genre. "When you need to write something, you look at an example of it." Mentor Text = exemplar = touchstone text
Colleen pointed out that a mentor text is one text (duh!). A Mentor Author is when you study their whole body of work and their comments about their writing process.
By Wednesday, I need to bring in a MENTOR TEXT and Colleen gave suggestions of what to consider when choosing it. Mostly, I need to love this book! It needs to have examples of my teaching points for the unit I am teaching and it needs to be approachable to the levels of my students.
She suggested visiting in New York:
1. Stand Book Store (by Union Sq)
2. Bank Street Book Store (Broadway and 112th)
3. Books of Wonder (in Chelsea)
Then she gave us a few ways to use mentor texts during a Unit of Study:
1. A few days before launching a new unit, gather baskets of text of the new genre unit. Ask the kids to bring in their own examples from home. Then have the kids sort the test - yes, it is an example of the genre/maybe/not. Create a chart together listing all we know about this genre now after looking at all these mentor text.
2. Just pick one text that you love and use it during the unit.
3. Teach the students how to choose a mentor author and then ask kids to see if their author has written in this genre. She suggested that you could set up a dozen baskets of mentor authors. In each basket, place the works by that author and also the author's bio. Students can spend a week perusing the baskets and at the end of the week own an author! Colleen pointed out that a mentor author is one who has written in at least 2 genres.
Finally Colleen read us The Silver Button by Bob Graham
As she read, we were asked to notice the ordinary moment, which the book is FILLED with. ALL the things that occur at 9:57am. I found the repetition of the list very moving. I can see how using this mentor text could help that writer who struggles with generating an idea to write. I found comfort in seeing how so many different stories can be told about one moment in time. I plan to get this book!! So glad Colleen shared it.
Closing Workshop - Colleen on Practical Tips for Teaching Fiction in the Beginning of the Year
Since I haven't had enough of Colleen yet, I joined her for her closing workshop. I have taught the fiction unit for the past 3 years but it helped to hear some reminders from the author of that Unit of Study!
WHY teach a Fiction Writing Unit?
Kids LOVE it and at the beginning of the year, they are reading fiction.
Bend 1: Plot and Character Development
* I could write about a character who.... (Somebody-Wanted-But-But-So)
* Think of a plot based on something in your life, based on a story you wish existed, or on an issue you are passionate about
* Think of a story based on a setting - what stories could happen on a playground? the subway? church? principal's office?
* Read the headlines in the newspaper and create a story off of this (Eric Carle did this in 10 Little Rubber Ducks!)
Once you have he plot, develop the inside and outside of the character. She suggested thinking about what would parents name this character? What country are they from? Are they more conservative and name their children after a relative? Or a bit wild and name their child after a movie star!
She suggested you start adding to the inside of the character (hungry for friends) and then think about what this would make the character look like on the outside (wears trendy things like a loom bracelet).
She suggested that the students try out the character in an everyday scene - writing about the chracter waking up in the morning or the character at recess. The "scene bootcamp" will help they to know their character!
Bend 2: Plot and Draft
She suggested planning for a whole class period on looseleaf so the teacher can collect it and read it overnight. Just 3-4 scenes should be planned so it remains a short story and not a novel. As you plan, try it a few different ways. One time starting the story here...another starting here.
She suggested that as they draft, encourage them to draft out of order. Draft the scene you love the most first! Then once all is drafted, put it in order and add the transitional words to get you from one scene to the next. She said this technique seems to help them to write scenes and to avoid just a summary being written.
Bend 3: Revision/Editing
Always base these lessons on what you notice after looking at the students' writing assessments.
Most common revision lessons:
* grounding the dialogue by include action, setting and feelings
* use specific details connected to what this story is about (if it is about a rich girl and a poor girl, include that one wears an Abocrombie t-shirt and one wears a Walmart Disney t-shirt)
*Symbolism - what could become symbolic? Make that object more important.
*Word Choice - focus on the nouns and the verbs
*Leads/Endings - connected in some way
Editing - what do these students need help with most
*avoiding passive verbs (was walking) and using active verbs
*pronouns - not being clear as to who the he/she is)
*be sure to spell important words correctly (If is is a story about best friends - spell friend correctly!)