As we enter the final few weeks of school, it is natural for us to be thinking about next year. Although we realize there still remains some work to be done with the students in front of us now, we cannot help but begin to organize thoughts and ideas about how next year will be different, hopefully better. As a middle school classroom teacher, I can remember jotting notes in my planning book as the year progressed, notes about how well my minilessons landed with the writers in my classes- or didn’t. I would write down ideas I had learned in professional development sessions, from books I had read, or from my colleagues. In short, although I could feel summer approaching, I tried to nurture a sense of optimism about the following year before the current year ended.
I’m sure many of you do the same.
In the final weeks before this year’s summer vacation, we at Two Writing Teachers have been offering some posts about ways to nurture a sense of optimism about next year. Last week, Kathleen wrote about revising your classroom layout by thinking about flexible seating; Beth wrote about touring your school with an eye toward writing workshop; and Monday, Betsy wrote about visiting pre-school as an “end-of-year cure.”
Another idea teachers might consider this time of year is arranging for some short, purposeful vertical visits. In case you might be unfamiliar with this term, vertical visit can refer to spending time in classrooms of the grade level of those students who will be coming to you next fall. Although this current time of year predictably proves to be extremely busy, creatively scheduling a little bit of time to visit at least some of your next-year’s writers can pay valuable dividends.
Why and How of Vertical Visits
One reason to consider carving out some time for vertical visits is to learn a little about who some of your students will be next year, which is great. But more importantly than that, one can gather important information like: What’s their impression of themselves as writers? What is their conception of writing workshop?
When conducting a vertical visit, you might consider “interviewing” a few of your future writers, asking questions like:
- What is writing workshop to you?
- What is your favorite topic to write about?
- How have you improved as a writer this year?
- What strategies do you carry with you as a writer of narratives? Information? Opinion/argument?
- What’s your favorite part of writing workshop?
- What are your hopes and dreams as a writer?
- What are you hoping to learn or write about next year?
Think about whether or not these particular questions, phrased in these ways, feel like they would furnish helpful information; or if they might need some tweaking or revising.
Kid-focused conversations like these can yield insightful information, and ought to be followed up with a planning session. After participating in a vertical visit(s), it is important to make a little follow-up planning time (ideally with a colleague!), thinking particularly about how the first unit of study in the fall will be impacted by what you learned.
Of course, not all teachers are comfortable with “visitors” in their classrooms (although I would strongly recommend all teachers nudge themselves in this direction, as so many things become possible when we open our doors to the outside world… but that’s probably a different post!). However, if we are clear that our purpose is not to observe the teacher(s) and the teaching, but rather to observe and talk with the kids, colleagues may be more open or receptive to the idea. Be fully transparent that a vertical visit, whether it is during a prep period to visit the classroom down the hall, or a short, half-day field trip across town to an elementary school or two, is meant to nurture a sense of optimism about the writers who will be under your purview next fall. Because, although we all cherish our summer break, what teacher doesn’t love the feeling of looking enthusiastically forward to a fresh start in August or September?
Thank you to my friend and colleague, Emily Deliddo for the inspiration for this post.
For more than 25 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy specialist, working and living in the great state of Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops, twowritingteachers.org.