Skip to content

Writing Workshop with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

It was a great joy, and something of a bucket list item, to be able to attend the Dublin Literacy Conference in Dublin, Ohio.  So many great teaching friends live and work around Dublin, and it was wonderful to see them all here, and get a sense of their collaborative community.

The conference was a whirlwind of learning beginning with and inspirational keynote by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, and ending with a joyous celebration of what writing workshop could be with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.  Amy’s two blogs have been such sources of inspiration for my life as a writer and a teacher of writing:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 12.30.54 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-21 at 12.06.20 PM

Whenever my enthusiasm for writing or teaching writing flags, I know I can turn to Amy’s blogs to set things to right.  And so I walked into her session anticipating an infusion of writing joy…which is exactly what it was!  Here are some of my takeaways:

We need to be models of “being hugely aware” for our students, showing our kids how to be quiet in nature and taking note of its beauty.  She shared a lovely story of a teacher who takes his kids out on a regular basis to sit in silence, for “if you sit quietly and pay attention, something will happen…a dragon fly may zoom by, leaves may fall, a chickadee might land nearby for a quick visit.”  Noticing any of these gentle gifts from Nature, is the beginning point of something to write.  

Amy spoke eloquently about the importance of this quiet, reflective time for our students, especially in time when most of our students are immersed in a wide variety of all-encompassing digital media – cell phones to video games.  We need to create opportunities for our kids to get outside, and be immersed in bird song, the rustle of leaves, the emergence of new flowers.  This, I believe, is the message of Amy’s first book of poetry, which I often share with my sixth graders as a reminder to pay attention to what Nature has gifted us every day:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 12.58.54 PM

Conference time is more than just conferring about writing or reading, conferring time is “deep listening time”.  We may be, Amy reminded us, the only adult who has listened to our kids all day – the only one who has given them undivided and focused attention.  We need to be models of deep listening, for our kids deserve this.  I was reminded of last Thursday’s #g2great Twitter chat, where many of us gathered to discuss why this was so essential to our classroom practices, and how we could continue to refine and better our conferring routines.

We should encourage students to write about what they don’t know.  Part of being a writing teacher, Amy reminded us, is to invite experience into our classrooms so that our students can explore and write about them.  She introduced us to The Private Eye, which is a site that provides ideas for:

“Hands on, investigative, The Private Eye -using everyday objects, a jeweler’s loupe, and simple questions – accelerates science, writing, art, math and social studies, and more. Write, draw and theorize across subjects. Discover new worlds. Magnify minds.”

I can’t wait to try this out with my sixth graders!  Amy also encouraged us to have a box or table top of items in our classrooms for our kids to pick up, feel, smell, and explore: pinecones, feathers, a jar of old buttons, whatever one can find.  These tactile experiences are sorely lacking in the media soaked world most of our children live in, and are critical for their development.

We need to remind our students that they have stories worth telling, and for that they need to persevere through the hard writing parts.  Here is where our own writing lives makes the most difference, for we must model that “stick to it-ness” about our own writing which we want to see in our students.  Sharing our notebooks and drafts with our kids is a meaningful way to connect our writing with theirs, to show them that all writers need to struggle through the “hard writing parts” in order to have the satisfaction of making something worthwhile to share and read together.

We concluded with this wonderful writing exercise: think about the perfect age you’d like to be/return to/imagine. Write about it.

Here’s my quick sketch:

FullSizeRender (47)

When we’d had a few minutes to work on this, she asked us to reflect on the writing process with these simple questions:

  • How was this written?
  • How did I get from having nothing on the page to this writing?

The conversations about our writing processes that emerged were so interesting.  I know that this is something I need to do with my students, too, for we will learn so much about each other  through this…as we did in Amy’s marvelous session that warm February Saturday in Dublin, Ohio.  Thank you, Amy!


Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

16 thoughts on “Writing Workshop with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater Leave a comment

  1. So fun to read about your session with Amy! My time in sessions with her at All Write and at NCTE in 2014 are wonderful memories. I love sharing The Poem Farm with students. Her posts are a gift to all writers!


  2. Tara, I didn’t know about Amy or the Dublin Conference, but now I do thanks to you. As you will see from my post for tomorrow, I am embarking on preparing a presentation about teaching poetry to English Language Learners in a mainstream classroom. Reading and reflecting on what you shared about Amy was really helpful to me. It validated some things I had been doing for years with students…sitting quietly and observing and presenting them with tactile things to enjoy (a horshoe crab skeleton was my favorite) and write about. I will certainly now try to follow her blogs thanks to you. Though I couldn’t be there, thanks to your writing I was able to enjoy some of the gems of ideas she shared. It was nice to learn about a kindred spirit through your well crafted post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am such a big fan of Amy’s…..and Tara’s! Wonderful post! Wish I could have been there but grateful for what you shared here with us!


  4. Thank you so much for so eloquently summarizing the your learning for the workshop. I came away with some great new ideas from Amy, but love being able to take your thinking and ideas as well and blend them into something even better. Your post helped me to really solidify my thinking.


  5. Thank you, Tara. Amy is amazing and reading your post made me wish I could have been in Dublin, too. That conference is also on MY bucket list. I am keeping this post close at hand as we enter into the March SOL Challenge.


  6. This post is the next best thing to being there in the room with you and with Amy. She is a gift to all of us. I have the Private Eye jewel loops. Thanks for the reminder to pull them out for writing time.


  7. Tara, What a humbling surprise to find your post this morning. Thank you for writing so beautifully what I hoped to share. I could not have been more happy to see you on Saturday and wished, too, that I could have been in your chair listening to you teach a workshop instead of the other way around. How lucky we all are to have each other! xxoo


  8. I can feel your renewed passion, Tara. What a gift you gave yourself in heading to Dublin this weekend. I have been awestruck by Amy for a while now. What most strikes me is her connectedness. She is a fantastic writer and a very connected part of the human experience. You shared this so beautifully.


  9. What amazing learning for all of us Saturday and one of my favorite parts is reading blog posts since you can’t attend every session. I enjoyed our hugs and conversations. Happy Monday with your writers.


%d bloggers like this: