What We Write: Students’ Perspectives and Ideas

Day on Writing 2012

This year, to honor the National Day on Writing, we created a massive block-letter WRITE on the back chalkboard in the classroom. During the week, students used colored sticky notes to share the kinds of writing they enjoy doing. It’s been pretty magical to see the WRITE fill up with ideas. I’ve also had my camera ready, taking images as the sticky notes were being placed.

Here is our Animoto video of our National Day on Writing responses:


Peace (with writing),


What I Write: Behind the Scenes

Today is the third day I am posting about this one single poem, as I lead up to pulling it all together into one multimedia project for tomorrow’s National Day on Writing celebration. The first day, I shared the text of the poem. The next day, I shared a podcast version of the poem. Today, my sharing was inspired by a small line I read from one of the NCTE tweets, suggesting that folks share their writing process along with their writing. Since I had used Google Docs to write my poem, I figured I could give a little tour of the editing and revising that I did while trying to write the piece.

Here, then, is my inside look at writing What I Write: An Archeologist of an Idea

I hope you’ve been writing, too, and that you will be sharing your writing or writing activities tomorrow for the National Day on Writing.

Peace (beneath the poem),


In this essay, I will (bore the reader)


We did some work yesterday in class around how to begin their short research papers which they have been working on for the past week. More and more, I notice how many of my sixth graders start every reading response with “In this paragraph, I will …” and every longer essay with “In this essay, I will …” and I am trying to ween them off those boring starts. It’s not easy. They have been programmed by other teachers, I think, to begin their pieces this way so that, at least, they will have an opening. (and don’t get me started on the closing sentences, which end with “In this paragraph, I have shown you …”)

I know why this kind of teaching was put into place. Many students jump right into the heart of the text, and lack structure. But at some point, young writers need to be told “this is how you learn the skill and this how you move beyond that skill to make your writing your own.” I guess I do that a lot in my classroom.

So, yesterday, I wrote out a few samples as mentor texts (and will do some more today), and we compared/contrasted various openings of essays. I had them reflect on why you want to draw the reader in (so that they want to read what you wrote and learn from the research) instead of bore them to tears.  (Me: “I know this is an essay you are writing. I assigned it, and am helping you with it. You don’t need to tell me that you are writing an essay in your opening sentence.”) I suspect this will be a continuing one-on-one consultations with some students, but I did notice improvements already. It’s as if some students realized for the first time that they can be creative in their essays, which is what I am hoping for, instead of jamming their words into a formula.

Peace (in variation),



What I Write: The Podcasted Text

Yesterday, as part of the upcoming National Day on Writing, I shared the written text of a poem I wrote to celebrate the theme of “What I Write.” Today, I want to share out the podcast version of the poem. (Tomorrow, I will add another media component and then finish up on Friday with everything pulled together into one large digital composition).

Thanks for listening and I hope you get inspired to write.

Peace (in the poem),


What I Write: The Written Text

As part of this year’s National Day on Writing (which is Friday and Saturday — yeah, two days as one), I wrote a poem on the theme of what I write. I also began to toy around with various media, and will release a piece of my multimedia poem as the days go on. Today, it’s just the text of the poem. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you do some writing this week — yourself and with your students — on the concept of “what we write” in celebration of the National Day on Writing.

What I Write: An Archeologist of an Idea

What I don’t know
when I write are the mysteries of ideas –
the shadows filtering in from outside of myself
as some sort of jewel
half-hidden away in my consciousness demanding
from the perpetual over-thinking of just about everything.

And so, pen scratching paper,
fingers pounding keyboard,
skin touching screen,
the writer in me tinkers with these treasures that slowly unfold as
a singular phrase,
an inspiring song,
a passionate letter,
a sad story,
a shout-out-loud yelp into the wilderness of the world,
a poem — always, it seems, my mind comes back to me as a poem —
which circles back around on itself
until the grains of time get gently brushed away
and I, the writer, slowly emerge as an archeologist of an idea.

Peace (in the poem),


Digital Kids, Digital Literacies: A Keynote Address

Here is the presentation from my keynote address given on Saturday at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Best Practices Conference at the University of Massachusetts. We also captured it on video but I have not yet gotten around to the editing of that footage. Here, you can at least see some of the themes I was tracking as I talked about the literate lives of our students outside, as well as inside, of our school, and how technology is becoming a part of that fabric of reading, writing, speaking/listening, and the mechanics of writing.

Peace (in the share),


A Teacher’s View: Student Research Queries

instagrok teacher view

One of the things I like about using Instagrok with my students on our research project is that I can “look over their shoulder” at the kinds of searches they are doing and websites they have visited, as well as the amount of time they are spending (including out of school). This screenshot is pretty typical of the research that my students are up to. Neat, eh?

Peace (in the research),


Book Review: The Endless Caverns

About two years ago, a teaching colleague of mine — Mike Flynn — told he was writing a kids’ book. I wasn’t all that surprised. Mike’s work in the classroom with the younger kids had earned him lots of recognition and kudos (Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, meeting the president, working around the country on helping other educators with math, etc.). He told him that the book stemmed from work he was doing as a consultant on a website for kids, a place of interactive activities built on educational concepts. The site — Mutasia — is colorful and full of interactive play but I’m not sure what differentiates it from other educational “portal.” Still, Mike said the organizers had done a lot of research, and talking to teachers, and were working hard around thinking of how to build a site for kids in meaningful ways that combine challenging fun with learning. I don’t know enough about the site to give an opinion, except to note that along with activities, they also sell products (plush toys). So, there clearly is a marketing element (I imagine the word “synergy” comes up in meetings)

At one point, my colleague — Mike Flynn — asked me to read over a draft of the book that he was writing, and I gladly did, offering up some advice and impressions. I liked the concept of Mike’s story — the central theme is about taking chances on new ideas and how to be a good friend — and the characters (which come from the website) were interesting, in a Fraggle Rock kind of way. Plus, I was excited that Mike was asked to write a book. Anytime a friend is writing a book to be published is cause for a little celebration, right?

Mike’s book — The Endless Caverns — is now out, and Mike’s publisher sent me a copy. (I had asked Mike if he could get me a copy to look at when the final book was published.) It’s an adventure story in which a character named Figley goes off into the wild jungles of their homeland but then has reservations about his abilities to make it to the end of the journey, and some fears crop up. His friends, however, step up and help him work through those fears, with compassion and support. The story (a version of the ‘heroic journey” for the younger set) ends with a crazy and thrilling ride over a waterfall.

I am going to leave The Endless Caverns on the table near my second grade son (the grade that Mike used to teach before he left to help run a Summer Math Program at a local university) and see what he thinks. And then I am going to bring it to my sixth graders, some of whom had Mike as their second grade teacher. They will be thrilled, I am sure. And kudos to Mike for working through the years-long process of writing, revision, more revision, and even more revision … and then, to publishing a children’s book.

I wonder if I can get him to visit my classroom?

Peace (in the book),