Saturday, July 9, 2016

Write Beside Them

“I believe each of my students must craft an individual reading life of challenge, whim, curiosity, and hunger. I believe in the collecting, noticing, living work of designing lessons to empower writers. I believe teachers provide vision for students; we live a belief in their success every day we teach.” —Penny Kittle

Penny Kittle is the guru of reading and writing workshop in high school.   If you find the above quote inspiring, skip my blog and order her books—Book Love for reading workshop and Write Beside Them for writing workshop. This summer I read Write Beside Them, and this blog is me thinking through and committing publicly to how I’m going to implement what I read. (See here and here for my responses to Book Love.)

While I can’t quite let go of the good things that happen when the whole class reads and discusses and writes about the same literature, and while I deal with a different sampling of students in my international Christian schools than Kittle does in her US public school, I do believe in teachers modeling and giving students time to do the skills we are teaching—reading and writing. I also understand the significance of choice, knowing your students, and meeting students where they are—which is a wide variety of places.

So here are a few of the effects that having read this book will have on my classes next year:
  1. Starting with a tightened focus on narrative in 10th grade—both reading and writing. I did a bit of that last year—reading Amy Tan’s “Fish Cheeks” and writing a personal narrative about an incident from which they learned a significant lesson. But I tried to do way to much in that introductory unit. I’m going to drop Antigone, add a few more short personal narratives, do a better job using the mentor texts, and spend more time processing the writing.
  2. Using a writer’s notebook more. This will start with me using one—I want to say for the rest of the summer, but I’m going to start by committing to the next week. I’m going to commit to 10 minutes a day for a quick write (see here for a definition), either on a topic I already want to capture, describe, or explore, or, if I’m drawing a blank, I’ll access a list of quick write topics (see here, here, or here—or Google “quick write prompts” for yourself). I can also use the notebook to record notable mentor sentences or quotes from my reading.
  3. Creating a list of grammar/mechanics skills that I will teach and hold students accountable for contextualized in reading and writing. I will use mini-lessons, anchor charts, conferences, and a list against which students self-evaluate. I will use Jeff Anderson as well as Kittle for a source (Kittle, ch. 11 and final portfolio “30 areas indicating my skill/growth” 225).
  4. Preparing a more formalized reflection on final drafts. (Kittle calls them “end notes,” see pages 218-19. See below for a sample.) 
  5. Consider multi genre project (Kittle, ch. 10).
As far as writing beside them—I resolve to write when students are writing (and when I’m not conferencing), though I do not need to bring pieces to final draft. I am a writer—weekly blogs (this personal one for reflection on my own teaching practice, and another more official PR piece in my role as curriculum coordinator for my school), book reviews on Goodreads, and missionary newsletters. I can also use these as examples of writerly moves.

For continued inspiration as to what can be done with workshop and choice in high school English classes, I also subscribe to the blog “Three Teachers Talk,” in which three high school teachers share their journey and daily triumphs and struggles with teaching workshop style in high school. It keeps me knowing that I don’t have the final answer. And that’s important—to be a learner as we expect our students to be.

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