Teaching Writers, Not Writing.

Our recent two week winter holiday was a complete right-off for me. A bad cough and laryngitis left me couch bound for pretty much the entire rest. The silver lining to this enforced rest was the opportunity to read, and read I did.

#ShiftThis by Joy Kirr
Empower by John Spencer & AJ Juliani
Feedback That Moves Writers Forward by Patty McGee
Peer Feedback In The Classroom by Starr Sackstein
I also tackled Joy Kirr’s incredible LiveBinder & blog which are filled with resources ranging from goal setting and feedback to links to inspiring educators teaching journey blogs. Monte Syrie chipped in with a blog post and resources about creating “Learning Stories” in journey journals, and my illness induced inquiry was complete.

I loved the creative layout and message of Empower, but I felt much of the books content mirrored that of #Launchbook or had already been addressed in the author’s blogs. It was more of an affirming read that we are on the right track with our use of student voice and choice.

Starr Sackstein’s book had some valuable insight into the power and usefulness of peer feedback. The book was probably pitched a little above our year level and is a resource I will visit again in the future when we look to build on these skills. For now, we are focusing on self and teacher assessment, with mostly teacher-led opportunities to share and provide peer feedback. I’m not convinced at this point that students are ready to offer meaningful feedback to each other. We have more work to do.

I’ve written plenty about #ShiftThis and encouraged our staff to also pick up a copy. We hope to take up Joy’s offer of a Skype PD session to discuss the book in the near future. Joy’s blog¬†and LiveBinder provided an entire day’s exploring. I’ve said a few times that it is like teacher Inception because there are resources inside resources inside even more resources. The goal setting sheets, google forms, core skill rubrics, collecting and documenting evidence scaffolds etc really saved me many hours of work re-inventing the wheel.

Patty McGee’s book and accompanying website have really helped tie our new approach to writing together. I loved this book. Her personal reflections provide an insight into the mindset of young (and more experienced) writers. Her links to research, particularly that of Carol Dweck, back-up the anecdotal evidence that teachers know just works. This book changed my mindset from teaching writing to teaching writers. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

Patty’s book was exactly what I needed at this point. Planning scaffolds, real world examples, prompts will all become part of our regular learning. Students loved the JK Rowling example of planning for one of the Harry Potter books (Order of the Phoenix). The practical processes, reflection, conferencing, and feedback that Patty describes in the book have already helped me begin to¬†meet students where they are with their writing.

I loved seeing the struggle with planning timelines, the collaboration and sharing of ideas, and actual writing that has been evident in our first few days back for term (or trimester) three. They value what they are writing because it has meaning to them, and because they themselves will be self-assessing, students are carefully editing as they go. On the back of watching Austin’s Butterfly, we are attempting to seek feedback at around 30% done (planning), 60% complete (first draft) and then at 90% after revisions and self-assessment.

Finally, Monte Syrie shared his resources and process for learning stories with the #Tg2chat community via a blog post. ¬†Providing this opportunity for regular reflection was something that has been missing in my teaching practice. It is a simple idea executed really well. It is optional for students, but a few days in, everyone is on board. We really appreciated learning about Monte’s journey and class via our FlipGrid AMA (Ask Me Anything) and the learning stories (or journey journals as we have settled on) have provided a chance for kids to be part of Monte’s class.

The first few days back have been productive, settled, and from my perspective, really enjoyable. Students have embraced the new classroom layout, including our cave for silent reflection and working. Behaviour and work ethic has been outstanding, and hopefully is now part of our new norm, not a new term honeymoon period.

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