Some Notes from the September 22nd, 2014 TCRWP Conference

Some notes from the September 22nd. TCRWP one-day conference, Units of Study: Implementing Rigorous, Coherent Writing Curriculum for Grades 6-8 presented by  Mary Ehrenworth.

Something worth charting – a visual for how workshop goes: is it clear to us? is it clear to our students?

This graphic comes from the notebook of my colleague Rosemarie, who has a gift for creating beautiful visual tools:

photo (21)

Being thoughtful about those demonstration pieces we craft for our students:

“Calibrate your writing when you are creating a mentor text for your kids – you need to be strategic, and be at their level.” Even as I was furiously scribbling down these notes at last week’s TCRWP workshop with Mary Ehrenworth, I knew that this was something I was not always consistent about, or always even aware of when I launched into a piece of on-the-spot writing for my students.

Mary suggested using snippets of our own writing, but reminded us that we need to be restrained in our own writing, keeping in mind the purpose of this type of demonstration writing: “you are not trying to be good writers, you are trying to get better in front of them.” Some steps she taught us using the insertion of meaningful dialogue:

  • think about our teaching point, and then remove most of the evidence of it from the text we compose so that we can teach it, and our students can practice it
  • set up the demonstration piece for multiple entry points for student choice and practice
  • incorporate cueing systems to prompt kids as to where these entry points may be
  • have a range in your lesson so that all students get what they need (dialogue vs. dialogue with tension, for example)
  • have a great example within the text for reference
  • keep in mind that the demonstration piece must do the work of the mini lesson

Mary led us through an example of this type of work, which led to one of those “ah-ha moments” I have come to expect from her workshops.  Of course.  So many times, I have written in front of my kids, trying to get across some vital teaching point, and then been frustrated when I didn’t see evidence of this teaching point in their writing.  They had left our meeting area having been able to point out this or that writing move in the demonstration piece, without having had enough of an opportunity to practice it themselves – to see the piece getting better right in front of their eyes.  Of course!

The very next day, I aimed to change my errant ways.  We began with our usual minilesson – one on crafting dialogue:

photo 1 (19)

then we walked through a piece I had written – one enlarged copy for the easel, and copies for each student’s notebook.  We read through, identified one instance in which I had followed through with the ideas from the minilesson, and then my kids got to work:

photo 2 (15) photo 3 (10)

What I noticed:

  • many entry points allowed for lots of practice
  • there was room for choice, so different students came up with different ideas – all at their level
  • my kids saw the writing improve right before them

By the time we had left the meeting area for our desks, each student was able to identify two places in their own writing where they could insert meaningful dialogue “just like we all did together”, as one student said to another on his way back to his seat.

Teaching our students “writing partner talk”:

  1. When storytelling and generating ideas from mapping activities (place maps, heart maps, etc.)

“I love that story!”  “You should write that!” – to nudge each other on

“I like that part because…” – to help narrow the starting point

“It reminds me of…” – to get new writing ideas

“Maybe we should start writing now…” – cueing kids when to stop talking and get writing

  1. When partners meet to confer:

“What do you want me to listen for?”

“What are you trying to do?”

“What’s the work you are trying to do as a writer here?”

“I really heard____/saw____ here” – complimenting with a focus

“I love the way you…”

Some tips on using the new Units of Study:

  • checklists are for students, rubrics for teachers
  • keep at least two grade level checklists in play and calibrate for each student
  • students need explicit instruction in using the checklists to annotate their own writing, it is critical for students to know how to self assess
  • the rubrics can be used as “cheat sheets” for conferences – they provide teaching and reference points for us
  • on demand writing – return right away with checklists so kids can annotate their own work, this makes learning/growth visible
  • kids need specific instruction on how to annotate texts – they should practice on a piece they haven’t seen (this is whole class instruction)

And, a reminder, writers need:

  • time
  • choice
  • response
  • cohesion
  • mentors