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!