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 break. The silver lining to this enforced rest was the opportunity to read the following:

  • Shift This 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

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.

Funny how changing a word just a bit makes such a difference. So inspired by all the Shifts you are making to move your Writers Forward. 😉
 — Monte Syrie (@MonteSyrie) July 26, 2017

Patty’s book was exactly what I needed at this point. The planning scaffolds, real world examples, and various prompts that drive writers to consider how they can improve their writing will all become part of our regular learning. Students loved the JK Rowling planning example for the Harry Potter book Order of the Phoenix. The practical tips that Patty shares about processes, reflection, conferencing, and feedback have already helped me begin to meet students where they are with their writing.

I loved seeing students embrace the struggle this week. They were planning story timelines, collaborating, sharing ideas, and actually writing voraciously because they had the opportunity to plan and develop a story narrative that interested them. The only constraint they were given was to create a story from the traditional formats shown below.

Image credit — Patty McGee

In the past, I have taught grammar in isolation from writing and wondered why the skills didn’t always transfer into student writing. I think it is this kind of practice that has contributed to kids like *Jimmy* entering my classroom and not understanding some pretty important concepts, like how to write in complete sentences. Well, Jimmy got it this week and I couldn’t be happier or prouder. In just his third attempt at editing and self-assessing his own writing, he managed to grasp a concept that has eluded him for his first seven years of school. Coincidence?

On the back of watching Austin’s Butterfly, students are starting to grasp that we are no longer a one-and-done classroom. We are attempting to seek feedback throughout the entire learning process, not just when work is finished and the learning is over. We agreed to try and seek feedback at around 30% done (planning), 60% complete (first draft) and then at 90% after revisions and self-assessment. Another important part of our new routines is reflection.

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.

I also tackled Joy Kirr’s incredible LiveBinder & blog which are chock filled with gems that I was keen to mine, including resources for goal setting, feedback, and links to blogs of inspiring educators sharing their teaching and learning journey’s. I’ve written plenty about Shift This 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. For instance, I love this feedback and revision flowchart.

Image credit — Joy Kirr

Thank goodness Amazon has finally entered the Australian book landscape. Even though the iPad Kindle app is a sad replacement for physical book, I can now instantly download books that were previously either unavailable here or would take weeks to arrive via mail. So, to finish my illness induced inquiry adventure, I read two more books that I was pretty excited about.

I loved the creative layout and message of Empower. I was really excited to read the book after taking so much away from the John Spencer and AJ Juliani’s earlier release, Launch. Empower turned out to be more of an affirming read for me, that we are on the right track with our use of student voice and choice. While I really enjoyed the book, much of the content had been covered in the author’s blogs I took most away from the section about encouraging critical consumption of creative content, rather than being a passive audience. That many of our student’s consumer content, but few take the chance to create it and share with audiences.

Starr Sackstein’s Peer Feedback In The Classroom some valuable insight into the power of peer feedback. The book was probably pitched a little above my 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 primarily focusing on self and teacher assessment. I’m not convinced at this point that students are ready to offer meaningful feedback to each other. We have more work to do.

So our first few days back at school 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. I have 18 more weeks to teach writers, not just writing, and I’m excited to see how much we can achieve.


Originally published at blogmoore2017.edublogs.org on July 26, 2017.