Feedback is important (and I mess up sometimes)

(part 2 in a series)
What has teaching writing in pre-K taught me about teaching writing in college? And vice versa?

“I have to give myself permission to mess up and learn from it if I’m going to be a good writing teacher.”

Listen to two conversations with students that I wish I could redo.

First, convince them they ARE writers

(part one in a series)
This semester, I teach writing in pre-K on Wednesdays, and writing to college students on Fridays. I’m quickly discovering that the only real difference is the texts I use.

This is not my first rodeo with undergrads, so much of what I encountered there the first week was no surprise. Undergraduates come to me jaded and lacking confidence.

Writing as a way of life

I was everything in those stories that I thought I couldn’t be in real life: a sassy smart aleck with an uncanny ability to insult and/or shame all those who wronged me in any way. I also wrote letters to my mom (my frequent antagonist) and then tore them into tiny undetectable pieces and threw them away.  I suppose it was always about the process of writing for me, about how I felt after writing, not about publishing my end products.

What writers do: Obsess, recall, wonder, question, and record (an example)

I once lost a journal, left it behind at a breakfast diner in the heart of Boston… I didn’t sleep for two full days worrying about it. …Had it been noticed or unwittingly swept into the trash? …did anyone read it? Did they laugh? In the good way? Or cry? Did they see any potential? Did they like it? Boston is a literary city, after all, so there was a lot at stake for me.

I have lived (and write about it)

I am honored to be a contributor to a blog that I love, Sharing Our Notebooks curated by children’s author and teacher Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. I have given writing teachers a quick peek inside my notebooks in the past, but with Amy’s blog as inspiration, this time I am really putting myself out there, baring entries that fed the works closest to my heart.

Teaching point: writers don’t rely on punctuation to convey emotion

Good narrative writers (fiction and some types of nonfiction) don’t rely on punctuation to convey emotion. Good writers know that characters convey emotion. Their body language, their actions, and their speech reveal what they feel.

This is something I often teach: a string of exclamation points in your text is an invitation to go back to your writer’s notebook…It’s an invitation to excavate or dig deeper.

A Unit of Study in Poetry

Check out the poetry module I created for the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers’ website for a step-by-step tour of how you might teach this unit of study. Sample mini-lessons, noticing charts, conferring videos, conferring notes and more are included—many from my own classes. Also includes “Teacher Try-Its” to help you fill your own writer’s notebook with material that you can teach from!

Hold Readers at a Climax

When I first read stories with students and ask them to identify the climax, they tend to point to a small amount of text, often two sentences or less. This is one of a handful of common phenomena that still baffles me — where did so many of us get the idea that climaxes are small?

More accurately, the climax is often the most important part of the story, and, consequently, it gets the most space.

4 Craft Strategies to Notice in THE LEAVING MORNING (and Why)

The best touchstone texts are sophisticated enough to work across multiple grade and comprehension levels. One of the first—and still one of the most frequent—touchstone texts that I used was THE LEAVING MORNING by Angela Johnson. Here are just a few of the brilliant craft strategies my students and I have discovered in it:

My 5 most frequently used notebook strategies

People always ask, “How do you come up with ideas for writing?” So I analyzed my writer’s notebook and identified my most frequently used strategies for recording, nurturing, and thinking about story content. Here’s what I found: