Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Into the Classroom

My sole purpose for this job is to get to the students - to create an interest in, if not a passion for expressing themselves through writing. After the all-school write, I didn't really have a plan for next steps. Lots of options but no plan.

So, when I entered The Write Place last week, I was surprised to find a social studies teacher waiting for me. I greeted him and he sort of sideways asked for support for his 7th grade students who were going to be writing historical letters situated in the period of The Civil War - in 5-paragraph essay form. And then he was gone! With that little bit of information, I began to think through how I would introduce this genre - definitely I would use a model of some sort. And I would ask students to identify the characteristics of the model letter. I also would want them to identify typical contents of the letters of the time. I dashed off these ideas to Mr. W. who responded enthusiastically and we negotiated a date when I could come into his classroom and work with students.

I began to do a little research on Civil War Letters and found some great websites. is a site that houses various types of MN historical artifacts including letters and diaries. I used letters written from White Bear Lake, Minnesota in the early 1900s to acquaint/remind students of the trivia included in personal letters. I also found a Civil War letters site that offered love letters from The Civil War as well as ordinary soldier's accounts of life on the front. ( Another valuable piece, in terms of letter writing is "Making Sense of Letters and Diaries" by Steven Stowe. From this source, I solidified my thinking on what I wanted students to look for in the models that I gave them.  (

I ended up with a 6-slide Powerpoint presentation (attached) that I estimated would take about 45 minutes with an intro, student reading, and student writing sections.The lesson went reasonably well - it is always difficult to step cold into the middle of someone else's unit. The students were fantastic. Glitsch's: 1) wrong adapter for my computer (it's probably still on my LCD at home) - no problem because I emailed the pres. to the instructor who brought it up on the SmartBoard. 2) Inadequate space to record student thinking - should have anticipated this one - will bring chart paper next time - ended up using a corner of the whiteboard that the instructor erased immediately at the end of the lesson. 3) Disconnect between what the instructor wanted students to write and what it means to write an historical letter. The 5-paragraph essay with an adequate introduction is not the same as an historical letter. I offered to come back another time to talk about essays and support them.

It would be great to follow-up this lesson with students - When they left class today, most knew their role; some had decided on their audience (who they were writing to); most had 3 historical facts to include in their letters; I'm not sure if they saw the need to include mundane details in order to make the letter seem real, and I'm definitely not sure how they will include an "introduction" at the beginning of the letter as Mr. W. is requiring.The student teacher explained that the introduction would summarize what they were going to be talking about in their letters - Who does that? She also gave them the word of the day, Epistle, pronouncing it E-pistol "not to be confused with guns." She suggested that the letters they were writing would be "E-pistols," Hmmmm.

I'm anxious to find out how the next hour went. Mr. W. felt he could handle that one alone.

I know the PowerPoint attachment is not showing up correctly - 1/2 the words missing - How can I fix this ?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Updates on the All-School Write

I started this entry last week but never had time to get back to it...Oct. 12
Frustration! When I got here today, I went to my mailbox expecting at least a few responses on the cards we had passed out, but nothing! So, I typed up the ones I received last week and found that, minus the anonymous ones and ones like, "I lik ur hair," there were 20 I could designate for the newspaper and for prizes.

Prizes are another story altogether. I struggled with deciding between school-related items (pencils, pens, pencil boxes, notebooks, etc.) and hokey Halloween items -  finally settling on the Halloween items. They're either going to come across as extremely hokey/dorky or clever/cool just because students don't usually get small insignificant prizes for writing...right?

I distributed the prizes to the appropriate homeroom boxes and then decided to stay and drop in on the newspaper group. That was when I found out that A, the instructor, had visited my mailbox on the previous day and, to my surprise, had pulled all additional cards I had been looking for. His perception was that they were "pretty negative," but he had found about 6 that they would publish in the newspaper. Of course I had to relate that I had just finished sending prizes out to the 20 people from last week and that some of them needed to be included in the publication as well. No problem, he said. They would just add another page to the paper.

Long story, short, the next day I had all of the cards...sent out more candy and thank-you's and transcribed and sent the second set of responses  to the principal. He loved them and asked if I would display blown-up copies of the responses on a bulletin board in the cafeteria.  The results are in the photo above. I ended up with between 40 and 50 really thoughtful responses and I am content with that.

Other bonuses from the all-school write: Publicity - I gained a permanent bulletin board in a prominent location to display student work and writing opportunities. I used the postings on the bulletin board as an opportunity to send emails to all staff encouraging them to read the responses and to do some writing of their own on the National Day of Writing, October 20. Although there is not school here, I suggested that with 3 days away from students, that they might like to do a little writing.  I asked them to think of a time when they were younger and struggling with difficult circumstances or a tough decision. I suggested they write a letter to that younger self with advice from their older self on how to deal with the situation. (idea from NWP/MWP)

So, I have really gotten my money's worth out of the all-school prompt.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Staff Connections

Publicity and buy-in from staff, students and community is going to make The Write Place a viable and dynamic part of the school. I have a million ideas of what I'd like to see happen, but at the moment, it seems like there are so many logistical pieces in the way. One, of course, is that I am not on site every day so feel a little bit peripheral when I'd like to be integral, or at least have The Write Place be integral. Another piece is the schedule: students attend most of their classes every other day, so I'm constantly referring to the schedule to see what's when. The school has extended hours, which are optional, so that students have potentially 10 class options over two days plus a homeroom. It seems overwhelming. So, for example, students meet twice on even weeks and three times on odd. I have taught under that schedule and found it extremely hard to get continuity. But maybe that will not affect the writing center's effectiveness.

Monday I met with the arts teachers: Video Production, Chorus, and Band. I loved talking with them because of my own arts background. I see such a correlation between creating something visually and creating a piece with words. I always took my students in art and English through similar processes when creating new pieces. Anyway, these teachers would like to create Moodle blogs for groups of their students to give feedback/peer reviews of each other's work. They would also like to have their students write artist's statements about the work they do. I have promised to find examples of critiques so that students will have models to follow. I have some sample artist's statements as well. Our meeting was brief, so I think I will follow up with each of the teachers individually so that I can see some of the work that students have been doing.

Tuesday I introduced myself to staff and presented the all-school write at each of the morning staff meetings that are held at 7:30 and 8:30 am monthly. I had intended to be a little more compelling - maybe present a short video clip of students or others talking about writing, but I didn't realize when the meeting was until just the day before it, and it didn't seem worth waiting another month. As it turned out, all presentations were brief, and teachers were anxious to get to class. I hope a few take time to write a response to the prompt.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All-School Write

Today was our first "All-School" write.
            a. The students
            b. Mingling with the students
            c. Being visible to the students
            d. Working with the newspaper reps
            e. A few thoughtful responses
            a. The venue selected to introduce the task: The lunchroom
            b. The time of day selected to introduce the task: Lunchtime

In preparation for today, I contacted the principal and the AV guy. The principal first, so that I was sure this would be sanctioned by the administration and I just didn't know the logistics of presenting a schoolwide prompt. My thoughts centered around posting the prompt around the building (which is huge) and then advertising through homeroom about the writing opportunity. The principal felt that students probably would not respond to the postings around the building...I'm not sure. Anyway, he suggested that I hand out cards and pencils to everyone in 3 lunches along with an explanation of the prompt. I think everyone knows the downside of doing anything during school lunches, but I was willing to give it a try...The AV guy was ready with the prompt projected and a microphone available. Even with the microphone, the principal could not get students to be totally quiet during the 1st lunch, but 3 of us walked among the tables and distributed cards with prompts attached, and we did receive back about 20. During the second lunch, it was very quiet, but the group was almost entirely ELL. I introduced the prompt at this lunch, but when I walked around, no one had a clue as to what they were supposed to do with the card. During 3rd lunch, N. from the school paper met with me ahead of time to go over what she would say. We had to introduce the topic ourselves without the benefit of the principal somewhat calming the lunchroom. Controlled chaos is what it felt like. We distributed cards and prompts but really only received a couple back.

Things I'd do again: Attach the prompt to the notecard (a last minute decision that really paid off). I would contact the custodian beside the AV guy, because we waited quite a while for someone to raise the curtain and move the screen out. I also would only have the prompt itself on the screen in the future. Today, I had all the background/directions up as well as the prompt.
My foot is slowly opening the door...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creating a Space - Moving Forward

Today I brought materials from Office Max to create a writing ambiance in The Write Place - or at least a writing atmosphere. The paper clips, clip boards, note pads and writing utensils that seemed like so much at home look very meager at this point (see photos) - I have a long way to go! I asked for a round table for conferring - and got one, but I forgot to say, "small round table." It's huge! Everyone's been so nice and accommodating that I hate to complain. I've also asked for chairs and computers but so far, no luck in that area. I would like to create a warm, comfortable atmosphere that is inviting to students, yet inspiring to writers, as a place to come and really block out the rest of their day. I think lamps and more comfortable chairs would really help, and I'm not sure where those are coming from - yet. I have room for a few posters...but am not sure where to get them, so could use ideas.

My major task at the moment is to create an all-school writing task for next week. On October 6, I will offer a prompt to staff and students along with colored notecards. My motives for the prompt are to recognize Washington as a writing school and to begin to build a writing community here. I'm  looking for a response in 50 words or less. From the responses, along with the newspaper staff, I will choose 5-10 responses (depending on length) to be in the first edition of the newspaper. I'm also planning to give prizes to the first 20 responses received. I'm not sure what the prizes will be, but I want them to be connected to writing, so I will be revisiting Office Max, I think.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing and Physical Education

The goals of our district this year include "writing to learn" and  infusing nonfiction reading and writing into every classroom. With that in mind, the phys. ed. teachers contacted me to find out how they might include writing in their curriculum.

The request caused me to think back to another school I had worked at where the phys. ed. teacher had his students maintain notebooks/journals on a daily basis. From what I remember, students did goal-setting and record-keeping in addition to reflections in their notebooks. I thought that I would find out what the teachers at this school were already doing and then go from there. What I found out is that they don't have students do any writing at the moment. What they needed from me was how to do it and ideas on the content of the writing. We talked about creating a Phys Ed Journal for:

-       Cornell Notes
-       Self-Reflection on skills/performance
-       Explanations of rules/how to play the game
-       Goal-setting
-       Recording achievements/setbacks in reaching goals; foods eaten; exercise regimen vs. sedentary activity
-       Vocabulary
-    Exit/Entrance Slips

Discussion centered on what was realistic considering the wide range of students in the classes and the resistance that might happen when students are asked to write in their physical education class. I encouraged the teachers to think of authentic uses of the writing as well as practical ways to ensure that notebooks were in class every day.

To begin with, teachers will keep the notebooks in class and use them  for goal-setting and possibly for entrance slips, allowing students to reflect back on the previous day's work. I suggested the possibility of students doing drawings/diagrams in their notebook as well. I'm anxious to hear how this goes.

I think I will contact a few other schools to see if journals are still being used in phys.ed.


Today, I had my first opportunity to meet with students - all from the school newspaper staff. My task was to get them to think around the article they wanted to write.  Two of the three had a rough draft. I met with them individually and asked questions to get them thinking about whether their articles said what they really wanted them to say. I think each one decided to include new ideas or change their article based on thoughts that came up in the process of discussion.
Cha decided that she would talk about  the poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay,"  by Frost in relation to Ponyboy's (The Outsiders) interpretation, then give her own interpretation of the poem relating to innocense and how fleeting it is. We talked a little about the meaning of the poem and then decided that beginnings (dawn, new leaves) are gold and that she could relate that idea to the new site of her school. I'm wondering if I should have suggested dropping the first two interpretations and just had her focus on how the poem relates to the present context new students and a new school? I think I need to see her next draft...

Cody was fun to talk to...His article is based on one of his passions - street art (making it and appreciating it). He starts out with talking about the cost of removing graffiti (which, he emphasizes, is not the same as street art). He is very concerned about cities removing street art and graffitti without distinguishing between the two. He has done some street art of his own and I am encouraging him to add his own story to his article. I was trying to remember a recent movie I had just seen on street artists but couldn' I know it was the film, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," directed by Banksy and about the culture of street artists. Next time.

Emily started out talking about doing an article on the Swine Flu but at the end of our conversation, it was clear that her real interest is home remedies for common ailments so she is going to relate her article to common ailments that fellow students have, like headaches and colds. Her article will give students sensible (possibly archaic) approaches to illness. Seems like students might be interested in reading about this.

Since these were just drafts, we didn't get into editing and I'm thinking the students need to look at effective beginnings and endings for news articles. They have some way to go before they'll have finished drafts.

For myself, I was reminded that while I know a lot about writing, I'm rusty on giving feedback and thinking about next steps...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Room for Improvement

I'm trying to decide what this room should eventually look like...I'm located inside the media center that has several computer labs on its, how many computers do I actually need? How often will individual students come here for support? This year I won't have student tutors before second semester, if at all. I've been told that since the school is so large, it may not be practical for teachers to send students to the writing center during class time - especially 7th and 8th graders. I wonder about that. There are spaces on each floor that would work for conferencing purposes and I or tutors could meet with students right outside classrooms.

So, what should this room look like? I'm also not sure what options I have. After talking with the technology person in charge of the building, I get the distinct impression that this room was not on anyone's, I guess I can come up with a wish list, turn it in to the principal and go from there. I'm basing my ideas on floor plans in The High School Writing Center edited by Pam Farrell (1989). Despite the copyright date, I'm told this is still the best book out on establishing writing centers.

Advertising/Drumming Up Business

No feedback on my introductory letter except from administration. I met with one of the on-site coaches today and she gave me some ideas of teams or individuals who might want ideas on how to use writing more effectively in their content areas. One request is for feedback to a student writing an article for the first edition of the school newspaper based on the Robert Frost poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." I'm told the student intends to talk a little about the poem's use in the novel, The Outsiders, and then relate the poem's message to the move of her school onto the site of another closed school. An interesting idea, and I'm looking forward to meeting with her tomorrow - my first customer! The newspaper's advisor is also willing to run an article on The Write Place in the first edition of the paper

I have a meeting set up for next week with a group of 3 Phys Ed teachers who are looking for ways to infuse writing into their classes. I'm going to have to think about that.

Next steps: Perhaps posting a question for students to write to and drop off in the writing center - I had intended to do this soon but wasn't sure what I'd do with the I'm thinking that maybe some of those replies could be posted in the 1st edition of the newspaper?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Where do I begin?

September 20, 2010

The title of this post says it all...where do I begin? My task is to design a writing center for a newly created 7-10 urban school. (The school will expand to 11 and then 12 in the next two years). Although I've been intrigued with the idea of on-site writing centers for the past ten years, I've never had the opportunity to actually be a part of one or be in a school where an active one was in operation. What I know is that students benefit in all area of their literacy lives through the tutoring support that a writing center can supply. And I want to offer the opportunity to this school.

It's now the third week of classes, and I'm just getting a feel for my new space (inside and outside the school). Since this site merges a former middle school with a small portion of a former high school, there have been many logistical pieces that needed to be put in place in order for that to happen. The major upheaval has been moving all teachers, SmartBoards, computers and materials from the middle school site to the high school site. As you can see from the photo of my space today, The Write Place is still the wrong place for students to visit. But, things are looking up...last week, I was told it would be another month before I could use the room and yet, when I arrived today, the large equipment had been moved and even as I worked in a cleared off corner of the room, staff came and retrieved pieces for other programs.

Now my anxiety can switch from acquiring the room to how to accommodate teachers and students!