the Internet home of Leah Mermelstein.
Leah is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshop. She is the President and CEO of Read-Write-Connect, INC. She is also the author of Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom, (Allyn & Bacon), Don’t Forget to Share (Heinemann) and the co-author of Launching the Writing Workshop (with Lucy Calkins) (Heinemann).
Quality Writing Instruction
This brand new DVD will assist teachers with high quality writing instruction.
Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop
This brand new book will show you how to make your share sessions more instructional.
Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom: Find the Clarity and Then Blur the Lines
This book demonstrates how through careful, explicit assessing, planning, and teaching every student can understand and use the reading/writing connection to become stronger readers and writers at the same time.
Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum: Launching the Writing Workshop
This book shows teachers how to launch a joyful and rigorous Writing Workshop in their classrooms.
Picture this classroom scene. You are teaching a writing minilesson. When the lesson is completed, you ask students to try what you just taught. For some, this is no big deal. What you taught makes sense and fits into what they are currently working on. For others, it’s tougher. They are either unsure about what you taught or what you taught doesn’t fit into what they want to do that day. You know you should be conferring with individuals and small groups. Instead, you are circling around the room reminding, kids to do what you asked them to.
Picture this instead. You are teaching a writing minilesson and you give kids choice on whether or not they try it. Many, in fact, do try what you taught, but some do not. You are easily able to confer with individuals and small groups because all of the kids are deeply involved in their writing.
Do you insist, as the teacher in the first scenario did, that everyday kids try what you teach? Are you frustrated because even though you are insisting that kids try it, you have many kids who get nothing accomplished?
Or do you give kids choice as the second scenario suggests but find that kids are unsure how to handle this choice?
Giving kids a choice in whether or not they do the minilesson typically involves some forethought and planning: Some questions that typically arise are:
This forethought and planning is so worth it! Once minilesson choice is established in your classroom, Writing Workshop will be less stressful and more effective. And who doesn’t want that?
How do I get kids deeply engaged in their writing?
In order for kids to make wise choices about the minilesson, they must be deeply engaged in their writing. In Lucy Calkin’s book, The Art of Teaching Writing, she says, “We teach into our students intentions. Our students are first deeply engaged in their self-sponsored work and then we bring them together to learn what they need to know in order to do that work.” There are many ways to get kids engaged in self-sponsored work but one important way is through immersion. Kids are not writing during this time, but rather reading as a way to get ideas for their writing. This is most effective if you do it for multiple days, but even starting your unit with a day of immersion will help students become more invested and more well versed in the genre they are about to write. If you are interested in learning more about immersion check out my book on self-directed writers.
What else would kids be working on if they weren’t trying the minilesson?
Immersion not only gets kids excited about what they are about to write, but it also provides them with many options of what they can do during Writing Workshop. It’s essential to let kids know that anything they notice during immersion can/should be tried throughout the unit. Another option for what kids can be doing instead of the minilesson is what they have learned during previous minilessons, conferences, small group or even share sessions. Again, it will be important to remind kids of this often, especially if they are new to having this type of choice.
How do I ensure that my kids practice what I teach?
Many teachers plan their Writing Workshop lessons using what is called the architecture of the minilesson. In this architecture, there is a part entitled active engagement. This is the perfect opportunity to ask all kids to try together what you are hoping they will eventually be able to do on their own. For example, if you are doing a minilesson on different types of thesis statements, your active engagement that day might be to have the entire class discuss possible thesis statements for the class essay. Even if you don’t use the architecture of a minilesson, you will want to have a time in your lesson where kids quickly try what you taught. At times, one lesson on a concept is not nearly enough. Another way to facilitate learning is to do multiple lessons on a topic. These lessons should be not be repetitive, but rather they should go deeper into a concept, as well as clearing up students’ confusions. In this scenario, your minilesson might not be the expectation on day one, but after you have taught the concept over time in subsequent minilessons, conferences or small groups it would be expected that all students try it.
Is it okay if they NEVER try what I teach?
At times, the answer to this question is yes. Sometimes the purpose of your minilesson is to expose kids to a concept and then move on. With careful planning, the exposed concept will be revisited either later in the year or in subsequent years. A common question that arises is How do I know which concepts to teach over time and which ones to expose kids to? Whether you plan your own units of study or use resources, it’s essential to do some sort of assessment at the start of your study. You can then use that assessment to make goals for your class. Those goals should help you tailor your unit to the kids sitting in front of you. The minilessons that relate to your established goals will be the ones that you want to slow down and teach in-depth. The minlessons that don’t relate to your goals will be the ones you expose kids to and then move on.
I began this blog post by emphasizing that giving kids minilesson choice requires planning and forethought. I hope this has given you a window into what some of that thinking might look like.
As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts! I would especially love to hear your successes and struggles with minilessons.
Until next time,
As I dropped off my smiling girl on the first day, I started re-imagining my professional life: Time to write, read professionally, think clearly and even drink that extra cup of coffee every now and then.
All of those dreams came to a screeching halt when I picked my daughter up on the first long day. The tears in her eyes and the panic in her face told me everything.
Those of you who read some of my earlier blogs, know that last year my daughter refused to use the bathroom at school. That decision caused both of us tremendous anxiety
The teachers, last year, reassured me that when she was ready to go to the bathroom she would. All she needed, they said, was time.
Truth be told, I had mixed feelings about this approach. On one hand, I know that letting kids come to something on their own is more engaging than being told what to do. On the other hand, I was worried that my daughter was standing in her own way of being happy. Even more worrisome to me was that her decision was affecting her health. She developed chapped lips, sore fingers (from biting her nails) and had nightmares about staying at school for long days. A part of me wanted her teachers to lead her to this decision quickly so she could see how much happier she could be at school.
But I listened to her teachers and hoped it would work.
9 months went by and my strong willed daughter certainly became more comfortable with the teachers, but never once went to the bathroom.
When the school year came to a close, her lips and nails cleared up, and she seemed less anxious. To top it off, she announced that she would go to the bathroom with teachers at her new school. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Sure, it took awhile I thought but I was convinced that by letting her take the lead, we could finally put this ordeal behind us.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
On the first long day at her new school, she told me that she changed her mind about going to the bathroom with her teachers. My heart dropped and all of the anxiety that we both had the year before came flooding back.
I filled the teachers in on her ‘potty issue’ and what we had tried in the past. Both Ariana and I returned to school on Monday, not sure what to expect. Her two kind, loving but firm teachers took Ariana aside and let her know that in school she had go to the bathroom. If she didn’t, they told her she would be uncomfortable and unhappy.
They didn’t wait for Ariana to make this decision. Although they couldn’t force her to go to the bathroom, their persistence would make it much harder for Ariana to stick to her plan. They made this decision for her because they knew this was the responsible choice and the one that ultimately would help her grow.
The first day Ariana refused and when she did they offered her the choice of bringing in a potty from home, which she did.
When I picked her up the next day, her bright smile and peaceful face told me everything. She had finally gone to the bathroom with the teachers. By no means are we there yet, but for the first time Ariana had a glimpse of how much happier she could be at school.
What does this story teach me?
Don’t let your belief system get in the way of helping a child: This story reminds me that it’s far more complicated than having a philosophy and letting that philosophy guide your decisions. I am the first one to recommend more child led decisions, but in this situation ultimately Ariana needed a teacher to make the decision. Within the decision, Ariana had choices but her teachers were clear about what she had to do and why she had to do it.
As you teach this year, your students and their growth should be at the forefront of your decision making. There will be times when you can let children lead and there will be times when you need to take the lead.
Be willing to try something new: I want to be clear: I don’t think her old school made a mistake by seeing if Ariana would decide to do it herself The mistake would have been to continue along the same path after we could see it was not working.
At the start of this year remember to be aware of when something is working and/or not working and be willing to try something new until you find something that works for each and every student.
Until next time,
I’ve been meaning to blog for the last few months, but truthfully I couldn’t. I am in the midst of a difficult time with my daughter. There’s been a bump in the road. Things looks like they are getting better, but we are not there yet.
My determined, strong willed daughter decided four months ago that she would only go to the bathroom with me.
Keep in mind the irony of this.
My most recent book is how to create self-directed learners: learners who are comfortable doing things independently!
Her decision has turned both of our lives upside down. She is a mess at school because she has to go the bathroom and won’t. I go to work with a pit in my stomach. I constantly check the clock and imagine my daughter at school, suffering. Forgot about going out and doing something for myself these days–the stress on both of us just isn’t worth it.
When the bump in the road became too much for me to bear, I made an appointment with the director of the school.
This meeting was the start of me not just talking about this problem, but dealing with it head-on.
Bumps in the road are inevitable in both our teaching and parenting. I want to share with you the steps I took to address our bump in the road. Hopefully these steps help you with your bumps in the road.
Create a vision: Both Ariana and I needed to understand the bigger vision of what we were trying to accomplish so together we made a list of our family’s jobs. As you can see, our family job number 3 is taking care of our bodies. This list gave us a way to have a conversation about the variety of ways a person takes care of his/her body with one of them being not holding your pee in.
Isn’t having a vision the first step in our classroom as well? Both teachers and students need to understand and talk about the ‘why’ before any change is possible.
Try new things: I talked to Ariana’s teachers, as well as the directer of her school about our bump in the road. Both of them said that I should stop talking to her about going to the bathroom and react to all of her ‘potty’ comments with as few words and as few emotions as possible.
I also spoke to her pediatrician who basically said to bribe her with chocolate.
Truthfully, at first I was resistant to all of this advice.
The first piece of advice was especially hard to hear because I had been doing the exact opposite. When Ariana did pee with someone else, I reacted with huge hugs and lots of praise. When she didn’t, I reacted with stern looks and and disappointed lectures.
The Dr’s advice was simply way out of my belief system.
But then it hit me that what I was presently doing wasn’t working and trying something new could only help. The chocolate so far has flopped but the advice from her teacher and the director changed the situation in mind blowing ways.
When there is a bump in the road, it is hard to hear advice especially if it’s different from what you are doing. The way to move on from the bump in the road is to try new things. Some ideas might flop. That’s OK. Your kids will be fine. Keep trying. Who knows maybe you will come across an idea that changes a student in dramatic ways.
Allow for Scaffolds/Choices
My heart broke when one of the first changes I saw was regression. My potty trained girl started asking for diapers. I kept my emotions in check and simply said yes. My yes virtually erased almost all of my daughter’s stress and turned her back into the happy girl I knew she was. At the moment, I am giving my daughter the choice of of diapers or underwear and each day her decision is different. These choices have make her feel more in control. This is not my end goal, but it hit me that using a diaper was a scaffolded way for her to keep up her end of our family jobs. I’m still trying to figure out how to let go of the scaffold but I know we will get there.
As teachers, we need to be willing to let go of where we want our students to be and let them be where they are all the while knowing that your support and instruction will help them eventually master the intended skill.
In the midst of this bump in the road, I took my daughter for a Sunday outing at her favorite museum. While we were eating lunch, her classmate Lily walked by wearing the same pink pants and little pink headband that my daughter had on. Lately Ariana had been talking about Lily and the thought of a playdate had crossed my mind but our free time was mostly spent with my mom friends and their kids.
As the girls played, the moms talked and we discovered that both of these pink pants, head banded girls were refusing to go to the bathroom at school. We (the moms) decided that we would facilitate some new types of copying and had them plan to bring the same lunch to school the next day.
As we left the museum that day, Lily put her hood up over her head and Ariana followed suit without a single glance to me. In that moment, I knew that my baby was well on her way to becoming a self-directed girl, a girl who had many play dates and fun times at school in her future and dare I say, a girl that one day soon would pee on the potty without her mother.
Lately, I’ve been planning a lot of Writing Units of Study.
Yes, the teachers I work with plan their own Units of Study!
It’s hard work, especially the first few units, and it’s natural to wonder why you would even plan your own Units of Study when there are so amazing resources available.
After a long year of trying to help teachers use these resources, (with minimal planning on their own) I am more convinced than ever that teachers need to plan their own studies. (I do believe that resources can help, but only after a teacher has done some planning herself.)
The work of planning a unit leads to a better understanding of the unit, which leads to more engaged and effective teaching, which of course leads to more engaged students.
In my book, Self-Directed Writers http://www.heinemann.com/products/E04800.aspx I make the argument that it’s not just students who need to become more self-directed, but teachers as well.
In the next few months, I will share some tips that will hopefully make the planning that you do more effective.
Today’s tip is this: For every unit you should only have a few goals and those goals should be unique to the unit you are planning.
Coming up with the goals for your unit is the first step in planning. Doing this focuses your teaching and essentially gives you the road map for where you want to go in the unit.
Just recently, I was planning with a group of Kindergarten teachers. One of the goals they came up with for their ‘How To study’ was that students would learn to revise to make their piece better.
I hesitated as they said that goal.
Yes, I knew that they would address that in their Unit of Study, but I also knew they would address that in every Unit of Study for the rest of the year.
Their next goal was that the pictures would match their words. I hesitated again. Yes, they would probably address that too, but once again that was a goal that was not unique to their ‘How To’ study.
As they went through their long list of goals, I was worried knowing that a long list of goals that were not specific to the unit usually did not lead to more focused teaching.
My suggestion to them was this: Your goals for the ‘How To’ study should only be the goals that related to the how to.
They certainly could create another list of goals that were ongoing for the year.
Once they took the ongoing goals out of their ‘How To’ unit it shortened their list of goals and made their plan feel less scattered, which of course will make their teaching less scattered.
What do you think? How does planning your own Writing Units of Study make you a more self-directed teacher? I would love to hear from you.
Until next time,
As August comes to a close, I am getting excited for a new year filled with teaching and blogging!
Last year was a challenging one for me. The politics and the stress that I felt in the schools made me sad. Whenever I sat down to write a blog, I felt as if I had nothing to say that would help.
So right or wrong I stayed silent.
This year, after a summer of rest and reflection I feel differently.
I am re-energized and determined to use my time and energy to advocate for teachers and kids. I want to to help teachers be excited and amazed by their students.
I am committing to regular blogging to support this cause and as my year unfolds I will find out exactly what ‘regular blogging’ means.
Today, I want to share some of my recent thinking that I hope will help you as this new year approaches.
Can you think of a time last year when you were trying to teach something and it didn’t work?
Did you ever wonder in that moment if you should abandon the teaching and save it for a different time?
Or perhaps you tried to dig deeper and figure out better ways to teach it?
Or perhaps you were like me and weren’t sure if you should teach it later or try it teach it more effectively.
I struggle with this every year. Not only do I struggle with it, but the teachers I work with ask questions that relate to this all of the time.
I wish I could give you an easy answer.
Actually, I take that back. I don’t wish that. Teaching is amazingly exciting because there are no easy answers.
The more truthful answer is that it depends. Every teaching moment is unique and there are times when it makes sense to teach it later and there are times when you want to try and teach it differently. The most essential things to do is to slow down and make this decision carefully.
Just recently I experienced that very kind of moment as a parent.
In a blink of an eye, my daughter, Ariana, turned 2 and 1/2 and she left my side to go to camp for two mornings a week.
Honestly, I was worried.
I was sending her to a camp for many reasons, but probably the most important ones were that one I wanted to teach her that she one could have fun without me and two I wanted her to trust other adults to take care of her.
You see, she has always been cautious of new people and new situations.
I predicted this would be hard.
To my surprise, she ran off the first day without a tear and seemed happy and engaged when I picked her up.
I had a feeling it was too good to be true.
The following week she was a bit grumpy before we left and by the week after that she was a weepy mess when I left her.
I heard from the teachers that on those hard moments she continued crying most of the day. On one of those days she finally calmed down, but at lunch time her fish sticks fell on the floor and the teacher told her she had to throw them away (The poor kid is used to being able to pick things off the floor and eat them)
Once again she broke down.
On one of those hard mornings as I peaked in the windows watching her sob, I realized that she wasn’t learning what I had intended.
I wondered if I was doing the right thing by sending her to camp. Sure, she needed to eventually learn how to be without me but was this the right time (after all she is only 2 and a half).
Rather than making a rash decision I thought, talked to others and watched her carefully.
She spent her days at camp playing in the dirt, going under the sprinklers and exploring recycled zoos with loving teachers.
After some thinking I was convinced it was the right time to teach it. I just had to find more effective ways to teach it.
We talked a lot about camp in the comfort of her own home. I was honest with her and told that camp would probably be a little bit of happy mixed together with a little bit of sad. We also compared camp to home and talked about the things that were different between camp at home: At home you can eat things off the floor. At school you cannot eat things off the floor…At home we don’t have popcorn to eat. At camp you do have popcorn to eat.
By the last week of camp she was doing much better.
I learned that a more effective way to teach Ariana was to notice her sadness but teach into it at a time that was less emotional (This is probably another good thing to keep in mind as this year approaches: Don’t always teach in the moment. At times, notice a need and teach it soon but after you and the student have a tiny bit of distance.
I hope this parenting story helps you to slow down in those hard teaching moments. I also hope it inspires you to find the most effective ways to teach your students.
Here’s to a great start of the year. May it be fun and full of learning at the same time.
Until next time,
It’s been a long time!
I hope everyone has had a great start to the year.
Although I have been busy this summer keeping up with an active toddler, I have not stopped thinking about the relationship between parenting and teaching.
Here are a few thoughts that I hope will keep you nourished at the start of this school year.
Keep an open heart and mind:
I think that we could solve at least some of the problems in education if people simply slowed down and listened to one another. At times educators are quick to not only judge their students, but also one another without really understanding the full picture. When we do this, we lose out on truly helping our students and/or growing in our understanding as educators.
Quick example from parenting…. I’ve been talking to my twenty-month-old daughter about commas and question marks. When we read together, I point them out and talk to her about the purpose of these marks. She walks around talking about questions marks and ellipses and my heart bursts with pride.
It would not surprise me if someone was judging the above story. I can understand why. With just that small amount of information, it’s easy to think that I am out of mind to be talking about punctuation with someone so young. It’s developmentally inappropriate some of you might be thinking. She should be playing with blocks, singing, dancing and doing twenty-month-old types of things.
Let me now slow down and give you more information.
She actually initiated this punctuation conversation. For some reason, she is obsessed with punctuation and notices it on signs, in books and on TV shows. I am bursting with pride because I want my daughter to be a person of passion. Truthfully I don’t care what her passion is. By the way, when she is not focused on punctuation she is singing and dancing and playing with mud. 🙂
Some of might have changed your mind once you got more information. Some of might still feel the same way but at least you now have a fuller story and can make a more informed opinion.
Now a teaching story….
Last week I was listening in to an informal meeting between a teacher and an administrator. The teacher was expressing concerns about a particular practice that was being talked about in my workshop. Finally, she just asked her principal if what she was presently doing in her classroom was allowed.
The principal gently gave her opinion about the practice but also reminded the teacher that she would never come into her classroom and make a rash judgment. She said that she would watch the students and notice what they were learning or not learning and would meet with her later to ask questions to get further clarification.
I just love this!
This teacher is going to grow and so is this principal because there are no quick judgements being made. Both are willing to keep an open heart and mind and realize that their minds could be changed.
This principal might change her mind by watching the students. She might not but certainly the slowing down and watching will help her better understand and make a more informed opinion.
What does this mean for us as educators? We need to listen more and judge less. This goes for teachers, for coaches, for consultants, and for principals.
We need to do this when we work with students and when we talk with one another..
We need to realize that our initial reaction might be wrong. It might not be but by slowing down and listening you will get the full story and have a more thoughtful opinion.
Offer support but in the end let children do the work
It’s been fun watching my daughter learn new thing. It’s also been really hard to give her the time and space to try things on her own. Just recently she was working on a puzzle and when the piece didn’t fit in, she got frustrated and started crying.
I knew the easy solution was to just put the puzzle in for her. Rather than do it for her I simply said, “Maybe you can turn the piece around to get it in.” She fiddled around with it a bit and finally got it in.
Her face when she did it was priceless. She even said, “Yaya did it!”
Even at 20 months she knows how amazing it feels to work hard and figure something out on your own.
This same idea came up in my teaching the other day. I was working with a child who had trouble coming up with a topic. I offered support to this student by showing him how looking at books can give you ideas for what you can write about and then sent him back to his seat.
He didn’t get much on the page that day . One of the teachers I was working with that day wondered out loud if I should have kept him with me and walked him through the whole process of writing it down.
Although I think there are things I could have done differently in that conference I don’t believe that walking him through the whole process is the answer. Although he would have written more, he would have left that situation feeling as though he needed my help in order to do it (in the same way my daughter would have felt if I simply done the puzzle for him)
Every student in every classroom regardless of skill level should experience that same high that my daughter got when she figured that puzzle out on her own.
It’s a good thought to keep with you as you teach this year….Are you figuring out ways to get every student to do things on his/her own?
As always, I look forward to any and all of your thinking.
Until next time,
I just finished reading the book, Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.
It’s the story of one American mother and what she discovered about the wisdom of French parenting.
The book was interesting in both good and bad ways. (That’s for another blog post!)
One tidbit that Pamela learned from her French friends was how to get babies to as they call it ‘do their nights.’
They talk about the importance of the pause.
Rather than running to the crying child or ignoring him/her altogether, supposedly all French parents pause before reacting.
The pause helps them to see if their baby needs help or if he/she will be able to get themselves back to sleep.
Interestingly, that was the exact advice my American friend gave me when I was trying to help Ariana sleep through the night. 🙂
Pausing also helped me to get Ariana to play in her crib by herself in the morning. At first, she would wake up crying but when I paused she would settle down and happily play
This seemingly simple idea of a pause had huge payoffs as a parent. Ariana was sleeping through the night at a young age and still plays in her crib for 45 minutes in the morning.
Let’s be clear though. It is not perfect. Ariana does need my help sometimes. She has nights that she is teething. She has bad dreams. At times, I am not sure what’s wrong but she needs me.
The pause is not perfect but it has made a difference.
What this book and my American friend reminded me of is that when we pause we teach our kids to become more self-directed.
I know that Ariana feels more confident when she can do things herself, whether it’s playing with her toy or getting herself back to sleep. It’s tempting to react immediately but the pay off for not doing so is huge.
I must admit I like it as well.
I get a good night sleep (most nights) and most mornings I have some time to drink coffee and answer emails.
The pause is good for both parent and child.
This pause is paramount in our teaching as well.
When we pause rather than jump in and help our students we are a empowering them to realize just how much they can do on their own.
And just as Ariana would rather do things herself, it’s the same for our students.
Yes, the pause is good for our students but it makes our job as teachers easier.
I remind myself often that if I’m working too hard as a teacher there is something remiss in my teaching . My kids should be working just as hard as I am (if not harder)
I would love to hear how pausing has helped either your parenting or teaching.
Until next time,
Trying to blog while working and keeping up with a very active toddler has been challenging, but here are some quick thoughts I have about both parenting and teaching.
1. Reading and Writing can be both rigorous and fun.
Above is my lovely Ariana with her friend Lilly. They spent most of their hour long playdate happily reading. Ariana sees no difference between her toys and her books. Both are fun and interesting. As a matter of fact, she can spend a longer time with books than with her toys. I have not pushed reading and writing on her, but on the other hand I view both of those activities as fun so it’s no surprise that she does as well. She works hard while reading and she works hard while playing with her toys. My biggest wish is that all teachers/schools understand that Reading and Writing Workshops can be fun and rigorous at the same time.
2. Watching is the most important way to assess in both parenting and teaching.
Recently I brought Ariana to the park after a long winter hiatus. It was amazing to just sit back and watch how much she had changed as a park goer. She was climbing the stairs to the slide, going on rides and climbing on the benches–all things that she couldn’t do a few months earlier. As a parent, I sometimes feel guilty just watching her. I feel as though I need to be teaching, yet I realize that I’m a better parent when I sit back and watch her more, That watching helps me to to interact with her more effectively. The same thing is true in our teaching. Often teachers feel negligent if they are not working with students every moment of the day. Sometimes the best way to strengthen your teaching is to sit back and watch.
3. Mentors and purpose are key to learning.
Finally, Ariana reminded me of what I have always known. Kids learn the most when they have mentors and purpose. Here is the video of the day Ariana decided to walk: VIDEO0028-1
This was at a yoga party that we attended. I knew the moment we walked in the room that she would walk that day. There were lots of older kids (walking mentors) and lots of cools things that she wanted to grab (purpose).
I would love to hear your thoughts about how these ideas influence your teaching and/or your parenting.
Until next time,
A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to confer with a 2nd grade boy at Turnpike Elementary School named James. It was an eye opening experience for many reasons, but for the purposes of this blog I am going to share how it changed me as a teacher of writing.
As you will soon see, James is incredibly articulate and confident and because of that felt comfortable saying exactly what was on his mind. He said what I believe most kids think and either are too scared or don’t have the language to express.
I hope that by ‘listening in’ to my conference and hearing my reflections it starts a conversation about conferring and how to ensure that our conferences send the right message to our students. Most of all, I hope it start s a conversation about how to use conferring to engage students so that their writing improves and they become more self-directed.
I began my conference with James the way I used to start all conferences. I greeted him and then let him know that I was going to talk to him about his writing.
He replied, “So basically you’re going to say random things to me about what I wrote.”
I quickly cleared this up for him and said that I would try really hard to NOT say random things to him.
I told him that I would listen carefully to both his writing and his thoughts about his writing. I also told him that I hoped my response would not only leave him more excited about his writing, but would also teach him something new.
(I must say I sweated a little bit when I said this because I was nervous about being able to teach this kid something he didn’t already know)
Let me be clear about two things here. First, he was not trying to be rude at all when he responded the way he did. Second, he has a brilliant teacher, Kathy Graber, who would NEVER say random things to him.
The fact is he didn’t know me so he simply didn’t know if I would be the type of teacher who would say what he viewed as random things.
His response made me think a lot about how to start conferences.
I realized then that I wanted to start every conference so that every child (whether they spoke up like James did or they didn’t) would know that I was going to listen to what they say and try hard NOT to say random things about their writing.
I’ve been trying ever since then to say to kids at the start of the conference that my job is to listen to both their ideas and their writing as carefully as I could so that my responses to both would get them even more excited about their writing, as well a teach them something new.
In the middle of my conference when I was asking James if there was anything he felt he needed help with he said and I quote: “ In my heart and soul I think this is already good. “
Isn’t that what so many kids think?
They work on their writing and they put their heart and soul into it and they think it’s good the way it is.
Whether or not this is true is inconsequential. The fact that they feel this way is what we have to keep in mind when we confer.
In my conference with James I backed up and told him that it was great that he felt this way and that I believed in conferring with kids about pieces that were already pretty good. I told him that revision and editing were not a punishment for bad work, but a compliment for good work. Finally, I told him that whatever we decided upon him trying in his piece he would need to try, but ultimately he could decide whether or not to keep it..
His beautiful and honest response reminded me that I don’t want children to think that we are conferring with them because their pieces stink or that their job is to follow our directions and add, take out or change whatever we say, without giving it a thought.
If they view that as the purpose of conferring, it’s impossible to get kids to be self-directed. All they do is follow our directions.
The conference with James reminded me that we have to help all kids understand what I told James—that conferences are a compliment to good writing and although they must try what we decide upon, it’s their decision whether to ultimately keep what they tried in their writing piece.
Last, I want to share how the conference ended. I had finally figured out something to teach James and as he was leaving he said to me, “Thank you very much. I can tell you are a deep thinker and that you listen carefully—-
We tend to evaluate our kids but in this situation James evaluated my conference with him.
Basically he told me it was successful because he felt engaged and felt like I taught him something new.
I want to end with two thoughts:
One, how do we get our kids to do what James did evaluate our conferences more often? Their assessments are the ones that will help us the most!
BEST COMPLIMENT I EVER GOT ABOUT MY CONFERRING. I WAS ON A HIGH ALL DAY LONG.
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
Unit next time,
I am so honored to have been nominated for the Sunshine Award by Renee Dinnerstein. Thanks, Renee!
The Sunshine Award is a lovely way that bloggers recognize each other. Basically, it spreads Sunshine from one blog to another!
The Sunshine Award was started by Matt Renwick, an elementary principal in Wisconsin (@readbyexample). Here are the rules Matt lists in his post:
1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer.
6. Let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
In true “Leah” style, 11 wasn’t always the magic number for me, but I’ve tried to stay in the lines the best I could! Here are 11 random facts about me:
1. I am a single mom by choice to a beautiful little girl named Ariana. Deciding to have her was both the best and hardest decision I ever had to make.
2. My first year with her has been the happiest, most peaceful year of my life so far!
3. If I didn’t blog about teaching and parenting, I would blog about infertility. Staying pregnant was a long, emotionally exhausting and expensive process. In the end, I found the Dr who could help and he got me pregnant in a second. I, for sure, have a book or a series of blogs in me that probably could help someone else who is navigating this same emotionally draining process.
4. My middle name is actually Leah and my first name is Hope. I switched it when I moved to Boston when I was ten years old. As Hope, kids teased me constantly and called me Hopey Dopey or Hopeless. I realized that by moving I could start over with a new name. My family tells me that my personality completely changed for the better when I switched my name to Leah. They said I became much more confident. Interesting…
5. I am an early bird. I get up at 5:00 almost every morning and drink coffee in the quiet of the morning..
6. I also go to sleep insanely early. Typically I am in bed by 9:00!
7. I quit my first teaching job. I was putting kids in small groups and the principal pulled me out into the hallway and told me that ‘these types of kids’ couldn’t work in small groups. I quit the next morning. I was 22 and had moved to the city and now had no job. This was another one of those hard but best decision moments. I wonder if that principal has followed my career. 🙂
8. I have a strange urge when I visit hotels to take any and all soap. I don’t ever use it, but still take it. Luckily I was able to donate it a couple of months ago.
9. I love dancing and singing with my daughter. I don’t think I’m very good at it but we do it many times throughout the day and it brings joy to both of us.
10. I love to cook. I don’t do it as often as I would like and don’t view myself as a pro, but I think if my life was less busy I would do it more often and hone in on the skill.
11. I love trying new restaurants. I think of going out to a new restaurant as a vacation for the night. 🙂
Here are the questions that Renee asked me along with my answers:
1. What book(s) are you presently reading? I just finished reading Wonder by R.J Palacio. It’s a book for older kids. It’s written from the perspective of a young boy who is living with extreme facial anomalies.
2. Who was the must influential person in your life? This is a hard one because different people have influenced me in different ways, but because there are many educators reading this I will talk about Sharon Edwards who was my biggest influence professionally. I came into education knowing I loved kids but that was about it. I lacked self-confidence until I met my cooperating teacher, Sharon Edwards. She included me in everything: her teaching, her book tours, and her workshops. She made me realize I could be a leader in education and supported in trying many things that were out of my comfort level. Throughout all of it, we laughed, relaxed and enjoyed kids together!
3. What inspired you to enter the field of education? See above 🙂
4. Do you have a secret vice that you might be willing to share? I have a terrible sweet tooth. It’s usually under control but when I lose it, I really, really lose it. 🙂
5. What is your ideal vacation? It’s hard for me to talk about an ideal vacation, but rather an ideal year of vacations. I love having one complete relaxation vacation. On those all I want to do is sit in the sun, read books, and eat good food. In that same year, I love having an adventure vacation. I love exploring a place I’ve never been and staying long enough to feel at home there. On these vacations, I love coming home exhausted and filled with new memories.
6. What was your favorite childhood game or activity? I loved having long afternoon of exploring and imagining. I didn’t need fancy toys, just me and my imagination. I try to provide my daughter with this time as well.
7. Is there a film about childhood that you would recommend to a friend? I love Little Miss Sunshine. It’s an oldie but goodie and features Olive, a sassy, self-directed, wise little girl.
8. Who was your best friend when you were a child? I had a school best friend, Beth Shelton and a neighborhood best friend, Andrea Shreeman. Andrea and I have recently reconnected because we were both due to have our first child on the same day. I had Ariana on Christmas and she had Maverick on December 27th.
9. Is there a work of art or a piece of music that has left a strong impact on you? Yes, but what is standing out to me these days is how the ordinary is more beautiful than ever. All the things I used to dread: shopping and going to the bank are now more beautiful and more fun because I view than through my daughter’s eyes. Ariana dances at the A and P grocery store and stares at the money in the bank. I now see a trip to the grocery store and a visit to the bank as art. This is one of the many gifts that Ariana has given to me.
I would like to nominate
Bloggers, here are my eleven questions that I hope you’ll answer for your readers:
1.What inspires you to blog?
2. What is the hardest/most frustrating thing about blogging?
3.Can you share a defining moment you’re had in the field of education?
4.Can you share your funniest moment in the field of education?
5.What do you hope for in the coming year?
6.How does blogging help your teaching?
7.How does teaching help your blogging?
8. What advice would you give to someone about writing?
9. What advice would you give to someone about teaching?
10. What is is your favorite thing to do to relax?
11. Are there any responses to your blog that have really stood out? What were they and why did they stand out?
And now, Sharon, Claire, Katie and Alan I can’t wait to hear your random facts? I hope you have fun playing around with your Sunshine Award! I look forward to your answers.
Here’s one of my favorite clips from Little Miss Sunshine: It seems to make sense since it’s a great movie and the name of this award!!! Listen: Let Olive Be Olive
Enjoy and Happy New Year. I look forward to blogging again soon!
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