The Classroom

The Classroom is a podcast by a middle school writing teacher conferring with students about the books they read and issues in writing. The podcast strives to give students a voice about the impact of choice in the classroom and the reality of what works for them in the teaching of reading and writing.
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Dec 4, 2016

The teacher I am supposed to be is a listener, a mentor, a reader, and a writer.

On Monday evening, I participated in a panel in front of pre-service teachers. They asked questions about student teaching and what might be expected from their mentors.

On Thursday evening, I presented to a group of elementary, middle, and high school teachers about the advantages of leveraging digital tools in our conferring.

Yesterday, from 9am - 1pm, I met with colleagues in the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. We wrote. We shared writing. We discussed advocacy. We reported out about upcoming conferences as well as what we learned from recent conferences. We asked questions. We shared ideas.

That is about 7 hours of talking about teaching, reading, and writing. I loved every minute of it. Yet, no matter how rich my personal professional development may be, the most rewarding moments of any week always arise from conversations with students about their reading and writing.

The more I listen, the more deeply I understand the privilege and responsibility of encouraging young writers and the teacher I am supposed to be.

In the conference captured in the podcast below, Ellie, an 8th grader, begins by telling me about her reading life. She is reading Thirteen Reasons Why for pleasure, and Riot for school. She participates in the Reading Olympics and set a personal goal to read every book on the list--not just those assigned to her.


Yet, for as helpful as this information is for me, the conference turns on a dime when I ask a simple question: do you ever get ideas for writing from your reading?


What astonishes me is not what Ellie tells me--I am no longer astonished by the constant stream of students who tell me that they write on their own--rather, I am astonished that so many teachers miss out on this kind of exchange. Making time for conferring is a luxury in many classrooms...and some young, preservice teachers indicate that they do not think much about conferring.

Why do we believe what we believe about being the teachers we are supposed to be? 

Just this week, I met teachers surprised at how well some of my students spoke about reading and writing. I heard others, genuinely absorbed, by the idea that a teacher could confer this much, this well, even when we are "supposed to be teaching."

The common theme I heard from teachers and pre-service teachers this week is that conferring and reading for pleasure (choice) is an extra consideration detached from any goals within a curriculum. Pre-service and veterans alike appear to be...frightened? frozen? standing still? because of our collective American disconnect regarding curriculum.

Too often, teachers are shackled by "things" in a curriculum. Sadly, this neurotic curricular freeze-up blinds us to the significance of the moves our adolescents make as readers and writers. 

Consider Ellie's life outside of school.

Recently, Ellie's friend invited her to a family vacation home. While walking in the woods, her friend shared an idea for a story. Soon, Ellie and her friend started to write together on a Google Doc.

Collaborating on a Google Doc with friends was not a new move for Ellie. Previously, she created digital folders for each of her friends back home, shared them online, and encouraged her friends to share their writing. Some of these friends collaborated on a play together. Some worked on individual pieces of writing.

Ellie discovered collaborating through Google Docs on her own. As a matter of fact, Ellie shared the advantage of using Google Docs with her mother--who happens to be writing a book.

Ellie and her mom each share their writing with one another. 

Mom and daughter mentor one another just as Ellie and her friends mentor one another.

Our students write and read as mentors. They tell me this fact. Every. Single. Time. I ask.

Mentoring writing is the teaching we are supposed to be doing. One big part of mentoring is being alongside our young writers as they talk and share.

I take my cue regarding the teacher I am supposed to be from the conversations with my students. Conferring tells us more about reading and writing more than any curriculum document yet written.