being a student, being a teacher, building community, new year, writing, Writing Identity

Updated: Using Oral Storytelling Kits/Loose Parts with Middle Schoolers

I wrote this blog post last year, what follows is an updated version of it in case you are interested in loose parts or storytelling kits with older students. Scroll down to see the update.

A few years ago I traveled to do a day of learning with passionate educators in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in British Columbia. After flight cancellations and changes in airports, Denise Upton, one of the district’s helping teachers, graciously agreed to pick me up and take care of me during the stay. While together, she told me excitedly about Story Workshop, oral storytelling grounded within playful literacy, that they were doing with children as part of their literacy approach. She shared all of the work that they did with students in order to give them natural materials to manipulate and create stories with before they ever sat down to write. She spoke of Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and how they were working on bringing the rich traditions of the peoples’ whose land their school buildings sat on and whose tribal members were within their school population back into the classrooms as a way to honor, teach, and preserve a broader envisioning of writing I was inspired and intrigued. Particularly, after she told me how they were using these material kits with their upper grade levels as well and that the response they had was incredibly positive. After a whirlwind visit, the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while, hoping to someday become something I wanted to do with my own 7th graders.

Well, after a year of teaching unlike any other, after too much screen and not enough togetherness. After once again teaching kids who repeatedly told me how much they hated writing, how writing was so hard, whose sentences were forced across the pages, I decided that someday was now. With a commitment to reconsider every unit and every idea we build our classroom learning on, taking our writing in a much more tactile and playful direction was exactly what I need right now to get excited about next school year. Hopefully, my incoming students will think so as well.

So with a loose idea of what it was Denise had shared with me, the seeds started to grow; what if I build some oral storytelling kits for kids to use in partnerships, trios, or by themselves before we begin to write? What if I collect natural materials for them to manipulate and play with as they share stories from their own lives and also from their imaginations? Surely someone had done this before?

The answer is yes, many have! None of my ideas shared here are really original but I got so many questions on social media when I shared the kits I was building that I figured a blog post would be nice. If you are learning about Indigenous storytelling, there are so many wonderful resources shared, such as this one. If you google “Loose Parts”, you can see a lot of information. If you follow the work of Angela Stockman, she has been sharing so many ideas for years and is truly inspirational. If you are trained within Montessori, you know this work. If you know Reggio Emilia principles, then you know these ideas. If you have worked with younger grades, you probably do this already. There are so many resources out there, so dig in and learn.

My purpose for these kits is to get kids talking more before they write out stories, whether they be stories from their own lives or stories they invent. I want them to build scenes or entire stories together or individually depending on the exploration we are doing. I want them to play with their imagination and ot be forced into written production as quickly as we have done in the past, I want them to build community through story, I want them use their hands more. I want English to have more joy and I want it to authentically fit into the identity-centered work we already do in our literacy explorations.

Building the Kits

I had a million ideas right away and needed a way to ground them so I started by focusing on ideas for what to put in them and also building the kits to give me a more tangible sense of what it would look like. I hate so much that educators are almost always forced to purchase things out of their own pocket, so I spent school budget money to purchase the toolboxes. I bought two different kinds, five altogether, so that I can share them between tables – I typically teach 28 students at a time, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough kits to share materials between 10 different groups if need be. I also needed the kits to not take up too much space in our classroom, be easy to store and move, as well as have different size compartments. The first kind I bought was this one and the second kind was this one.

All the boxes are removable in both kits so we can spread them out on the different tables as needed.

Once I had the boxes, then I got more serious with my materials. I had a few guidelines I wanted to follow:

  • Natural materials whenever possible
  • Different sizes of things to use
  • Material that doesn’t necessarily look like “one” thing in order for them to be used for many things
  • Low cost and easy to replace

Then I wrote a list, there are so many lists floating on the internet but I posted mine to Instagram and got even more ideas as well as a huge “Duh!” moment. Notice on my original list, I have nuts on it. That is not going to work at all for some of my students due to their allergies. After a helpful educator made me see the light, I updated my original list.

I knew that if I felt like spending a ton of money, I easily could just order all of these things but I don’t want to. So, instead I turned to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and asked if anyone had any materials they could donate. So what you are looking at in the kits above, almost everything is donated from kind strangers or friends who happened to have materials lying around. Amazing!

So right now in the kits I have:

  • Seashells, all sorts, all sizes.
  • Pine cones – I need to gather more.
  • Small popsicle sticks – they are pointy and I don’t know if I love that.
  • Wine corks that do not have wine labels on them.
  • Small cork buttons.
  • Wood buttons – I bought a giant bag off the internet.
  • Wool yarn in different colors – I have cut lengths of string in a variety of lengths.
  • White rocks.
  • Feathers – I think I may add more of these.
  • Glass beads.
  • Slices of wood.

I also purchased felt mats in green, gray, and brown for the kids to use as a background. They can use more than one if we have enough left over, again I went with natural tones as a way to center us in nature even if the story takes place in a different setting.

Things I would still like to add:

  • Beach pebbles for more color
  • More cork
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Acorns
  • Large popsicle sticks

Ideas for use

So while the kits themselves are a lovely work in progress and bring me happiness right now as I plan, what matters more than the stuff in them is making space for them to be used with our students. So as I planned for the first two weeks of instruction (I do this in order to be able to walk away for a while, not because I want to work all summer), I planned with the kits in mind.

My two-week plan can be viewed here, but please know that it is so much a work in progress, that some of the ideas in it are my own, and others are based on the incredible work others have kindly shared, and that I have given credit to those whose work I am borrowing from or copying. Please feel free to also borrow or use my ideas, just give credit. The kits will be utilized, hopefully, on the third day of school in an activity where students continue to think of the stories they carry and start to build scenes from their own lives that they then, in turn, share with their peers at their tables. After their initial appearance, they will continue to be integrated into our work as we start our first longer writing exploration; personal narrative. Students can use events from their own lives or springboard events from their own lives into a fictional story.

I also want us to think of how the kits may help us work within the emotions we have tied up with our writing, how we can use them to go deeper into story and how stories can weave us together even when we don’t see eye to eye. I am hoping that as we explore our own identities and how that makes us view and react to others, these tangible items will ground us and make us feel safer within our burgeoning community. I am hoping that having these tactile explorations will bring more playfulness into our classroom, as well as more joy. We will also create expectations of how to use the kits with each other. My main focus for that is to be respectful of the material and of what is shared within their stories, but I will ask the students to also think of how to use the materials, how to clean up in order to preserve the kits, and how to work together. It really all ties into the community work we do throughout the year.

My own children helped me eagerly build the kits and have since then also used them. It has been amazing to see them build scenes, stories, and whole worlds using just these materials and then walking me through their stories that they now see so clearly. Even my son who has repeatedly that he hates writing has been using the kits and telling me his stories. I hope I will see the same willingness to try in my 7th graders.

Update

I rolled these kits out with students a few times and the results were mixed. Some LOVED them and jumped right in building scenes, drafting stories, and using them to get their imagination flowing. Others not so much, they played with the materials after a while and built embankments and such (yes, even in 7th grade). But you know what, that actually makes sense to me; some kids will love storytelling this way, others will not. Much like we explore different ways to draft, this then became another choice for it.

And for some kids they allowed a freedom they hadn’t felt in a while as they sat in front of screens, so as I think of rolling them out next year; they will be a choice, not a force as so many other things are in our classroom. Not meant to be yet another way to force kids into a specific mold of what a writer is, but instead offering them ways to discover how they write best. How they would like to play with words and story. I will also dive a little further into how we care for the materials, most were kind to the things, a few had to be reminded. That all comes down to the make up of our classes and the energy the students bring into our space.

Ideas for use

A few ways you can use kits like these:

  • Draft your story, scene, or storyline
  • Poetry creation
  • Introduce yourself
  • Partner story creating
  • Summarizing a read-aloud, article, or other media
  • Create scenes to then act out
  • One child creates a scene, the other writes the story without knowing what is but just based off of the components shown

Even with mixed success, they are still exciting to me. They offer us more hands-on opportunities, more ways to use oral storytelling before jumping into typing or handwriting, and also offer us a way to create build community; stories bind us together and trusting each other with our stories is powerful.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

choices, picture books, Reading, writing

Our Epic Nonfiction Picture Book Project – Take 3

When I first moved to 7th grade eight years ago, one of the first projects we created was the writing of a nonfiction picture book. We wanted a project that was filled with choice, accessible for many developmental stages, that connected us with the world, and also honored students’ creative desires and voices. We did it for a few years, then our curriculum changed and we moved from this to TED talks instead, a project I still love. But this year, it felt right to bring it back and after conferring with my students, they agreed. They told me they would love to have a chance to express themselves creatively to audiences around the world, to explore topics of their choosing, and also play with formatting, rather than write another speech.

The entire unit lesson plan for the project can be found here but note that updating it is still a work in progress.

The goal of the project is rather simple; create a 25 to 35 slide/page nonfiction picture book meant for a 1st or 2nd-grade audience on anything nonfiction you wish to write about.  Throughout this project we have been able to successfully marry tech tools with writing, as well as use Google Meet, Padlet, Twitter, and other interactive tools.

Why this project?  Because within it we have been able to work on:

  • How to take organized notes in a way that works for them. Students develop their own note taking tools, with help from me, rather than be forced to take notes one signle way.
  • How to write a paragraph and all of the myriads of lessons that are attached to that.
  • Grammar!  Spelling!  Punctuation!
  • How to find legal images.
  • How to cite sources, including images, books, and websites.
  • How to uncover reliable sources (yes, there is a place for Wikipedia in our research) and discuss why somethng may or not be reliable.
  • How to consider bias and tie that in with reliability.
  • How to search the internet better.
  • How to conduct market research using Google Meet to ask the intended audience what they want to read and how they want to read it.
  • How to rewrite research in our own words, quote, paraphrase and summarize.
  • How to do design and layout on a page to make it inviting.
  • How to create good questions.
  • Exploring our own interests.
  • How to write assessment rubrics.
  • How to work as a peer mentor group.
  • How to monitor self-engagement.

So a few details about the project:

  • This is a 3-week long project, anchored by a 10 or so minute mini-lessons every day and then work time the rest of class.
  • Mini-lessons have centered around features of nonfiction, how to take notes ( I showed them several different ways as well as had examples of how actual acthors take their notes), how to research in a way that works for your project, how to find reliable sources (review) and discuss why they might be reliable, how to write paragraphs, how to rewrite information, and anything else we have had to address.
  • Students were able to ask questions to 1st and 2nd graders via Google Meet to do market research, and incorporate that feedback into their project. This was vital because it changed a lot of kids’ interesest, topics, and also their process. Shout out to the 4 awesome classroom who gave up their time!
  • I am using this blog and Facebook to find classrooms that will assess the final product.  If you would like to be one, please fill out this Google form. Your class can read as many as you have time for and leave us feedback via a very simple Google form.
  • Students create their books in Google Slides for easy access for all , as well as easy design and layout. They are also given the option to use WriteReader if they would like it to look more like a traditional book.

Changes for this year:

Studying Nonfiction Before we Dive In

I am grateful for the work of Melissa Stewart and other nonfiction authors, who have graciously shared phenomenal work when it comes to understanding, appreciating, and creating this genre of books. Using read aloud and student exploration of texts allowed us to make broad decisions about the type of book we want to write, and also have a common foundation that we can refer to. I cannot speak enough to the power of mentor texts, shared reading experiences, and also finding yet another way to broaden the historical world knowledge students have.

The Peer Mentor Group.

Students have been in their peer mentor groups for a week now. They chose one partner and I then partnered up with another partnership where necessary.  Groups are between 2 and 4 people are used extensively throughout the project both formally and informally. We know that writing carries a lot of emotions and so it is important for kids to get to choose who sees their writing and helps them through the messy draft stages. While I have formal things they do together as a group embedded throughout our time, many kids also sit with their groups and work alongside each other as the days go by.

A Dedicated Mentor Text

Every student has selected a nonfiction picture book whose flow and design they want to emulate. Having a physical text to glance through as they think of their own creative decisions has made the project more tangible and manageable for many because they can see what they can do. I also have my own sample picture book that they can glance through.

May be an image of book and text

Inquiry Questions

We have been focused on different inquiry questions throughout the year and this unit is no different. We have three for this unit that we are trying to answer:

  • How do we engage a reader? 
  • How do we write engaging nonfiction?
  • How do we pass information onto younger people?

Mentor Texts:

I was asked if I would share a list of mentor texts we are using and while I don’t mind pulling one together at all, the most important part for me has been to pull as many types of nonfiction picture books as possible. So not only do we have amazing narrative nonfiction, but also books that fall under the other four categories of nonfiction as explained by Melissa Stewart. Our awesome library aide pulled me fun recipe books, how-to books, traditional nonfiction books too so don’t forget to partner (again!) with your librarian staff.

May be an image of book

We used two amazing books by Traci Sorrell as our mentor texts in our continued focus on Indigenous Peoples in our year together. We read these together, discussed text features, and also look at how facts were embedded throughout. Take some time to carefully select which books you want to center in your instruction as this is another way to bring in conversations about power, privilege, and structures meant to keep people in place, as well as often overlooked history.

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace  Engineer by Traci Sorell, Natasha Donovan, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
We Are Still Here! by Traci Sorell: 9781623541927 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Be Our Readers! (Please)

If you would like to receive some of our finished picture books to give feedback on and you teach 3rd grade or younger, please fill out the form.  Picture books will be shared in a few weeks via email and links to our folders and you will have a few weeks to provide the feedback. Feedback consists of filling in a Google form.

The entire unit lesson plan for the project can be found here but note that updating it is still a work in progress.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me coach, collaborate with your teachers, or speak at your conference, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.

being a student, being a teacher, Student, student choice, writing, Writing Identity

Using Oral Storytelling Kits with Middle Schoolers

A few years ago I traveled to do a day of learning with passionate educators in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in British Columbia. After flight cancellations and changes in airports, Denise Upton, one of the district’s helping teachers, graciously agreed to pick me up and take care of me during the stay. While together, she told me excitedly about Story Workshop, oral storytelling grounded within playful literacy, that they were doing with children as part of their literacy approach. She shared all of the work that they did with students in order to give them natural materials to manipulate and create stories with before they ever sat down to write. She spoke of Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and how they were working on bringing the rich traditions of the peoples’ whose land their school buildings sat on and whose tribal members were within their school population back into the classrooms as a way to honor, teach, and preserve a broader envisioning of writing I was inspired and intrigued. Particularly, after she told me how they were using these material kits with their upper grade levels as well and that the response they had was incredibly positive. After a whirlwind visit, the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while, hoping to someday become something I wanted to do with my own 7th graders.

Well, after a year of teaching unlike any other, after too much screen and not enough togetherness. After once again teaching kids who repeatedly told me how much they hated writing, how writing was so hard, whose sentences were forced across the pages, I decided that some day was now. With a commitment to reconsider every unit and every idea we build our classroom learning on, taking our writing in a much more tactile and playful direction was exactly what I need right now to get excited about next school year. Hopefully, my incoming students will think so as well.

So with a loose idea of what it was Denise had shared with me, the seeds started to grow; what if I build some oral storytelling kits for kids to use in partnerships, trios, or by themselves before we begin to write? What if I collect natural materials for them to manipulate and play with as they share stories from their own lives and also from their imaginations? Surely someone had done this before?

The answer is yes, many have! None of my ideas shared here are really original but I got so many questions on social media when I shared the kits I was building that I figured a blog post would be nice. If you are learning about Indigenous storytelling, there are so many wonderful resources shared, such as this one. If you google “Loose Parts”, you can see a lot of information. If you follow the work of Angela Stockman, she has been sharing so many ideas for years and is truly inspirational. If you are trained within Montessori, you know this work. If you know Reggio Emilia principles, then you know these ideas. If you have worked with younger grades, you probably do this already. There are so many resources out there, so dig in and learn.

My purpose for these kits are to get kids talking more before they write out stories, whether they be stories from their own lives or stories they invent. I want them to build scenes or entire stories together or individually depending on the exploration we are doing. I want them to play with their imagination and ot be forced into written production as quickly as we have done in the past, I want them to build community through story, I want them use their hands more. I want English to have more joy and I want it to authentically fit into the identity-centered work we already do in our literacy explorations.

Building the Kits

I had a million ideas right away and needed a way to ground them so I started by focusing on ideas for what to put in them and also building the kits to give me a more tangible sense of what it would look like. I hate so much that educators are almost always forced to purchase things out of their own pocket, so I spent school budget money to purchase the toolboxes. I bought two different kinds, five altogether, so that I can share them between tables – I typically teach 28 students at a time, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough kits to share materials between 10 different groups if need be. I also needed the kits to not take up too much space in our classroom, be easy to store and move, as well as have different size compartments. The first kind I bought was this one and the second kind was this one.

All the boxes are removable in both kits so we can spread them out on the different tables as needed.

Once I had the boxes, then I got more serious with my materials. I had a few guidelines I wanted to follow:

  • Natural materials whenever possible
  • Different sizes of things to use
  • Material that doesn’t necessarily look like “one” thing in order for them to be used for many things
  • Low cost and easy to replace

Then I wrote a list, there are so many lists floating on the internet but I posted mine to Instagram and got even more ideas as well as a huge “Duh!” moment. Notice on my original list, I have nuts on it. That is not going to work at all for some of my students due to their allergies. After a helpful educator made me see the light, I updated my original list.

I knew that if I felt like spending a ton of money, I easily could just order all of these things but I don’t want to. So, instead I turned to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and asked if anyone had any materials they could donate. So what you are looking at in the kits above, almost everything is donated from kind strangers or friends who happened to have materials lying around. Amazing!

So right now in the kits I have:

  • Seashells, all sorts, all sizes.
  • Pine cones – I need to gather more.
  • Small popsicle sticks – they are pointy and I don’t know if I love that.
  • Wine corks that do not have wine labels on them.
  • Small cork buttons.
  • Wood buttons – I bought a giant bag off the internet.
  • Wool yarn in different colors – I have cut lengths of string in a variety of lengths.
  • White rocks.
  • Feathers – I think I may add more of these.

I also purchased felt mats in green, gray, and brown for the kids to use as a background. They can use more than one if we have enough left over, again I went with natural tones as a way to center us in nature even if the story takes place in a different setting.

Things I would still like to add:

  • Glass beads of some sort
  • Beach pebbles for more color
  • More cork
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Wood slices
  • Acorns
  • Large popsicle sticks

Ideas for use

So while the kits themsleves are a lovely work in progress and bring me happiness right now as I plan, what matters more than the stuff in them is making space for them to be used with our students. So as I planned for the first two weeks of instruction (I do this in order to be able to walk away for awhile, not because I want to work all summer), I planned with the kits in mind.

My two week plan can be viewed here, but please know that it is so much a work in progress, that some of the ideas in it are my own and others are based off of the incredible work others have kindly shared, and that I have given credit to those whose work I am borrowing from or copying. Please feel free to also borrow or use my ideas, just give credit. The kits will be utilized, hopefully, on the third day of school in an activity where students continue to think of the stories they carry and start to build scenes from their own lives that they then, in turn, share with their peers at their tables. After their initial appearance, they will continue to be integrated into our work as we start our first longer writing exploration; personal narrative. Students can use events from their own lives or springboard events from their own lives into a fictional story.

I also want us to think of how the kits may help us work within the emotions we have tied up with our writing, how we can use them to go deeper into story and how stories can weave us together even when we don’t see eye to eye. I am hoping that as we explore our own identities and how that makes us view and react to others, these tangible items will ground us and make us feel safer within our burgeoning community. I am hoping that having these tactile explorations will bring more playfulness into our classroom, as well as more joy. We will also create expectations of how to use the kits with each other. My main focus for that is to be respectful of the material and of what is shared within their stories, but I will ask the students to also think of how to use the materials, how to clean up in order to preserve the kits, and how to work together. It really all ties into the community work we do throughout the year.

My own children helped me eagerly build the kits and have since then also used them. It has been amazing to see them build scenes, stories, and whole worlds using just these materials and then walking me through their stories that they now see so clearly. Even my son who has repeatedly that he hates writing has been using the kits and telling me his stories. I hope I will see the same willingness to try in my 7th graders.

So there you have, my entry in oral storytelling kits. I will share more ideas as I use them with students, but for now, the kits are being built, the ideas are coming together, and the work is just beginning. Have you used kits like this before? Do you have any ideas or questions? I would love to hear your thoughts.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher, writing

Teaching Inauguration Poetry

We have been sinking into poetry the last few weeks, discovering found word poetry and trying to decide what poetry really is. We have read and listened to poetry. We have created black out poetry, book spine poetry, traffic sign poetry, song lyric poetry, terrible love poetry and now we sink into inauguration poetry.

We will sit in the beautiful words of Amanda Gorman from the poem she recied today “The Hill We Climb” and we will use it to start analyzing poetry in discussion groups, seeing what impacts us, what brings the words power, what makes them more than just a gathered collection of thoughts.

I know many others are also looking for ideas for how to bring this historical moment into their classrooms so I share my lesson slides for tomorrow in order for others to maybe use and make their own. There are two versions here, one focused on Amanda Gorman (note: at the time of this share her poem’s text has not been released so I am working off a transcript), one focused on Richard Blanco that I made before today.

contest, writing

Contest: Win a Copy of Give This Book a Title!

One of my favorite book releases this year is from the brilliant and generous Jarrett Lerner, “Give this Book a Title” . Since the pandemic shut us down he has been a major giver, inspiring many to kickstart our creativity with drawing and writing prompts, confidence boosting lessons and ideas, and general awesomeness. As I shared on Instagram, I can’t get over the brilliance of this book.

This book begs to be used with kids (and adults) as we search for ways to help kids draw, write, inspire, and feel like they can add value to the world. With more than 100 activities, you are sure to find something that you can use with your students as we continue to engage with writing, drawing, and playing with words.

As the blurb says, “This collection of fun, open-ended writing and drawing prompts will challenge kids to think and create in new ways with every turn of a page. In the Finish This Comic section, young writers are inspired to write and illustrate a six-panel story. Following How to Draw instructions will encourage kids to find their own drawing styles. Every fun activity and silly prompt will keep young readers engaged and entertained!”

So imagine my surprise when a whole stack of these amazing books showed up at my house yesterday! Turns out Jarrett Lerner thought that perhaps the world could use a few more copies and I couldn’t agree more. So, I have five copies to give away of this incredible book four to educators in the US and one to the rest of the world (I am paying for shipping, thus the wonky numbers). All you have to do to enter is leave a comment (make sure you add your email when you enter it so I can contact you) and let me know what you would use this amazing book for. The contest will run from today to lille juleaften which for all you non-Danes is December 23rd at 8 PM CST.

I cannot wait for more amazing creations to happen because of this great new book but if you don’t win, you should order it!

being a teacher, new year, writing, Writing Identity

A Simple Sheet for Writing Conferences

I have been thinking a lot about writing, about all of the emotions tied in with what we write, with the bravado and the behavior that sometimes plays out when we ask kids, and at times even adults, to write. The armor. The resistance. The change. The hope. But only for a moment.

I have been thinking a lot about writing because it is something I discuss often with other adults when we share the things we wish we would have known a long time ago, the things we are just discovering. The things we wish we could figure out.

I have been thinking a lot about how despite having spent nearly seven weeks with these new students, I still feel I don’t know them well. I know snippets, small moments, glimpses of their story, but not enough, not now, not yet. How when we discuss their writing they sometimes don’t have the words to express what they need, or the trust. How we have all of these conversations about their writing but what they really are about is their identity, how they see themselves in the world. How they want the world to view them.

And I want to remember it all but I can’t. And I want to remember it all but I won’t, despite trying. Because while I am 100% focused in the moment, I often forget the details after they walk away because in front of me is a new person who needs my undivided attention, who deserves all of me.

So in order to help me remember, inspired by the discussions I am having with other adults and the kids themselves, I created a writing conference sheet. A simple sheet that perhaps will help me center my work a little more in order to be able to pick up the thread the next time we discuss their writing. A simple sheet that will allow me to gather some of the many thoughts kids share with me as I get to know them and help me consider how I can help them grow. Perhaps you would like to use it as well?

A partial view of the sheet.

A simple explanation of the first few boxes follows…

The top box is for the first time I meet with them after they have filled in their writing survey.

Writing + = What do they like about writing

Writing – = What do they not like

Goal = The goal they are currently working on as a writer

Why = What made them set this goal

Last year = What was their experience last year with writing and how did they feel about writing?

You as a writer = How do they view themselves as a writer

Hard about writing = What do they still find hard about writing

The second box is for each time we confer after that about their writing and so it allows me to record what we discussed – I always ask students to lead the conversation – as well as what their challenge and progress has been. Then I wanted space to reflect on what I see as their strengths and goals areas for the current piece, as well as writing overall.

I am starting to use it this week and I cannot wait to see how it will deepen the conversations we have about their writing and how it will help me be a better teacher of writing for them. Isn’t that what so much of teaching is really about?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.