On Becoming a Teacher Who Writes

IMG_8139My current writer’s notebook

I’ve always loved writing. In fact, there was a time in late middle school and early high school that I wanted to make writing my career, thanks to an impressionable year with an amazing teacher. I researched colleges and universities with strong creative writing programs and started wearing quirky clothes to increase my author mystique.

Then AP classes, college, grad school, marriage, and babies struck, and I lost my mojo. When I finally became a teacher, I used the Workshop Model and the Six Traits to implement my favorite teacher’s creative writing project. I also co-produced a literary magazine for my elementary schools. Clearly, I was a teacher who loved teaching writing and coaching writers. But beyond writing occasional blog posts, I wasn’t a writer. So when I saw Jennifer Serravallo’s announcement that she’d be hosting a Summer Writing Camp, I thought about all of the packing we’d be doing while minding a toddler for our we-love-it-here-so-let’s-buy-a-house move and how terribly I miss my older son while he spends the summer with his dad, and in typical overachieving Ms. Vigna fashion, I signed up right away!

According to the announcement, each week would focus on a different genre of writing, starting with fiction. All of the lessons were delivered via Facebook Live and were easy to find even though I never watched or did the lessons the day they were released. I eagerly filled my writer’s notebook when I had an extra twenty minutes–ten minutes for the lesson and ten minutes to write–to disappear, which was usually during naptime or around bedtime. At the end of the first week, I had a draft of a story that I could continue to develop. My first piece of fiction in nearly thirty years.

It was clear to me how I could easily repeat the process for any of my other seeds to craft another story. Additionally, it was obvious how easily I could stray from the lessons to follow my own lead. By using Ms. Serravallo’s strategies, I uncovered all sorts of hidden pathways to my own writing conclusions. It was inevitable to make the connections between my role in this process and my students’ roles. Teaching these strategies and craft moves is a way to pay it forward for our student writers. What a gift.

Before the end of the first week, I knew that I wanted to replicate this process with teachers. A weekly writing club that meets before school. Perhaps even an opportunity to earn PDPs or SACs or SIS? I will explore all of the options because this work is that important for ourselves *and* our students.

Happy reading and writing.

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Summer Reading – Online Reading Resources

This list comes directly from this awesome blog post from the Nerdy Book Club, “Digital Device + Free Texts = Reading All Summer Long”. Check out their post if you want more background, but here are all of the links to free online reading resources!

  1. Storyline Online: Artists from the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists read stories aloud.
  2. Open eBooks: Michele Obama and the Obama White House launched this app to give students and educators access to free books.
  3. Wonderopolis: If you have students who love reading informational texts, introduce them to Wonderopolis. Each day Wonderopolis posts and answers a new question. Readers can search by topic or explore the question of the day.
  4. Just Books Read Aloud: Alma College shares over eight hundred videos of stories being read aloud. You can sort by author, narrator, reading level, language, and topic.
  5. The Poem Farm: The Poem Farm is Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s website and is filled with poems for students to read. Readers can sort by topic or technique to find poems they love.
  6. Dogonews: This site is loaded with articles and videos about current events, sports, and human-interest stories.
  7. Sports Illustrated Kids: Do you have sports fans in your classroom? On this site, students can read about favorite sports and sports teams.
  8. Readworks: When the classroom sets up an account, students have access to so many texts are a variety of topics and interests.
  9. International Children’s Digital Library: Looking for texts from around the world and texts written in a variety of languages? On this site, students can search for books by author, topic, and even country.
  10. YOUR Local Public Library: Don’t miss the digital reading opportunities available at your local public library. So many children’s libraries now give students ways to borrow eBooks and digital audio books without leaving their house. Just look at the digital public libraries available in the United States.

Happy reading!

Magical Muggle Masterminds

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Click here for our Magical Muggle Masterminds, also known as the Harry Potter Club, Padlet.

Reading Poster Unit

One of my mantras as a teacher is, “If the students can do/make/think it, they should.” So when we realized our schools’ walls could use some spiffing up, we decided to turn over the decor transformation to the students! Since this is “The Year of the Reader,” what could be better than some inspirational reading quote posters?!

Together with the librarian, I’ve created a short unit plan that could be done at any time of the year.

Day 1

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Illustrator Source: unknown
Text Source: Neil Gaiman for The Guardian

The first day of the unit will be used to inspire students and give them a chance to explore and pick an inspirational quote about reading. We’ll kick off by showcasing some inspirational quotes found online and in quote books for kids.Some questions to discuss: Why do people like inspirational quotes? How can inspirational quotes be important?With this being “The Year of the Reader,” we’ll veer towards quotes focused on reading:

Students will record quote contenders on their Reading Quote Poster Planning Sheet.

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By the end of the lesson, they will circle or star the reading quote that they want to use for their poster!

Day 2

To help students realize the impact of good graphic design, we’ll share simple fundamentals of graphic design and analyze inspirational quote examples to discuss what we notice about the designs, such as fonts, layout, spacing, alignment, flourishes, and more. They’ll jot or sketch ideas on their Reading Quote Poster Planning Sheet that they may incorporate into their drafts the following day.

Day 3

This will be production day! First, they’ll sketch out their ideas on 8.5×11″ paper in pencil. Once they’re happy with their designs, they’ll go over the design in black ink. Finally, they’ll erase any of their pencil marks to end up with their final draft!

Day 4 – Optional

The final session will be a day of celebration! It’ll begin with a silent gallery walk of students’ designs. They’ll observe each design and leave a compliment on a sheet underneath for the designer to keep. All of the designs can be bound in a simple book, put on display, and catalogued in the library. If desired, students can also use this time to vote for their favorite designs. The top three designs from each class can be enlarged and posted throughout the school. During the very final portion of the lesson, students should complete a reflection about the whole process.

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Possible Extensions or Adaptations

  • Book talk and/or read aloud picture books about imagination or art.
  • Create bookmarks instead of posters.
  • Instead of having students choose a quote about reading, they can find a particularly meaningful quote from a favorite book that they read during the year. They can use some of the same graphic design elements in their designs, but they can also print it on a page FROM a book:

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Any of these quote projects would be SUCH a great keepsake to celebrate the Year of the Reader!

How to Host a Book Tasting

Do you want to host a book tasting? It’s a great activity to introduce new books or genres to students, in which students spend a few minutes browsing an individual book to get a “taste” of it before deciding if they want to read it. To make the event even more appealing, I’ve created a BOOK TASTING KIT that you can borrow from me anytime! The kit comes in a picnic basket,

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and it includes all of these supplies:

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With these supplies, you can transform your room into a restaurant: tablecloths, placemats, fake flowers, “candle” light, jazzy music, chef or waiter costume, etc. And who doesn’t love a costume?! Actually, I know of plenty of people who don’t, so the costume part is entirely optional. 🙂

Here’s a video that Ms. Fritz and I made to help you understand what a book tasting is:

After getting a taste of some books, students will hopefully have books that they want to read. They can record their favorites from the book tasting on a bookmark,

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menu,

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“Books to Read” list in your 2nd or 3rd grade Reader’s Notebook,

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or your 4th or 5th grade Reader’s Notebook.

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I’m hoping to have CSS film an actual book tasting to give you the real flavor of the event! In the meantime, borrow my Book Tasting Kit to host this event in your room soon!

Happy reading!

5th Grade WIN – Padlet

Click here to find the Padlet for our WIN group.

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I’ve posted before about Padlet, the digital interactive bulletin board, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use it authentically until now. For the next several weeks, I’m meeting with fifth graders to work on reading responses during WIN. In addition to using critical thinking skills, collaborating with other writers, and writing clear ideas, I also want students to use the computer for this work. Padlet seems like the perfect platform to accomplish these goals! I’ll provide an update after we’ve tinkered around a bit more!

Class Books: Let Them Read What They Write

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It’s possible that my love for class books originated from the one I received from the class that I student taught on my very last day of teaching them. It was a simple production: letters on notebook paper, crayon/colored pencil/marker drawings, and their school pictures. The fanciest thing about it was the laminated pages and plastic binding. Of course, the simplicity of it is part of what makes it so precious to me. Their sincere letters and drawings alongside their school photos still touch my heart. Since then, it has been in my classroom library in my “Student-authored Books” bin. For years, I was surprised by how the students I’ve had since then have been drawn to it even though they didn’t know my first students at all. In fact, every year, nearly all of my students read the Thank you, Ms. Vigna book at some point during the year; sometimes revisiting it more than once. Without even knowing my very first students, my later students couldn’t resist reading the book they made!

A purposeful, authentic audience motivates writers. Fortunately, our classrooms have built in audiences: students! There is no shortage of content for class books: With the volume of writing students are producing in our classrooms, you could easily stock a classroom library shelf with student-authored books. In Writers’ Workshop alone, it’s possible that students have penned several pieces already.

It’s just a matter of putting the book together: Print out or copy all of their personal narratives, create a simple cover, and bind their work into a class book! Nothing elaborate–no need to ship them off to Blurb or Shutterfly. Just fold an 11×18 piece of construction paper in half and staple it down the side to bind it. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add some decorative duct or Washi tape to cover the staples.

Class books can be made outside of Writers’ Workshop, too. A Math Workshop station could have students write their own word problem for the concept being studied and a separate explanation of the answer. I’m imagining a class book made out of envelopes: the problem written on the envelope and the answer and explanation on an index card  inside the envelope. In science, students can create an alphabet book for the current topic or a timeline of a historical events for each time period studied in social studies.

Teaching students how to make books on their own would be empowering and motivating also. Look to Katie Wood Ray and her protege, Lisa Cleaveland, for inspiration, especially for our youngest writers in the primary grades.

Class books motivate students to READ! I have found that students love rereading their work and the work of their classmates in these class books so much that I often have to “discard” the totally worn out original copy and replace it with a “Second Edition” OR I end up making copies of especially powerful class books to GIVE to my students to keep. My authors have even gone around the room collecting each other’s autographs and asking for inscriptions like we would at a professional book signing.

Regardless of its form, class books are powerful and useful reading and writing tools. They are treasure-filled memories for all of the stakeholders and promote reading and writing in our youngest readers and writers.