2018 August Writing Institute

What a great week I had, thanks to TCRWP (and my daughter who housed me in Brooklyn)! Here are many highlights (sorry, it is lots to scroll down through but my week was filled with such great learning!)

Lucy’s Opening Keynote – My Favorite Ideas / Lines…

* Because the information of our world doubles EVERY 2 DAYS now, Tony Wagner says, “knowledge is like air” and because of this, our role as a teacher is different in the 21st century. Now a teacher’s main role is to help students gain access and critically think about the info. What can I do with this information?

* Because of Social Media, kids are on an emotional rollercoaster. Seeing others having fun and getting or not getting “likes” is emotionally hard. We must give students vehicles to make meaning. Writing can be that vehicle!

* Writing is a tool to take the traumas of our lives and make meaning.

* We don’t want to be alone in the hardest parts of our lives. Lucy illustrated this point so well through a touching story about her father waiting alone for help to arrive and then together they checked to see if his wife was still alive after a stroke. He didn’t want to check while he was alone. (She is OK and they are 98 and 95 pictured below!)


* Be with people around things that matter.

* She gave a shout-out to a fav of mine – Congressman John Lewis! he reminds us: when you see something, speak up and speak out. (You might want to watch his 2018 Commencement Speech at Harvard!)


* Writing Workshop should allow writers to take risks so they can grow. Even the good writers should grow from very good to great.

* When you first start workshop work, it can feel like pulling teeth (Level 1). Then the good teacher leads and the students comply (Level 2). The goal is Level 3 – ALL IN Writing Workshop which is filled with intensity, passion, vulnerability.

* How do we get to Level 3? Students write about topics that truly matter to them. Teacher shares their writing notebook, their real writing with their students. And move from the story that anybody could write to making it YOUR OWN story. Also, provide time for LISTENING and SHARING to build community!

* Teach students to listen through the topic to hear the truth. Lucy quoted a line from a poem (I didn’t get the author) “It’s all in the pleats” . I like that image!

* Don Murray says, “Listen so I will hear what I have to say.”

Lucy ended with sharing her writing process as she prepared to give the toast at her son, Miles’s, wedding that occurred two weeks prior. A lovely toast full of meaning and truth because she generated ideas, drafted, revised, and followed the essay structure of reason and evidence. I felt honored to hear her process and the toast! Cheers!

Mary’s Session on Revision through Strong Partnerships

DAY 1:
Mary Ehrenworth first taught my friend Marilyn and I as we sat in the front row at Lerner Auditorium at my first Institute during the summer of 2009. Together Marilyn and I sat again and learned SO much from this amazing educator. She has kept learning so I keep coming back to learn more and more. The topic this week was all about how to build powerful partnerships. She stored resources we accessed and created on this padlet. 

I loved writing and following a process to set myself up for a great conversation with my partner which resulted in a much better draft of a story!! But Mary didn’t stop there. She had asked us to bring a notebook and post-its and colored markers. She then had us reflect on all the steps she led us through and make a Process Chart to remember these steps. By making it, I began to own this process. I could replicate it again because it was in my long term memory and also right here in my notebook!!


What was powerful was taking a Museum Walk and seeing ALL the ways others made their process page. A table was from Montreal and of course, their work was in French!

I teach Reading this year so I’ve been reflecting on ways to transfer this to instead of narrative story writing, to writing about reading. I’m excited to guide my 6th graders in being strong partners in Reading Workshop as we write about our reading, reflect on our goals and build reading volume.

Day 2:
Mary shared about the book How Kids Succeed by Paul Tough   and mentioned that when he studied top kids, they had strong notebooks, had study partners and did more related to their school subjects outside of school. As a teacher, I can share this info as justification for partner and notebook work!

Mary said we need to help kids make their own charts so they learn to outgrow always relying on the teacher giving it to them. The charts should have enough detail to remind me how to do it through words and visuals and make you want to do the work!

Today Mary had partnerships choose from and discuss:
* teacher written story (found in Pathways) – read, notice, annotate/code it – This tool could be helpful to me by….
* Student written story (found in Pathways or samples a Teacher can collect) – Read – Notice – Code it – Try it
* Pathway Checklist – pick a few things on the checklist and try it
With my partner, we discussed: Where in our writing can we do this work?

Day 3: Process Tool Page
Mary reminded us that if we make our own chart, we will story in our long-term memory how to do this process.
So I made this page:


Mary suggested the analogy of a good partner like a Pit Team member (instead of a cheerleader). The pit team does all they can do to get the race car back on the road quickly to win the race. A good partner does all they can to be positive and keep their partner writing!

Day 4: Mentor Text!

My partner and I read the amazing short story, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye. We individually annotated it, trying to name the techniques and goals by this author. Then we talked. Then Mary gave us just 10 minutes to add to our notebook and I created this.


My colleagues:

We ended with time to have a Book Club discussion around the mentor text. Such a good idea to connect the reading and writing work!

Day 5: A treat!!!!! Mary invited Marjorie Martinelli to teach us how to sketch. If you don’t know Marjorie, check out her Smarter Charts book and her blog, Chart Chums

Marjorie two tips: “If you can’t do a quick sketch, the writing is not clear.”
and “Drawing is looking.”

Here’s what I was able to draw, following Marjorie:

Mary then had us get into grade level groups and brainstorm where this new work we did fits into the Units we are already teach. She stressed that we can’t just insert and make the unit longer. We can substitute a session or remove Bend 3 and add these lessons learned this week. The Publishing date must stay the same so find a way to fit it in!

I will continue to reread this notes and reflect on ways to transfer this writing partnership work to my Reading Workshop with my 6th graders this year. If you have Reading Workshop Partnership ideas, please share them with me!


During the August Writing Institute, I took photos and all summer long, I’ve saved images I liked from twitter and then posted everything to this padlet. I also posted some of my favorite videos. Padlet makes it so easy to share as it is an electronic bulletin board. Lots to take in! Take a peek to be inspired!


Day 1: Mike opened his session with something to watch. He said since it had already been a busy morning, this could help us “clean the pallet!” As I watched, I decided this WAS a visual essay! Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright

He shared THIS PADLET of Resources with us (which I’ll post as soon as I find the link?? It isn’t showing up on my SHARED page of my Dashboard?)

Thin-Slicing of Data: He gave us student essay writing and had us look quickly at it and place it in a LOW/MEDIUM/HIGH group. Then we picked one from each pile and NAMED what they WERE doing (as opposed to seeing all that is missing). My NAMING LIST looked like this:

IMG_3165 2

He reminded me of the power to name all a writer IS doing. Then in conferences and small groups, I can use this thin-slicing of data to guide my instruction.

Then Mike got me writing ideas for essays. I thought about books I’ve read and the issues in the book and I thought about my world and the issues I see in the world. I drafted about issues related to jails after reading Kate Messner’s newest book Breakout. Thinking about the world, I wrote some about gun violence, immigration, too much screen time and my changing neighborhood.

We orally rehearsed one idea with a partner (this helped me think of MORE to write) and he shared elaboration prompts to grow an idea, too.

For homework, we were to start reading an essay from those he posted to the padlet to be ready for essay book club discussion on Friday and to pick ONE essay topic.

Day 2: First we practiced orally rehearsing an essay with the following CLAIM and REASONS and orally added evidence – lists and microstories.

IMG_2838 Then we got busy writing. First we stated our TOPIC. Then we wrote a CLAIM. Then we thought of LOTS of reasons using different prompts from Mike. He modeled with the topic of SHOES.


Finally, he showed us this visual as a help to structuring the basic essay.


Then he had us write our CLAIM with REASONS down and hand in. He suggested this is a great way to ensure writers are on track. If you don’t check in , they may get too far along a path that isn’t clearly structured and then it is harder to start over. Mine looked like this:


Day 3: After setting up our own essay using either a booklet or folders, we switched gears from Personal Essay to Literacy Essay. Mike had us view the Panyee FC video (5th grade Literary Essay Unit lesson) and I focused on characters and theme and easily drafted an essay using this claim: The Panyee FC learns that a dream can be reached through collaboration. This is shown at the beginning….in the middle…Finally, at the end. He also made the point that a comparison essay could be written between these boys and the boys stuck in the cave this summer.

Day 4: Mike showed us a fun way to use post-its and a printer to help notice craft moves in a mentor text.

Then he gave us time to make a TOOLKIT PAGE specifically related to essay writing predictable problems. Here are photos I took during the Museum Walk (love Advance Sections because of all the smart people in the room doing work!).

Day 5: On day 1, Mike had shared essays. I read James Balwin’s Notes of a Native Son. With 2 others, we discuss favorite lines, favorite parts, as well as Balwin’s craft moves. I had never read this author and now want to read more by him.  Mike shared a little about the Up The Ladder books he co-authored. As a MS writing teacher, I think I’d buy these and use them since students come to MS not having Workshop in ES. Then we got in small groups and shared the essays we wrote as a celebration! Always inspiring and moving!


Dwight on Writing Notebooks – biggest take-away for me is that MSers like celebrities. So show them video clips of celebs talking about their writing process. (Since I teach Reading, I plan to look for celebs talking about books they are reading!)

Cornelius Miner on Literacy and Social Justice – WOW!!
“Literacy makes us unfit for oppression. It creates the possibility for freedom.”

He believes we can help students tranfers how they learn a skill in academic literacy, like writing to learn a skill to help them with social literacy.

For example, elaboration is a writing skill. There are many strategies to follow to elaborate (be honest with kids – not 1 strategy – lots – they can pick!). One strategy is to answer why questions. Now, to do this strategy, name how you do it, step by step. For example. I write down what happened. Then I ask Why did that happen. I answer in my head the why. Then I write it down, as a way to elaborate.

Cornelius suggests we can follow this same process to build strategies for freedom, based on people who are proficient at freedom. He asked us to wirte down names and I wrote down Congressman John Lewis.  Others in the workshop named: James Baldwin, Robin Diangelo, Bryan Stevenson, and Ijeoma Oluo (made me realize I need to learn about these people!)

What did ______ do to support freedom?

For example, Bryan Stevenson is known for supporting freedom by helping to shift perspective.  This is a skill he had. His strategy was to name how a topic affects you and the world to get the listener to change their idea.

Using this skill, Cornelius asked us to try to change our partner’s perspective. Partner A does not like bees. Partner B sees a value to bees in the world. As we discussed, we channeled Bryan Stevenson’s skill of shifting perspective.

In closing, Cornelius reminded us that Freedom Heroes are real people who can be studied. They that study can help teach social literacy. It is a systematic way to promote freedom.

Final quote by Thomas Jefferson, “Our greatest protection against tyranny is public education.” (he wrote this in his notebook!)

Cornelius reminded me that I have SO much more to do. First, I started by learning about and reading an essay by James Baldwin.

Eric Hand on Informational Text – Anytime I have a choice, I’ll pick Eric!! He is such a clear and well prepared presenter! Eric shared FOUR THINGS TEACHERS CAN DO TO HELP INFORMATION CRAFT WRITING.
1. Teachers need to grow their knowledge of the qualities of info writing. Read and annotate. Get familiar with the progressions. Get familiar with the pages in the back of the If-Then book. Have Technique/Goal Pages in two colors, laminate or cut up and use as talking about an Info piece.
2. Expose Writers to Well-Crafted Text – like books by Kevin McCloskey. He read us this and it is so simple but such a great info book!IMG_2864

3. Show your love of Info Writing – find a topic and write!
4. Open Up Choice and keep kids writing info!

Tim Steffen on Historical Fiction – he ran through specifically how to teach the 4th grade HF Unit. One take-away was when he had us “read” a primary source image and questions to ask with the image. I could see replicating this work in Reading Workshop.


Carl Anderson – he shared LOTS about his newest book coming out soon. He reminded us to, instead of seeing what is missing in a student’s writing, to see the beauty in their writing. To notice what is there and what they are doing or at least approximating. He ended by showing a video called Monkey Business Illusion and said it was a metaphor for our work, a reminder to really look and see what is there. His daughter is now grown and dis the illustration comic-like heads and in the speak bubbles is an optimistic statement and a pessimistic statement. He hopes we remain POSITIVE as writing teachers to help keep kids writing!

Matt di la Pena – second time I’ve heard him speak at TC. I will admit that I was exhausted (afternoon of Day 3) so I sat and enjoyed his stories. A few lines I jotted down:
* You can’t be a good writer without being a great reader.
* Reading became his secret place to feel.
* His first book to help him feel – The Color Purple. (still need to read it)
* The book he gave his dad – One Hundred Years of Solitude (still need to read it)
* He ended by reading aloud his book, Love.

Peter Brown – author of:

and he signed my book!


He does so much research to write and draw his books! Very Inspiring!

5th Grade Connection Group arranged by Ryan Scalia

This is another reason why I keep coming back to TRCWP – the people who attend are so great! Ryan invited other 5th grade teachers to meet up with him after the Keynote on Tuesday and a small group met. I came because I knew Ryan from other Institutes and had taught 5th grade writing a few years ago. Ryan created a folder to share notes and on Thursday we grabbed dinner together. It is fun and motivating to find like-minded teachers and share!