beginning of the year round up

oh, august. the sunday night of the summer.

our hope is that this august has brought rest  and summery things rather than frantic prepping for the school year ahead. and, if you’re in a place that school doesn’t start until after labor day, we hope that august starts to slow for you a bit and you soak up every minute of freedom left. to those of you who have started or are starting in the next two weeks: we hope the start has been smoother than anticipated.

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using textbook amy krouse rosenthal with kids

we recently had the opportunity to attend a writing retreat hosted by choice literacy. this was the second writing retreat with choice literacy we’ve been on, and they’ve both been inspirational as well as both relaxing and productive (the writing retreats are seriously the only times we can think of that we’ve felt both relaxed and productive).

this writing retreat, we were gifted a copy of textbook amy krouse rosenthal and encouraged to use it in specific ways to inspire our writing throughout the two days we were together. we knew of amy from her children’s books, and hearing of her passing this past spring, but didn’t realize she had a few books for adults, too. and, the more we learned about her through reading bits and pieces of textbook amy krouse rosenthal, the more we grew to love her.

when the book was gifted to us, we were told that it’s a book you can pick up and read bits and pieces of, and that’s been true for us. we were also told that part of the reason we were using the book now was because brenda, choice literacy’s founder and the host of our writing retreat, felt that in light of what’s happened since were together last (namely, the election and the effects of it on all of us, still), it was important to focus on our writing in a sort of back to basics, more personal sort of way.

today we heard news of the president’s ban of transgendered people from the military, and watched glennon doyle melton’s family meeting video of her response to the president’s announcement, in which she said that we always have three options when we encounter something like this that we don’t agree with. the first two options are fight or flight. the third option, the option we know is the better one, the one we want for our kids and also ourselves, is “putting something else out into the world, offering another invitation.” and so, while we started this post a few weeks ago, today’s events reminded us of it and what amy krouse rosenthal seemed to stand for. and so we’ve returned to finish it.

like glennon, amy worked to create beautiful things. while we’re still reading and learning about amy, we’re confident that one of the driving forces behind her desire to put more beautiful out in the world is that it’s a world filled with so much hatred, a world always in need of more beautiful.

on the writing retreat, and as we’ve continued to work through textbook amy krouse rosenthal since returning home, each open of the book has has inspired us somehow – caused us to look more into something mentioned in the book or encouraged us to think about and try something new in our writing or made us think how we might use her book in our classroom.

we’ve started a list in our notebooks of the ways we want to be sure to use her book in the upcoming school year, and thought we’d share our growing list with you here. we promise they’ll lead to more beauty in the world.

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teaching through inquiry

this is the third posts in a series on ways to vary the “teach” part of your mini-lesson, and this one will focus on using inquiry as a teaching method.

inquiry requires a bit of a longer mini-lesson or an entire writing workshop period, which can feel hard to devote time to very often, though teaching through inquiry is often really engaging and also gives your teaching more traction. so, our feeling is it’s worth the time that it takes! to try and balance the time demands with the benefits of inquiry, we often have the goal of including at least one day of inquiry in our writing workshop during each unit of study, and most often use inquiry when studying mentor texts (which could fit into any part of the writing process)  and punctuation.

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teaching through explain and example

this is the second post in a series on ways to vary the “teach” part of your mini-lesson, and this one will focus on using “explain and example.”

explain and example is a great method to choose when you’re trying to lessen the time you’re spending during a mini-lesson. rather than showing exactly how you might do the work, you’re using work already done ahead of time as an example, and explaining how it was done.

you might, of course, decide to follow up with more support or demonstration in a small group or conference for those students who would benefit from it. explain and example might be especially effective when the work isn’t completely new to students, but it’s building on something, so that they have some context already and sense of how it would look to do it. you’ll also give students a chance to practice some part of it during the active engagement, so you’ll be able to see who might benefit from more support or a step by step demonstration as a follow up to the mini-lesson.

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varying mini-lesson teaching methods

like you, if you’re using the reading and writing workshop model, our reading and writing mini-lessons follow a predictable structure:

  • connection
  • teaching point
  • teach
  • active engagement
  • link

when we were first learning how to teach in this structure, the “teach” part of the mini-lesson would always be modeling (demonstrating). we’d show our students what to do, and then they’d try the same thing during the active engagement.

after time with shana frazin at a summer institute at tcrwp, we began to be more intentional about varying our methods during the “teach,” and even put the different methods into our lesson plans so that we had to choose how, exactly, we’d be teaching each day.

this gives us the flexibility to choose the best method, which might vary depending on the teaching point or the students’ familiarity with what we’re doing or the time that we have. it also helps to ensure that our mini-lessons don’t feel too monotonous for our students because there’s some variety in how they’re being taught, even though the structure of the mini-lesson is predictable.

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using plans to support small moment writing

our year begins, like many others’, with a focus on narrative writing. our students are asked to write small moment personal narratives – that is, a true story from their life that happened in 20 minutes or less.

every year, our on demands (the pre-assessment writing piece) confirm that our two biggest goals for our first unit of study are to make sure that everyone is able to zoom in and write smaller than they were able to at the beginning of the year, and also that they write in the moment, like the story is happening now.

planning our stories is one way we support students in zooming in on the most important part(s), and set them up to write closer to what’s most important when it’s time to draft.

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