Here is some of the many things underway at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.
Peace (in the share),
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is focusing in on assessment this year as our inquiry theme, and our annual fall event — WMWP Best Practices — in October will have the focus of pushing against the confines of assessment and exploring more ways to shine a light on student learning, as opposed to data collection.
If you teach in Western Massachusetts, please consider joining us for what will be a great day of connecting and collaborating and sharing knowledge (plus, lunch is included). Here is the link for online registration.
Peace (in the event),
The other day, I volunteered to lead a family poetry workshop at Barnes and Noble to support our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I didn’t know what to expect, so I gathered up a bunch of supplies for a Post It Sticky Note Poetry idea. I had a bunch of small mentor texts (haiku, couplets, shape poems, etc.) along with lots of art supplies.
I set up in the little staging area of the children’s section, still not sure who would come and participate. Now, remember, I teach sixth grade and spend my days in the midst of 11 and 12 year olds. And I have three boys of my own, two teenagers and one 9 year old.
So, imagine my surprise when I was surrounded by a group of five girls — ages 3 and 4 — with their parents for the poetry workshop. I was a fish out of water because clearly my plans for writing and understanding poetry styles would not connect with this group of energetic mostly-pre-writing girls. I was in a sixth grade mindset and that would not work here.
Luckly, I had stickers! Lots of stickers! And that led to some post-it poems, of a sort (well, more like drawings) and some basic rhyming games. Some of the girls could write some basic words, so we wrote rhymes. For others … it was all about the stickers and post-it notes.
That was OK but it reminded me (again) of the task before our early childhood colleagues who are often faced with a class full of young learners who might or might not have had preschool experience, might or might not have had parents read to them regularly, might or might not have had pre-writing experiences, and the range of literacy was staggering in that little group.
It was fun and enlightening, and certainly a very different kind of teaching experience for me, one that reminded me to appreciate the kinds of days that my colleagues often have, and how grateful I am as a sixth grade teacher for all the work that gets done in the years before my students reach me to get them ready for the rigor of our learning.
Thank you, teachers.
Peace (with stickers)
I led a roundtable discussion yesterday at NCTE around nurturing teacher voices, and my roundtable topic was about how to encourage teachers to use their local newspapers as a platform for writing and publishing, and changing the dialogue around education. The work is informed by a strong partnership that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has with a regional newspaper to feature teacher-writers once a month. I used this handout as a way to encourage individual teachers but also groups of teachers to consider the local newspaper as a conduit for positive news.
Peace (in the news),
The eminent Peter Elbow, whose work around literacy with such books as Writing Without Teachers and Writing with Power led the way to completely revamping the ways in which we nurture young writers, recently released a book about the importance of everyday speech in our literary lives. The book — Vernacular Eloquence — was at the heart of his keynote address to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s fall conference earlier this month. Elbow allowed me to videotape his talk for WMWP.
What I found fascinating is the point of how much we devalue common talk as a form of literacy, and how Elbow notes that formal education often snuffs out the phrases and pauses, and syntax, of how we talk when our guard is down. He notes, rightly, that segments of our population feel left out of the definition of “literacy” because the academic world does not value their speech.
I also enjoyed the connection Elbow made to how we “feel” our words, on our tongue and in our heart, and that when our language is at odds with those emotions and experiences, our thoughts become disjointed and inauthentic. By examining how we speak and whether we value the ways in which we speak, Elbow is hoping to show the value of the vernacular in our definitions of what it means to be writer and communicator. As Bruce Penniman pointed out during the discussion phase of Elbow’s talk, the new Common Core does put more value on the aspects of Speaking and Listening, but that all examples and references seem to point more towards formal expectations, not daily vernacular.
Here are some excerpts from Peter Elbow’s talk at WMWP:
Peace (in the way we speak),
I am fortunate in that I am co-facilitating a roundtable session this morning at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s Best Practices conference. The session I am part of evolved from a year-long partnership in which three WMWP leaders (myself, and two others) led professional development around literacy at an urban elementary/middle school. During the year, we moved from the Common Core implementation, to the introduction of a true Writing Workshop model, to using technology and digital media, to having teachers launch into a classroom inquiry project.
Today, in our Dialogues with Donahue session (the name of the school), we will be talking about the hurdles and the successes that were part of our year together, framed around the essential question of “what does literacy look like” at a school and how do you bring teachers together to begin to foster a shared vision of what writing and reading looks like in the classroom. The inquiry projects were at the heart of this work, allowing teachers to develop an important question and working to make change in their classroom, and school.
This was also the most difficult part, as many of these teachers had become accustomed to stand/deliver professional development, and not inquiry-based work. Some of the teachers will be sharing their journey today and involving the audience in examining their own school climate around literacy and doing some thinking about inquiry themselves.
An added bonus: Peter Elbow, whose work — including the influential Writing Without Teachers — has informed writing instruction for decades now, is the keynote speaker for our WMWP Best Practices event. I have my video camera and he has given me permission to tape his talk, so I will see what I can do with the video in the coming days. Elbow’s topic is about speaking and listening, as tied into his new book Vernacular Eloquence, and the connections to writing.
Peace (in the day ahead),
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s annual Best Practices is coming up soon (Saturday, October 19) and if you are in our area, I invite you to considering joining this day of professional development around the teaching of writing. We are very fortunate to have the esteemed Peter Elbow as our keynote speaker, who will focus in on how we talk and what it means. And you can see from the title that we continue to push back on the Common Core expectations, and work to expand the ways in which our students are writing.
Here is the full program:
Peace (in the PD),
Our writing project has a sort of partnership with the local newspaper, where teachers have a regular column each month called Chalk Talk. I have been coordinating our end of it but I also write, too. This past week, the first column of the year came out, and in it, I talk about the Summer of Making and the Making Learning Connected MOOC experience.
I decided to make a podcast of the piece, so, here you go:
Peace (in the voice),
Over at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is, I posted a new resource this week that looks at a six month professional development program in which we incorporated digital learning into many facets of the work, trying to make the technology invisible and a natural part of the learning for teachers (with hopes they will turn around, and do the same with their own students).
Peace (in the sharing),
In the summer workshop for high school English Language Learners, we’ve been talking a lot about digital literacy and online identity, particularly about avatars. This concept of representing oneself will come back around as we move into video game design, too, and yesterday, after viewing a fascinating New York Times slideshow that features portraits of people and their avatars, I brought our students up into Bitstrips for Schools.
One of the first tasks in Bitstrips is to create an avatar for use in the site, so it ties in perfectly to what we had been discussing. And the webcomic space is very user-friendly, even for struggling writers. Today, I will give them an overview around how to create a comic in Bitstrips. But as they were working on their avatars, I kept refreshing the homepage of the site, showing how their representations of themselves were populating the “classroom.” They got a kick of that, shouting out to refresh the page.
Take a look at the class picture and you get a sense of the students I am working with this summer. (A few students were absent or are still working, which is why there are some blank spaces).
Peace (in the comic),