When I last saw Katie we lamented about not blogging as often as we used to. I told her, “I feel like I have nothing new to say!” When I met Cathy Mere for coffee the other day in Columbus, Ohio (she blogs at reflectandrefine) she told me to stop stressing about it. Blogs are not meant to be stressful. The desire and inspiration to write on your blog comes and goes. People get busy with other things and that’s just life.
So rather than trying to think of “the best idea ever to share with teachers,” I decided to write about some reading I’ve been doing. Many of our readers might be searching for a book to read right now, so here’s my list.
In the area of children’s literature, I enjoyed Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. It’d be a great read aloud for grade 5, but be prepared for 378 pages. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is still with me, even though I read it a few months ago. It’s a powerful story about two teenaged cancer patients aimed at older kids, 7-12th grades. Another one for that age span is Divergent. I picked up a copy at the airport mostly because it’s a popular teen book right now AND a movie is coming out. Divergent was just OK for me. It doesn’t hold a candle to either the Hunger Games or The Giver trilogies, but there are echoes of those books in it.
My adult reading lately includes the newest Wally Lamb book, We Are Water, which I enjoyed a lot. I liked Jeannette Walls’ The Silver Star (her first fiction one) and The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Those last two are fairly light reading. Oh, and one more good one was Wild – the memoir of Cheryl Strayed who spent weeks/months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.
The last area is professional reading. This week I’m highly recommending Ruth Ayres’ Celebrating Writers. I’ve had this in my pile for a few months. I kept putting off reading it because I thought it was only about the celebrations of ‘final products’ of students’ writing. I let myself be misled by making an assumption about the title. I should know better. When I wrote One Child at a Time, several friends told me that readers may think the book was only for teachers who could work one-on-one with children and if they had 25 in their class, they wouldn’t pick it up.
Once I began reading, I realized that Ruth is expanding the idea of celebrations to include “the process writers go through and the products they create.” In fact, only the last part of the book talks about those big celebrations after publication of students’ work. Most of the book gives us ways to sustain our writers’ enthusiasm during the on-going writing workshop. Here are a few things that got me thinking:
- “Response is noticing and naming the things a writer is doing and then sharing how we are affected as readers.” Through her mini-lessons, charts, and 1:1 conferring, she teaches us how to support students in giving worthwhile response to other writers. She also talks about forming partnerships among students so they get to know the work of one other writer well.
- Most of her figures (charts, surveys, reflection sheets, etc) can be downloaded from the Stenhouse website. Whenever there is a web icon next to the figure, it’s available. This is a big plus for busy classroom teachers.
- I’ve been in many conversations lately with colleagues about technology and social media. Ruth answered a bunch of my questions. The biggest aha for me was when she was saying that kids today are all digital natives and they are usually way ahead of many of us in the world of social media. However, they are self-taught. “They know how to use social media, but they haven’t thought through how to do so with integrity and effectiveness.” That’s where we come in. By using social networks in classrooms, teachers can teach kids “appropriate ways to function in these spaces.”
- I love her idea of adding a sheet called “Can you spot our learning?” to a hallway display (pgs. 73- 74.) These help the visiting reader know what to look for in this display of writing, i. e., what the students have been working on.
- And finally, on page 50, Ruth is so kind to share her letter to parents which explains the reasons why she uses things like twitter, facebook, skype, and blogs in her classroom.
When you read Celebrating Writers you will be inspired to improve your writing workshop time, no matter what grade you teach.