a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On Reading a DVD

Realizing I kind of cheated yesterday has left me with some guilt.  I feel the need to clarify.  The DVDs in my book stack were just that: DVDs.  So was it really a book stack?  By definition, that would mean: stack of books.  Oops.  However, I really think that Nancie Atwell’s Reading in the Middle and Writing in the Middle still count as books.  They may be non-print text, but they are certainly set up the way a book is set up, they contain the same kind of information a book would, and I used a lot of the same strategies I would’ve used as a reader to make sense of them. 

Just like an English teacher to get caught up in semantics.

Book, DVD, Giant Nugget of Brilliance, Visual Reminder of All That is Right in the World of Education, whatever you want to call it, I engaged with Nancie Atwell’s Writing in the Middle today and the following are the unpolished reflections with which I am left:

·      I need to take my students back to their Writing Territories and beef them up again.  This would be a great way to get them to generate more specific “in the meantime” writing possibilities.  That being said, my “in the meantime” process would be unnecessary if I began the year with multiple free verse poems, the way Atwell does, instead of just the one.

·      My students always participate in the Letters About Literature contest.  I need to add other opportunities, like River of Words to their writing possibilities.  I can also look for additional opportunities for students to submit their writing, such as Voices from the Middle and English Journal

·      My conferences look and sound a lot like Atwell’s.  This has taken years of reading and studying her way of working with writers. 

·      Listening to her, it strikes me that a lot of the language I use in with student readers and writers is rooted in Atwell’s work.  So much so, that it has become mine and I wouldn’t even think to cite it- yikes!

·      I would like to gather clear examples of revision from my students’ writing, not just final drafts as exemplar texts.  I am not deliberate enough about this.  I need this evidence for future lessons, evidence of my success as a teacher, and proof of the power of a workshop approach for others.

·      I can use her approach of using two-column notes as a means of tracking our thinking about a particular genre set of shared readings.  Left side: title and author, right side: what we noticed.  Right now, I am only using the actual copies of the shared readings themselves with our text markings on them.  Students might see the point more clearly (that we are reading to understand what we can do as writers ourselves) if we recorded this chart, like notes, in our notebooks.

·      I need to get stricter about some of my rules and procedures.  Things would go more smoothly for me if I were more consistent about enforcing things like: draft by writing on every other line, date and label EVERYTHING you write.    

·      It is very easy to reflect at this point and say to myself, “Okay, next year I will do things differently.”  In fact, that is much easier than thinking, “How can I incorporate changes this year that will strengthen some of the weaknesses I now see in my own practices?” 

·      I think I can launch into this style of workshop with my 9th hour class instead of following the writing suggestions of the ID program.   In fact, I think the ID program is set up to work with a true writing workshop more than it is to work with those writing assignments.  Launching into this style of workshop at this point in the year with those students is one way I can try out “doing things differently” and experience a level of success without waiting until next year.

·      I scaled back the number of lessons I was teaching about writing because I realized you can’t teach it all with ONE poem.  Atwell starts the year by having students write several poems in succession.  That is an obvious way to be able to incorporate all of the lessons I know my students need about good writing right away at the start of the year. 


  1. I love hearing all your ideas straight from Atwell. Thanks for the one about two column notes; I will try it. What a great thing to take those inspirations from the DVDs. FYI-one idea-I have used colored file folders with a two hole punch at the top for draft folders. First draft goes first, then next drafts go on top, etc. It keeps everything together, then you can find evidence of revision (as you mentioned) & copy examples when you wish. Students can keep multiple projects going without messing about with keeping papers straight.

  2. Those file folders are a good idea. Right now, I pretty much use staples. I use Atwell's Editing Checksheet and I made a Revising Checksheet to match. Every time students turn in a piece of writing it has one of those two sheets attached with ALL previous drafts stapled to the bottom. When they turn in a final draft it has to have a reflection attached. That way, I always know what to do with the papers that are turned in. This system kind of works, but I don't remember to go back and copy the papers I want. I need to keep some sort of spreadsheet to keep track of what I want to copy.