2017 August Writing Institute – highlights of the Keynotes

“Why was this Institute so great?” my family asked. It really did feel like the BEST one I’ve attended and this was my 12th Summer Institute so I have many to compare. After reflecting, I think it was the balance of intense learning in my small group sessions with sheer entertainment at the end of each day. “It was because of the daily ending Keynotes! I ended each day listening to amazing storytellers share and all of them did it humbly out of love for teachers. I felt appreciated and so entertained!!”

Tuesday: Author, Katherine Paterson

FullSizeRender 3Favorite Things She Said:
~ This speech is my thank you to all of you teachers. You do the hardest work without much applause.
~ I write to do what the Secret Garden did for me.
~ Rather than events, my stories are the emotional memory of my childhood.
~ Reading books allowed me to eavesdrop on another’s soul.
~ When I was signing books at a prison where inmates had read Gilly, I asked if any had been in foster care. ALL raised their hands.
~ When signing an inmate’s book, he said, “It’s not for me. It’s for my daughter, Angel.”, I knew now her inspiration for naming the main character in Same Stuff As Stars, Angel!

** I closely read Same Stuff As Stars this summer and worked to understand the characters and their motivations. At the end, I pushed myself to write long about possible themes explored in the book. I so enjoyed Katherine Paterson reading aloud from this book during her keynote. If you haven’t read it, DO. If you haven’t seen the movie, The Great Gilly Hopkins, DO. There is a cameo appearance by Mrs. Paterson and Kathy Bates plays a superb Maime Trotter!

Wednesday – Poet and Playwright, Daniel Beaty

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As I watched Daniel perform, I truly felt like I was watching a genius. He performed the beginning of the one-man play he wrote called Emergency where he plays 43 different characters/voices. It is about a slave ship raises out of the Hudson in present day NYC! I was mesmerized as his voice changed from the news announcer to a 74 yr old grandma to a 14 year old girl and her boyfriend. And through all these characters, a strong message came through! If you ever have the chance to see Daniel perform live, do it! Until then, here are some links:

You can view Part 1 here as performed on YouTube

He also is know for this poem Knock-Knock that was made into a picture book.

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Knock-Knock performance on YouTube

Run Black Man Run performance on YouTube

Dance Mama Dance performance on YouTube

Seeing him live was a treat. Hearing his childhood story was inspiring. “I was saved by my 3rd grade teacher who went above and beyond for me. He clearly is the author of his own story and he inspired me to think the same and to believe we can transform pain to power. To learn more about him, go to his website.

Thursday, Storyteller and Author, Carmen Agra Deedy


My favorite quote from her story came right as she, as a 5th grader, was bullied into pulling the fire alarm as a 5th grade class prank. She said, “The first five minutes of sun is awesome.” !!

This was my fourth time hearing Carmen and it was so entertaining. She really knows how to tell a great story!

My notes from seeing her at the 2011 . National Book Festival

My notes when I first discovered Carmen in the summer of 2011 and the link to her TEDtalk

Not part of the Institute but occurring in NYC:

Thursday, Author Kwame Alexander presented his newest book, Solo at Bank Street Auditorium and I sat in the front row as his guitarist, Randy, his co-writer, Mary Hess and he read aloud with music in the background. It was so excellent to listen to him read the poems that tell his newest story and also get a sense of how his personal life is weaved into this story.

When talking about the music in the book, he said he came to love rock and roll in High School. He admitted that he wasn’t very cool. “But the music helped us feel cool.”

He met Mary, his co-writer, three and a half years ago. She is in his writing group. She suggested writing a book set in Kenya at first. Then it became a book about Ghana. They both wrote and wrote. Then, like a puzzle, they put the pieces together.

Randy is a retired English teacher. He asked to come on the Booked book tour. In the evening, they would sit and write songs together! Click HERE to see the music video that goes with the book. 

Because I was part of his Launch Team (receiving the book before its August 1st release, I was invited to his private party. It was held at the Langston Hughes House in Harlem. By evening, my phone was out of power so I have no pictures. But click HERE to see me the next morning return to the house and recite my favorite Langston Hugh poem.

YouTube video  – Kwame about writing SOLO

Kwame’s website

I’ve always thought that writers are ROCK STARS!! This 2017 August Writing Institute allowed me to experience four rock stars!! NO wonder this felt like the BEST TCRWP Institute yet!


2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Hannah Arlone

My 2nd Advanced Group at the August Writing Institute was entitled Making, Finding, and Tapping the Power of Mentor Text (3-6) given by Hannah. I knew Hannah already because she is the staff developer who worked with my Arlington, VA school this past year with Reading. At the Institute, I got to spend an additional 5 days with her! Here are some brilliant highlights, all related to using Mentor Text in Writing Workshop.

Why Mentor? We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how. We watch a mentor, listen, name what they do and then try to do it. If someone wanted to get better at skateboarding, they would watch youTube videos of better skateboarders and then try it. Learning from a mentor text follows the same steps. Teach it well and remind students that interacting and learning from mentor text is a life-long skill.

When? Find time to teach this routine in introduce a writing unit. As a whole class, work on reading as a writer with a shared mentor text. Then try writing like that writer did. Then push toward independence by show how to find own mentor writing.

How to Choose a Mentor Text
1. Fall in love after reading book like a reader
2. Ask “is this a good fit?”
3. Now fall in love with the craft moves by reading it again
4. Read with writer eyes, noticing and naming out specific craft moves
She modeled these steps using Down the Road by Alice Schertle

Steps to Read Like a Writer
1. Notice someting about the craft of the text
2. Talk about it and make a theory
3. Give it a name – Writers so …by…
4. Think of other text you know where you have seen this move. Writing really isn’t unique – read lots to see craft moves more!
5. Try and envision using this craft move in your own writing.

We ended with a Write Around – she passed out xerox pages from Down the Road. We wrote on the chart paper around the text the craft moves we noticed. We moved from table to table noticing 3 different pages. Then we returned to see what was added to chart we started at. This exercised helped me to better complete this sentence stem:

One way this writer _________ does the craft move called ______ is by _________.

As I get ready to start another school year, I want to keep these questions in my mind so I create a classroom culture of independence.
1. How can I support students to choose mentor text that further their writing?
2. How do I get them to interact more with books so they have more books to choose?
3. What routines need to be in place so kids independently choose mentor texts?

Hannah had us do 2 events to experience books: a book tasting and book speed dating!
For Book Tasting, she placed a handful of books by these authors on each table group: Jane Yolan, Jacqueline Woodson, Cynthia Rylant, Soto, Naomi Nye, Cisneros, Eve Bunting, Patricia Polacco, Kate DiCamillo and Ralph Fletcher, Then we simply went from table to table to “taste” the book. She modeled a way to take notes using 3 columns –> author, title, reflection. Keep this question in mind – Be looking for writing that will improve your own writing. She also placed a biography of the author. I think I’d also add a photo of the author so students know this is a real person and get a sense of their age and gender.

Tips for a good Book Tasting:
1. Include a variety of authors
2. Have choice – move when you are ready to find another book.
3. Provide ways to notetake but make it a choice
Tips for Book Speed Dating:
1. All pick a book to share
2. Sell that book – can use these stems:
The reason I love this book is because ____.
One way this author, ____, pushes me to write ____ is by ____.
If you are the kind of writer who is _____, you might like to check out this text, ___.

Other ways to encourage kids to read books to then try out as a mentor text:
1. feature a spot in the room
2. have a designated mentor text shelf
3. have a padlet where kids can add mentor text they are using
4. kids make iMovie trailers about books and share
5. Mock Caldecott / Newbery
6. March Book Madness book bracket
7. Participate in Global read-aloud
8. Morning Meeting – share a beautifully crafted line from a book
9. Reread a read-aloud as a writer, naming craft moves
10. make experts in the room – kid who writes like an author and hang student writing and mentor writing up on chart paper.

Hannah reminded us that most of my time teaching with Mentor text will happen in a conference or a small group. The units of study only have a specific lessons written in but I need to be ready to teach using mentor text outside of the mini-lesson.

Hannah gave us time to practice using the Writing Pathways Checklist when marking up our mentor text. She suggested using difference colored post-its for different parts of the checklist. EX: pink=structure / blue=development  /  green=convention

As she demonstrated this, I liked her sentence stems:
Watch me as I figure out a craft move.
What is the author doing here?
The author in this piece is ____.
How would it sound in my writing?
I’m writing ___ and will try ____.

Hannah also shared TCRWP Goal and Technique cards for narrative, opinion and nonfiction found in the 6-8 Units of Study. One example of the goal card is found on their website here.

Suggested stem: The author’s goal is to ______. The author does this by ______(name technique). I need to add these to my toolkit and have them ready to use in a conference and small group!

One Day4, Hannah modeled a way to have students be exposed to mentors through centers. Here are the center direction cards:






I can easily see adding center cards like this to Google Classroom so writing partnerships can choose to study mentors. Hannah also suggested that the whole book does not need to be looked at – it could just be a xeroxed page from a book. The goal is to get kids in the habit of having LOTS of exposure to text and to be on the look out for text that they can independently use to raise the level of their writing.

Digital Mentor Text – I had fun watching the nonfiction text and opinion text and naming the craft moves done by the person in the video. All the videos we watched are on this padlet Hannah also created this 2nd padlet for us to add to with more digital links related to teaching with mentor text.

I personally can say that I used many mentor texts while working on my writing with week. And it made, in my opinion, my writing better!! I look forward to using Hannah’s ideas to help my students do the same! Finally, Hannah makes great anchor charts! Here are a few she made and hung in our room as we worked together all week.



2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Mary Erhenworth

Five days learning with other teachers not newbies to Writing Workshop! Five days learning from the best – Mary Ehrenworth! Each day of the TCRWP August Writing Institute, I was part of this advanced group. The title of our section was: Cultivating Skills and Habits that Grow and Connect Across a Year of Writing Workshop (3-8).

As a newbie in 2009, Mary was my large group writing teacher. Back then, she helped me to understand that I am a writer. She modeled with her “Lisa stories” and coached me to try writerly moves. Back then I worked day and into the evenings on my writing story. I still remember my story – making a quilt for Bridgit to take to college and I proudly shared it in my small group (led by Leah) on day 5. I know why I can recall that summer so vividly. I was invited and embraced into the TCRWP community by the best – Mary. Now, eight summers later, Mary is still the best and has so much new stuff to teach as she is always honing her craft. I felt privileged to be in the room with her again Below is a summary of some of what I learned personally as a writer and reader through her brilliant teaching. Ultimately, it is what I plan to now teach to my students, this year with 6th graders. This information feels too valuable to keep all to myself, so share it here.

As I review my notes from the week, here are 5 Big Ideas:

1. Writing Moves – Mary got me to write right off the bat. I was used to using these strategies on the chart to generate a story idea:

a. Generating Ideas: She shared this new strategy by making 3 columns –> trouble/feeling/issue …. people….moment.   Then she started to add a person and a moment and add the issue of this moment and then pushed herself to think of another moment related to the same issue and add it across the 3 columns. Then add another person., etc. Soon, she had a chart filled with story ideas. When I tried it, I got 4 ideas.

She also shared another 3 column strategy –> comment made by someone….your response….emotion felt; Think of the roles: the victim of the remark, the bystander, the perpetrator.  After watching her, I thought of one more story idea.

On Day 2, she shared a great way to ensure that more story ideas were in our notebook before we chose one to draft. I vividly recall the reality of students not having lots of ideas in their notebooks on the day  we picked one to be drafting day. I’ll use this technique the next time on the day before draft day. First, we reviewed the repertoire of writing strategies and made a plan to try out one or two we haven’t used yet (I picked PLACE – Brooklyn Bridge and STRONG EMOTION – election night story). Pick one and write for 5 minutes. Now draw a line, pick other and write it for 5 minutes. Now I have 3 stories tried out. Amazingly, I was just going to work on my Mexico story from Day 1 but now I’m drawn to these stories too. So glad Mary pushed me to do more. I need to do the same for my students!

b. Expand Kinds of Story I share – Mary mentioned she realized she tells mostly trouble stories and never a sports story. She suggested we reflect on the stories we are sharing with our students by thinking about:
* emotional range – trouble as well as “holding onto beauty” stories
* kinds of topics – “don’t be too feminine – include “fart” stories, too”, action, sports,
* representation – who is visible in my story? what is missing? Try to add or include a mentor text that shows differences
This list got me thinking about how I can actively expand my range of stories shared my me in the classroom.

c. Read mentor text of other genres and see how narrative writing is still used – Mary asked our table to “elect a table leader who was quick and efficient” and they got our table 6 mentor text. A memoir with a reflection that included narrative, a lit essay that included a personal narrative, an college essay that revealed info about writer through a narrative. We were to read ours, mark it up by adding narrative craft moves we notice, and be ready to tell table group about ours. On the last day, we did a similar activity. Mary read aloud Little Things are Big by Jesus Colon.

*** Here’s is the text. I also noticed there is a video of this text. I could see sharing this as a choice for students to be inspired to do the same with another piece of text.

2. Partnerships – Mary had us work in partnerships and by living it, I see it’s value. I will NEVER teach without students working in partnerships again.
– “Great partners aren’t born. They are made.”
– She asked us to find a partner, as well as, ensure all in the room have found one. We are a community that doesn’t just look out for ourselves but looks out for all in the room – this is a mantra I also want to use this year as I teach!
– a partner’s job is to encourage and she showed us these sentence stems:



IMG_9535As we left on Day1, Mary told us to exchange phone numbers with partner so we could send a text to encourage our partner to spend 10 minutes writing tonight. After dinner, I looked over my notes and sent mine a text and then wrote so I’d have something to show her. All week long, knowing I had a partner who was encouraging me, made my writing happen and it felt more and better. Such a little thing which reaps BIG rewards!

On Day 2, Mary modeled how to give a tour of my notebook to my partner. Show where we generated ideas and where we tried out a story and where we jotted our goal down. I like the idea of using the notebook to guide our partnership conversations.

A partner can be:
1. a friend – when doing something risky like writing, feel safer doing it with a friend
2. a mentor – ex: can put a strong, organized writer with an unorganized writer and encourage the organized one to check in on the other (her son had this and the partner would call her house in the AM to remind him to bring his notebook to school!)
3. same writing level – high writers together and then give that partnership a different higher-level mentor text
4. same content – ex: two kids writing about divorce
Additional things to consider when making partnerships: She suggested keeping for a unit and then changing if needed. Also notice them in other settings (PE/Recess) to see their social bonds, notice their personality (introverts/extroverts), their language skills and their life outside of school.

3. Teacher Moves – Mary modeled what the teachers can do as the students write.
a.  Notetaking – as I wrote stories during Day 1&2, Mary was going around, writing on small post-its her observations. She researched so she could plan future conferences. She also would look at On-demands, listen in to partner talk, and look at notebook volume. All help her to form partnerships and plan future small group conferences. IMG_9522


b.  Share the Unit Pacing with the students explicitly so they know how long they have for each part of the process. Rehearsing/Generating/Collecting – 4-6 days. Drafting – 1 day, Revising – 5-8 days, Editing – 1-2 days, Publishing (public but not perfect) – 1 day!

c. Mini-lesson tips when using your own writing in the lesson – Mary showed masterfully a 10 minute lesson on adding dialogue to tell about the character speaking. She read us her story. It ended with a beautiful dialogue that was an example of the teaching point. Then she showed us 2 places at the beginning where she did not have dialogue but it could have it. “Turn and tell your partner what that dialogue could sound like”.  Then she added it before ending the ML.


Mary reviewed and gave tips for the Architecture of the Mini-lesson:

  • Connection – 3 kinds:
    1. I’ve been thinking about you and the work you are doing and it seems you are ready for…
    2. Review – We’ve done A and B. Today I want to show you C.
    3. Metaphor Story – EX: Yesterday I had a conversation on the phone that did not go well. Later I wished I could revise that conversation. You can’t do that with a phone call but you can do it with writing.
  • Teaching Point and Demo – show HOW.  Did you see how….
  • Active Engagement – You try it – It’s your turn…
  • Link – Let’s review our choices – you can do A,B,C. Give me a thumbs up if you will try A? B? C? Off you go!

Then Mary gave us 10 minutes to plan a mini-lesson using our own writing in the demo. “You should spend the same amount of time planning as you spend teaching it. No more. Plan quickly!” Amazingly, we did it in 10 minutes!! And it was a good lesson using my Mexico story. We taught that setting can set a tone. Story started calmly with setting of Caribbean Sea and one character sitting on beach. But no extra details added to set a tone. Then it ended with a scarier tone (one character was missing) and the water looked darker, etc. I liked writing my story to teach a ML teaching point. Mary modeled well and now I am ready to do the same!
NOTE: I also realized that 30 minutes is spent by a teacher during WW having conferences and small groups so 30 minutes should be spent planning for this. Having the time as a guideline will help me in the future to spend time proportionally. (Big talk-away for me because I haven’t been spending that time.. YET!!)

d. Storytelling our stories – Mary had us with our partner do the following: Pick another story idea and be ready to tell it to your partner in under a minute. As you tell it, be thinking about the unexpected thing that happened in this moment. Go! I went first and told about the first time I swam backstroke. Then Mary told Partner B to raise the level of this work by thinking about your voice intonation, vary your tone to match the story tone. Use hand gestures – it helps to get story into long-term memory and the motions help ELL learners understand the story. NOW I had another story. I also realized the importance of telling my story well as I teach a unit. Mary suggested practicing oral storytelling in a mirror. Use gestures. Think of it as a performance! Be like Daniel Beaty (our Day3 Keynote – more about him in a future blog post!)  Each unit, I need to be prepared to storytell stories well as I coach my students to generate writing ideas. Mary made me realize the importance of planning this out and practicing it ahead of time so my performance inspires the writers in front of me to write!

4. Tools to help Set Goals:
a. Checklist –
illustrated one and non-illustrated one; Ask What are you doing? What aren’t you doing. Tape it into notebook and write a goal
b, Student writing found in Pathway book –
read it like a mentor text noticing what this writer does. Then be inspired to try to write like this student writer. Tape it into notebook / folder and write a goal.
c. Annotated Writing found in Pathway book –
this let’s students see what it really looks like! Tape it in the notebook/ folder and write a goal.
We look at one of these tools, made post-its noting what I am not doing yet and setting a goal. Then we took a gallery walk to see all the ways these 3 tools were used by all the writers in the room:img_9573.jpgimg_9571.jpg


5. Sharing Expertise to build community – Mary spent the first 10 minutes of our valuable time together to share her expertise of living in NYC. I realized by Day 3 how this not only gave me lots of insider information on this great city, it also build community. One thing we all had in common is that we were in this city for 5 days. Her technique was to click on images in google of a place and tell about it in 30 seconds. I plan to share in this way with my students and then empower them to share with the class. Building community through shared expertise will be a goal I carry into my future classrooms thanks to Mary’s modeling. To view the list I made of her shares, click here.