Learning from the Summer Institute via #tcrwp

I was not able to attend the Writing Institute at TC this week, but I was able to live and learn vicariously through a steady stream of Tweets and blog posts – teachers are nothing if not generous with their learning.  At times, sitting on my porch, I felt exactly as my friend Fran McVeigh did sitting in a classroom up there on Morningside Heights:

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So, on this last Saturday in June, as I settle into the summer teacher routine of read-write-think-plan-relax, here are some of the Tweets that made me sit up straight and made me think…


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This was Tweeted out on the first day from Mary Ehrenworth’s keynote. This made me think: it is so important to project a vision for our kids – this is what learning looks like, this is what thinking looks like, this is what the endeavor of meaningful writing and reading looks like.  Watching us role play allows our kids to envision themselves taking steps towards realizing their own identities as writers and readers, and this is the work of our conferences.  When we meet with our students over a piece of writing or to discuss a book they are reading, we need to have a vision of where they can travel and who they can be.  If we, their teacher, convey this vision day after teaching day and conference after conference, we can lead them to formulate that vision for themselves. If we show the way, they will become.


Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 6.59.54 PM I loved this Tweet.  For most of our students, revision is something to dread – it is a testament to the fact that they didn’t get the writing “right” in the first instance, it means going back and rewriting until the teacher says the magic words: publish!  What is lost in this dreary process is what lies at the very heart of why writers revise: to get to the heart of their message, and to make sure that every word and passage points the reader in the direction the writer intends.  I will share Georgia Heard’s quote with my students to begin discussing revision – this made me think that it will change their ideas about the process of revision, it will empower them to invest their best efforts to match their writing to what’s in their hearts.


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Sometimes, I think that we fail to teach our kids the big picture work of reading and writing.  I loved Mary Ehrenworth’s question, for it asks our kids to think BIG.  It lends their writing a sense of greater purpose, it focuses their thinking towards taking a  stance and a making a personal investment.  Whenever we moved towards this kind of thinking in my classroom, my kids dove into their writing with passion – this made me think that I need to find authentic ways in which to  gear my kids to ask this question before they begin they begin to write.


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This work blew me away.  Writing is such a complicated process, and we often fail to allow our students to appreciate how hard writers work towards crafting narratives.  Even though I wasn’t in Shana Franzin’s session, these charts gave me so many ideas about how to incorporate text structure maps in writing workshop.   This made me think that I needed to  allow my kids an insight into craft moves writers make in ways that were visible, and therefore transferable. Mentor text work like this allows our students choice in plotting out their own writing and creating their own narrative arcs.


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I ruminated over this for a while. Truth to tell, sometimes I feel that I dwell on those technical aspects (grammar, mechanics, spelling) at the expense of the response.  This made me think that I need to remind myself to pull back and hear my student’s voice during our conferences, her unique way of phrasing and conveying thought, feeling, and information, before I attend to those technical aspects.   Put the substance of the writing, the “heart” part,  before the rest.


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This made me think that my writerly life, however faltering it may be, was essential to my writing teacher life.  Unless we live the writing life, we cannot know what it is like to face the blank pages of a notebook with the injunction to write, we cannot know the struggle to say what we mean or what we dream.


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For many of us, unwrapping the Units of Study feels the answer to teaching prayers.  But, time and again, I’ve run into colleagues who take the Units of Study as scripts  to be strictly adhered to, and that is an impossible task. This made me think that we need to create many more opportunities to meet with colleagues and discuss the ideas within the Units as we plan and while we teach.  We need to  how they apply to our particular students, and how these ideas might be unveiled in our individual classrooms, and we need to feel free to make the teaching ideas within the units our own .  After all, which teacher wants to stay confined in a scripted box?


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Well, what else is there to add? This made me think that what I love about teaching is this aspect of forever evolving – the more we learn about our craft, the more grateful we are that this is our vocation.

  1. Reading Fran McVeigh’s day-by-day summary here:https://franmcveigh.wordpress.com/

This made me think about gratitude. Who else spends all day learning, taking copious notes and Tweeting out gems of information…and then writes detailed posts? That would be Fran, and I am grateful!


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This made me think that the Institute ended in the best possible way – with Nye’s rich, soaring words to inspire us to trust in ourselves, and each other: a tribe of believers and energizers.