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Persuasion with Karen Caine

Last week I was fortunate to spend the day with Karen Caine. Are you familiar with her work?

WRITING TO PERSUADE by Karen Caine (Heinemann, 2008). Click on the image to find out more about the book.

It is the book that I have had to buy the most — SIX times — because my copy keeps coming up missing. (Luckily Karen signed a copy for me last week, so I should be able to keep this copy!)

Here are bits and pieces of things swirling through my mind as Karen presented.

A few of my notes.

The way I take notes from professional development is significantly different now than it was a few years ago. I tend to write bits I want to capture — phrases here and there. I also collect most of my notes via Twitter. Unfortunately there was no internet access during the conference, and there was no cell service. These conditions hampered my ability to take notes.

I also tend to spend the drive home talking aloud in my car, processing the thinking from the day. I’ll record snippets of my thinking on my phone’s voice recorder and then listen to it and spin more thoughts. Finally, I write in the form of blog posts or notebook entries some of the thoughts that are bubbling to the surface.

It is in these ways that my thinking wraps around ideas from professional development days. These experiences are layered and my philosophy about instruction becomes even more sound. It is an eclectic process, but one that I’ve come to love and enjoy. No longer do I try to capture what the presenter thinks, instead I document how their thinking impacts my own philosophy and practice.

Here are two ideas from Karen that have been taking up space in my brain and shifting my practice.

A list of what we WONDER always goes with a list of what we NOTICE.

— Karen Caine

I’ve always sensed this, but have never put it in such simple practical terms. When I make lists of “Things We Notice” with kids, I always struggle with the things they aren’t really noticing, but are wondering about. I also struggle with how to nudge them into important noticings, but not force these ideas on them. A list of WONDERINGS is a perfect solution. Soon I’ll be launching units of study in 5th, 3rd, and kindergarten. I’m looking forward to learning how a list of things we wonder is compatible with a list of things we notice.

If we expect students to stand up for the things they believe in, we must do the same.

This wasn’t necessarily an explicit message from the day, however, it was evident that this is important. Karen shared many examples of her own persuasive writing and modeled how important it is for teachers to be writing themselves. Karen led us through several notebook entries and helped us find topics that are important to us, as well as gave us an opportunity to try out some of the strategies she was discussing. (By the way, I believe this is the hallmark sign of an exceptional presenter — one that not only talks and explains, but also empowers the audience to write and experience the ideas first hand.)

In a case of serendipity, this week I found myself composing a persuasive letter in response to an issue in our community. As I was writing, Karen’s voice filled my head, reminding me of strategies to use when writing persuasively. I believe Karen’s voice is so strong because she does more than teach persuasive writing. She is a writer herself and has an insider’s view into the process.

I do too, because I took the time to do the things I talk to student writers about. I took the time to use my words to “convince the reader to think or act differently” (Karen’s definition of persuasive writing).

Lucky for us, Karen is venturing into the blog world. Check out her  new site. And one last thing — a photo…

It's great to see friends in person!

4 thoughts on “Persuasion with Karen Caine

  1. Great photograph! I was lucky enough to see Karen present when this book first came out – and it’s been one I’ve used a lot in my persuasive teaching. I, too, love presenters who allow you to practice the ideas right then and there…they do this at the TCWRP workshops I so adore, and I always feel that I walk away from these owning the ideas and empowered to practice them. If I ever get to present…this is how I’d run the show!


  2. I like the way you process your thinking after a day of professional learning. I agree it is not enough to capture the presenter’s ideas, the most important part of any professional learning is the thinking about our own practice which sits along side our new learning. I tend to use a two column format. One for ideas, quotes from the presenter and the other for my questions, practice reflections and ideas for follow up. (a bit like a professional practice ‘to do’ list)


  3. So, I’m in the midst of preparing a presentation to give in a couple of weeks & here are your words giving that good advice, like falling advice right in my lap! Thank you for sharing this thinking about notes & wondering & meshing all together Ruth, but also about having the audience ‘do’ something right there. I know that when I teach students I always do that, but what a good idea for presenting PD too. I’m off to read Karen’s blog!


  4. Karen is a such a smart teacher, and I learn new things each time I read her book or hear her speak. I’m not surprised that you keep losing your copy of WRITING TO PERSUADE to other people….that keeps happening to me too! It has perfect balance of thoughtful depth and daily practicality. a.


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