In today's episode, I share a recent example of conferring with student. I had no idea where the conversation would lead as I opened with a very simple question that I learned by reading Carl Anderson--How's it Going? and Mark Overmeyer--Let's Talk.
Gemma started things by noting that she had four essays in development and that she struggled a bit with the placement of her writer's purpose in each. Leaning on a model by Annie Dillard, Gemma shared what she was trying to accomplish and then dug deeper into her struggles in her writing.
From there, we discussed her organization moves and that lead to a revelation that, for me, is the highlight of the conference. Gemma shared that she doesn't necessary think about organization even though she is aware she is making moves to organize her writing.
While many of these episodes are roundtable conversations over lunch, I hope to continue to share more episodes like there--my letting you peek in on our conferring. Please feel free to leave me feedback about what you like in the episodes and what you would like to hear more of.
In today's episode, two students chose Jandy Nelson's YA novel "The Sky is Everywhere for discussion. While we touch on why they read the book, conversation focuses on the decisions and struggles encountered by the main character, Lennie.
My students share that they connect with Lennie. Lennie's weaknesses are, in part, their weaknesses. What interests me, as their teacher, is how this age group is just beginning to find (and prefer) edgy, mature content in their books...and how students are finding solace in these sobering characters.
Of course, I appreciate their choice of "The Sky is Everywhere" because Lennie writes to wrestle with her grief. I love the compassion my students express for Lennie's struggle, and I am pleasantly surprised to hear each share a slight little secret...they each have a private place to write too, when life gets them down and they need to vent and let something go.
As my students note, sometimes we need a new alphabet, a new way of expressing ourselves, in order to understand the good and the bad in the world around us.
Initially, we were going to talk about Organization in writing, but then something happened before I started recording. We started talking about painting. Kathryn has been painting for herself at home, and Bryce noted that he has wanted to, but he feels that he isn't very good at it. So, he didn't try.
I hit "Record" because I felt immediate connections to what happens to some adolescents with writing. Something leads students to believe they are not good at "it"... so they abandon it.
This talk explores what moves young writers, painters, runners, and ballplayers. What motivates students to get better? It is so interesting to me to hear Bryce talk about baseball, and to hear Kathryn talk about running. I know they feel a joy for these activities. And, as Kathryn talked about painting, I heard that same joy...today was the first day that I learned that Kathryn enjoyed painting.
Side note: getting to know my students is priceless when it comes to becoming a better writing teacher.
As the discussion moves to its end, I learn what has moved these two students to speak with the same comfort about writing...and what has blocked that ability.
Two students relate how they work with Organization, one of the Six Traits of Writing. While each shares slightly different paths towards an understanding of Organization, both students agree that talking about Organization in their writing comprises a significant percentage of what they talk about when they talk about writing with peers.
My interest, in this episode, is listening for key words. Do these students know how to talk about specific leads, specific structures, specific transitions, or specific conclusions. If students are able to talk about writing, I have confidence that that knowledge will soon be impacting their writing. I firmly believe that the practice of talking about writing is as meaningful as the writing itself--not in lieu of writing, don't get me wrong, but talking about writing in addition to the writing that we do. The practice of talking about writing is a significant step towards growth and moving writers towards an improved product.
I walk away from this conversation with a better understanding of what I need to continue to model. However, I find myself surprised and pleased (again) that students keep drawing my energy back to just how much they feel confined by the structures blanketed upon students and their writing. Our students continue to seize the opportunity to tell me what matters to them when it comes to writing.
Elementary students (4th and 5th grade) discuss the award-winning picture book Last Stop on Market Street. Personal connections and the examination of various text features highlight a fifteen-minute conversation. During the course of the roundtable discussion, the students dig into several types of decisions made by strong readers.
Teachers and parents of young children might enjoy the depth of the connections made by these readers. Additionally, as the host, I try to allow the students the room to talk and share their perspectives. The conversation isn't about any right answer as much as it is about the joy of talking about books.
By the time I get kids like these four in the 8th grade, many state that they have lost the love of reading. They point to stress and homework. They report a loss of time. By the time children grow into adolescence, they report not knowing how to find time to read.
Clearly, listening to these four students, children love reading. I hope that these four come and see me in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade and report that they still love reading...and share the books that they have loved along the way.
Two students explain where their confidence comes from as writers. Spandel's Six Traits of Writing (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions) are highlighted. Once again, students recognize that they loved to write as children, but the demands and pressures of school and extracurricular activities pushes writing for oneself, for joy and growth, to the back burner.
Two students explain why they prefer fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian literature. Along the way, we explore the presence of joy in their reading lives...and what impact on some important decisions that joy could influence.
The music is the poem Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns and s performed by Ben Smith.