My workshop manifesto for the next school year #UNHLit16

As I reflect back over the last three days at #UNHLit16, my mind wants to throw down a manifesto regarding things I’ll focus on to improve my reading/writing workshop classroom for the next school year.

(In case you’re keeping track, I’m back to work in one month and two days. Yikes.)

(I better summer some more.)

There are things Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher do consistently that I want to get better at.

  1. Making space for students to share out their work. I did this some last year, but I was never very consistent with it, and students never really got used to doing it. But I saw the value over the last three days. We ended each day with a few minutes dedicated to us sharing our beautiful words (as Penny called them). I loved hearing from the other people in the room. I stood to share my words once–and I was nervous! What we write matters to us. It’s a bit of our soul in ink. But a strong and vibrant writing community reserves space for people to offer their words to the group, where others receive them with kindness. I will make more space for students to share out their work.
  2. Conferring doggedly. (side note on word choice here–when I was writing my blog post last night, I stumbled on whether I wanted to write conferencing or conferring, and I went with conferencing after a brief google search to see what words people were using. And then Kelly brought it up today–that conference is a noun and confer is the verb. Like all good ELA teacher geeks, I went straight to my favorite app– of course–and I discovered that both confer and conference can be used as verbs, but confer has an additional lovely definition. Whereas conference as a verb means only “to hold or participate in a conference or series of conferences,” confer also means that essentially AND “to bestow upon as a gift, favor, honor, etc.” Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t we honor our students as readers and writers when we confer with them, one-on-one? Aren’t conference conversations a gift of time? I know they have been for me in my life as a writer. So I hereby officially switch my allegiance to confer and conferring over conference and conferencing.) (That may have been the nerdiest parenthetical aside in the history of time.) ANYhow, Penny and Kelly made such a strong case for the power of conferences. If you want to build readers and writers, you must confer. Period. I did confer last year with my students, but not as frequently as I want to, not as doggedly as I need to. I will confer more. Every day. In as many moments I have available to me as I can.
  3. Using mentor texts for writing invitations and study of craft moves. Reading Writing with Mentors this summer really got me started on this one–great book if you’ve not read it yet. And Penny and Kelly brought this to life. All of our quickwrites were based off of various engaging texts (and I use text to refer to anything you read–words, video, infographics, t-shirts, paintings…) (Ok, enough with the word nerd stuff). We wrote from poetry and excerpts of prose, infographics and video clips. We used the texts to inspire ideas to explore in our writing; they were mentors for our thinking. We also used texts as our mentors for writing–reading them like writers to find craft moves that we could emulate in our own work. I loved all of this. I will flood my classroom with compelling mentor texts for my students to read, think about, study, and imitate.
  4. Elmo. You know, the document camera. I need one. I will procure a document camera for my classroom. Why? (read #5)
  5. Making writer’s notebooks vibrant and indispensable. It is so inspiring to see what Penny and Kelly are doing with writer’s notebooks. I use them, but they are not yet that indispensable reading/writing/thinking tool that I want them to be for my students. I want to invite them to think artistically like Penny’s students do. I want to show them how to track their thinking like Kelly’s students do. And I want to make writer’s notebook work visible for my students (hence #4) so they can imagine new and different ways they can use that space to cultivate their thinking, response, and writing. And I want to have more fun in MY writer’s notebook too. I will work to make writer’s notebooks more vibrant and indispensable in my classroom. 
  6. Making my workshop responsive to what is important to my students. Penny and Kelly shared with us today (and had us write about them) two short videos: Trevor Noah on recent police shootings of innocent black men and Prince Ea’s “I am not black. You are not white.” Having woken up to the news about the horrible sniper shooting of police officers in Dallas at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, we needed to process, to be sad, to be angry, to think through it all, to discuss it with each other. Penny and Kelly knew that, and they made sure our classroom made space for us to use words to reflect, to read and discuss powerful texts to help us think. What better way to show students why reading and writing matter to them as human beings? I will be more responsive in my workshop classroom to what is on the hearts and minds of my students.
  7. Being honest about the challenge of conferring effectively. I loved that we heard about Kelly’s seven minute writing conference with a student that went basically nowhere. I have so been there. I appreciated the conversation about the conference we watched and Kelly’s question about whether he gave the kid too much concrete direction or not. This was so refreshing. I find conferring really hard. You want to teach the student something helpful, but you don’t know what it will be until you can find out what the kid is thinking and trying to achieve, and then you aim to teach something effectively to keep that reader/writer growing… all in the space of a few minutes? I find it intimidating. I only hope that what I said was helpful whenever I walk away from a conference. I know with more and more practice I will get better at this. Maybe even record them so I can review them and think about what I’m doing well and not so well. I will work intentionally to get better at conferring.

What’s on your reading/writing workshop manifesto for next year?

I hope I get the opportunity to do this again, #UNHLit16. Thank you to Penny and Kelly for sharing their classrooms with us, and to Lisa and Sabina for making it all happen, and to all the people in the room who came here to learn alongside me. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to talk with more of you. May your remaining weeks of summer break feed your teacher soul so you’re fueled up and ready for the start of the next school year. I know these last three days have been fuel for me. 


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