I began supporting teachers with developing their writing workshops in the 80’s. Don Graves had written his famous book, Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. Lucy Calkins, Shelley Harwayne, Joanne Hindley and Nancie Atwell visited our county or state conferences and talked about their early work. Before long, their books were on my shelves too. I read it all, soaking it all in, sharing with the teachers at my school, modeling lessons for them, and so on. As the years went by, I added new writing gurus, like Ralph Fletcher, Carl Anderson, Georgia Heard, and eventually Katie Wood Ray (really enjoyed In Pictures and in Words this summer.) As a Reading Teacher and Coach for elementary school teachers for most of my career, I never tired of reading about writing workshop and how to support students in becoming lifelong writers. I bet many of you could say that you, too, learned so much from all the names I just mentioned.
Now there are a few new names on the writing front. And I still find the topic exciting although I’m near the point of fully retiring (which I keep saying will happen “next school year” but my husband doesn’t believe me.) I continue to learn with Rose Cappelli and Lynn Dorfman with all their mentor texts books. Jeff Anderson and Aimee Buckner are also two of my new favorites. I just finished Aimee’s recent publication called Nonfiction Notebooks (this is her third book on how she uses notebooks.)
Buckner’s latest book includes her work with upper elementary students as they learn to use their writers’ notebooks to flush out ideas for informational writing topics, narrow their topic to find an angle or focus, try out different leads, experiment with organizational ideas, expand and dig deeper, make decisions about what’s important, and so forth. She tells you right up front that this book will not include revising and editing of final drafts. It’s Buckner’s belief that the students’ first drafts will be a much better quality if they use some of these prewriting strategies in their notebooks first. But she cautions us against these scenarios:
- The student who begins a first draft way too soon and then there is too much revision work to be done. This can frustrate a student.
- The teacher who uses far too many prewriting ideas so that by the time the students begin their drafts, they are tired of their topic.
Some ideas I gathered from Buckner’s new book:
- On pages 72 and 82 when she is doing a shared demonstration with the kids, she has them glue the excerpt into their notebooks. So simple, yet why didn’t I think of that? I usually have the excerpt large enough for all to see and then we might create an anchor chart from the lesson. When I want to refer back, I’d tell the kids, “Remember when we noticed what so and so did with her description in her NF piece…” It makes more sense to let the kids have the actual excerpt to refer to (with their jottings, things they noticed, and ideas around it.)
- Using boxes and bullets for organizing ideas (p. 42). This is something I heard about many years ago, and yet had totally forgotten about. That’s why we need to keep reading articles, books, and blogs on teaching writing. There’s just too much information out there and sometimes we need reminders.
- Since the teachers at my school use Readers’ Statements to open their mini-lessons, I appreciated the fact that Aimee began her lessons in a similar way. Examples of a few: “Writers read informational texts and notice what the authors do”; “Writers write all they know about a topic and then they look for what they don’t know”; “Writers use specific nouns and active verbs to keep their informational writing interesting.”
- P. 80 – chart of possible leads and the nonfiction books where she found them.
- Although I don’t have to do report cards, Buckner has included a final chapter on assessment for those teachers who want answers to evaluation questions.
Buckner’s book will mostly be helpful to teachers who already have a strong writing workshop in place. What saddens me most is that even though my county in Virginia (which has 145+ elementary schools) began introducing writing workshop to our teachers in the 80’s, there are still schools where it is just not happening. And that’s a very sad thing for students of all grades.