Thursday, May 31, 2018

Noticing is a Courageous Verb by Crystal Kelley

Noticing is a courageous verb. It lends itself to looking at the world with fresh eyes, to contemplate surroundings and experiences, and to discovery.  Noticing slows us down, allows our eyes to shift from focused to out of focus, without pressure or anxiety. There are no expectations with noticing--except the act of looking.  Noticing possesses great power; it allows us to be in the moment, without judgment, and vulnerable.

The problem is, I have to constantly be reminded to notice.

My notebook absorbs my noticings. When I take time to notice, I observe more, and there’s more material with which to work as a writer. I love to return to these notes and sketches, to study and to question. When I do remember to share my process with students, my vulnerability shows, and students see me as a writer. I become a novice again. This creates a space where we learn alongside one another--a space for writers.

It’s not easy to remember to notice.  At times, our minds are muddled with everything else we expect ourselves to pay attention to.  I definitely am guilty of getting caught up in the ongoing noise that surrounds us as teachers of writers. Noticing takes work. When I notice along with my students, they begin to notice, too. I’ve discovered that when students revisit these noticings throughout the year--they realize that they are real writers.

The magic that “noticing” wields:

  • students judge themselves less during our sacred time with the page
  • when we notice what glimmers on the page, excitement is a wildfire
  • conferences with students become the heartbeat of our workshop
  • our revision is more focused and less overwhelming
  • one word, one phrase, can lead us to our next powerful piece
  • taking risks with writing is what we do (not what we avoid)
  • Our focus can shift to the big picture: we are ever-evolving as individual writers

Noticing is courageous in that it helps us see we are novices all over again when we approach the page.  I notice when I allow myself as a writer to be raw in the classroom, this empowers students. It takes practice--this noticing.

Crystal Kelley is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has taught there, in Syracuse, New York, and now in San Marcos, Texas.  She currently learns alongside her 9th and 10th grade English and AVID students.  She is a teacher consultant with the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University, an affiliate of the National Writing Project.  In 2016, she was named Region 13’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. When Crystal is not doing teacherly things, she is playing outdoors with her three kids, squeezing in time to write, and cooking with her husband. Find Crystal @cryskelley9 on Twitter and student writing at

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

I’ve Noticed Writing Makes Me a Better Teacher by Andrea Marshbank

“It’s too hard.”
“I can’t think of anything to say.”
“I’m just not a writer.”

These are the comments I hear when my students are faced with writing. I’m not alone. From elementary to secondary, all teachers have encountered distraught students who felt defeated when their writing did not come easily.

Unsurprisingly, the challenges of writing are not limited to students. I’ve noticed that even I have similar moments of doubt when I begin my writing process. Frustration can plague me to the point that I strongly consider simply shutting my laptop and walking away. Usually, I can find the strength to persevere. And the next day, after I have experienced the same irritation with my writing that my students are encountering, I can talk to them honestly about the difficulties of the writing process.

We share a common experience: Writing is hard.

In the process of sharing the struggle of writing, we also work past it. The conversation changes: “It’s okay that the words aren’t coming easily, that’s something Ms. Marshbank deals with, too.” Well, perhaps my students don’t say exactly that, but they certainly think it.

When I’m writing, I’m a better teacher of writing. Not because I’m a ‘good’ writer or because my curriculum is special or because I’m doing anything different—but because I am empathetic towards  my students as they figure out how tough it is to get words on paper.

Andrea Marshbank is a ninth grade English teacher in Kansas. She is a Teacher Consultant for the National Writing Project, a Kansas Horizon Award Nominee, and a blended learning educator. Her students are writers, readers, and leaders. Follow her on Twitter at @msmarshbank and read her blog at 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

It's Not Too Late by Alexis Teevens

I’m noticing that I have let myself get bogged down by the difficulty of teaching writing. There are so many people out there who are excited about trying new things, while I feel stuck.

My first reaction to new ideas is resistance. That’s usually how I feel at this time of year. It feels close to the end, but not that close. I’m a little tired, and my kids are a lot tired. The weather is nice, and it feels hard to sit in a classroom full of sweaty middle schoolers.

It feels even harder to double down on writing instruction. The allure of an extra party or a few more minutes outside is hard to resist.

I’m noticing that as I write this, I needed to use repetition to help me get my ideas flowing. I needed to write disjointed paragraphs and skip around and double back, and I wish my kids could see more of that process so that they would feel more comfortable writing in all directions instead of just linearly. I wish I knew how to teach them with more fluidity, even though I feel a little paralyzed by the need to meet the needs of 28 students at once.

But, while I’m feeling down on myself for my pessimism, I see the hope for the positive.

These are always the first feelings of change for me. The feelings of seeking out new ideas, even if I don’t want to admit that they might work at first. The desire to avoid change, but the stubbornness to fight that desire and try something crazy anyway. The acceptance that there is a whole lot I don’t know, and the relief in realizing that there are people who have the ideas when I’m ready to find them.

May feels late in the year, but I’m also noticing that it’s not too late for something new.

Alexis Teevens is a 7th grade English and social studies teacher in East Boston, MA. She’s about to finish up her 5th year in the classroom, and she feels increasingly humbled and entertained by her kids. She just finished a Master’s in Special Education, so she’s looking forward to having more time next year to explore teaching interests outside of a graduate school program. Alexis is excited to start connecting with more teachers on Twitter (@lexteevens), and maybe after this experience, she’ll pull the trigger and start a blog. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

I've Noticed by Jennifer Haylett

I pulled my pocket mirror from my bag, checked my hair, checked my teeth, and talked out loud during this ‘reflection’ session. Then, I heard the giggles, and, “What are you doing Ms. Haylett?” So, I explained. I was checking my reflection. Checking for what looked good and checking for what I needed to fix. “What?” was the next question. I went on to explain how writers notice what they do well, and also notice what they can do better in the next piece. They reflect, like when they check their reflection in the mirror. At the conclusion of the lesson, and as these young writers began to reflect, I began to reflect on what I’ve noticed during our Writer’s Workshop this year. Three thoughts flooded my mind: growth, bravery, and love.

In these young writers, I’ve noticed scribbles turn to lines, lines turn to shapes, and shapes turn to pictures. I’ve noticed simple pictures turn to detailed pictures, letters turn to words, and words turn to sentences. I’ve noticed sentences evolve into books. I’ve noticed simple partner talk turn into helpful writing talk, and simple reflections turn to amazing discoveries about writing. I’ve noticed the seed I planted on day one, has grown into an amazing plant.

In these young writers, I’ve noticed bravery. I’ve noticed their ears eagerly listen to my teaching point, and their eyes intently stare at the writing I model daily. I’ve noticed their pens and pencils bravely make attempts at the strategy I so enthusiastically asked each one to try. I’ve noticed their willingness to take risks. I’ve noticed their amazing bravery.

In these young writers, I’ve noticed love. I’ve noticed smiles and happiness. I’ve noticed proud eyes and excited faces. I’ve noticed stories and lives and passions. I’ve noticed them! I’ve noticed the LOVE I have….for THEM!

Jennifer Haylett is  a Kindergarten teacher in South Florida. She has been teaching young readers and writers for thirteen years. She is passionate about developmentally appropriate curriculums, reading, writing, and kindness. She loves to camp, run, and hang out with her family. You can find her blog at, and on Twitter at @jhaylett16.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Notice What You Need to Feed Your Writing Life by Erin Vogler

I am a better everything: wife, dog mom, teacher, friend, colleague, reader; when I write.

This is something I know in the deepest parts of me.  I have also come to notice that I am a better writer when I regularly take time to care for myself.  For me, this means taking advantage of the beautiful hiking trails in my (finally) green and lush corner of the world. It means time on my yoga mat where breath and movement become one, and I allow all of the stressors that are part of life and teaching to scatter with each deep inhale and exhale. Often, it is the simple joy of grabbing a great book and heading out to my porch or gazebo and escaping into someone else’s world while I allow mine to fall away for an hour or two.

The end of the school year is upon us. This is a time when we get caught up in the rush of all the things we need to do, the places we need to be, the to do list never seems to end.  I notice that this is the time of year when I often feel so busy that I make myself believe I don’t have time for that hike, mat time, or to escape with a great book.

When I’m not taking care of myself, holding myself accountable for taking and savoring that down time, I don’t write often.  Sometimes not at all.  Looking back at old notebooks, I notice that many of them have a gap that begins somewhere around May 1st and ends once I’ve embarked on summer vacation in late June.  It is no coincidence that I am more stressed, less focused, and have a much more difficult time processing and dealing with new information during that two month stretch. I’m not practicing the things that help me do that well: self-care and writing.

I’ve challenged myself to do better this season. To notice the importance of finding joy, space, and peace, even for a few minutes each day. To notice how that time leads me to more focused and insightful writing, writing that makes me proud and that I am proud to share with others.  I am a better everything when I write, and I am a better writer when I take care of myself by taking time to breathe deeply and celebrate the things that feed my soul.

I challenge you to do the same.  You won’t be sorry.

Erin Vogler is in the final weeks (seven to be exact) of her 18th year of teaching at Keshequa Middle/High School in the Genesee Valley in Western New York. She has taught grades 7-12, and is currently reading and writing beside 8th and 10th graders. Erin is working on becoming a more consistent writer who shares her thoughts on teaching, reading, and writing at You can also find her on Twitter @vogler3024 and Instagram @mrsvogler3024.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Looking Closely and Noticing by Pam Taylor

As a “lifer” in Kindergarten, I’ve learned to look closely at the world around me. I look closely when I am observing 4 and 5 year olds in their play. I teach students to look closely at natural materials. I ask them to notice the finer points of their structures and look for ways to improve what they have built. And we spend time talking, laughing and learning as we search to find the good, the compassion and the strengths in ourselves and each other. 

Although I am great at looking closely at my students and at noticing and naming the learning that I see each day through our play based learning in Kindergarten, I struggle to find a way to notice my own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, I know that I am great at knitting and crocheting, but lousy at karate. I can remember where my eldest son left his headphones, but I can’t remember 5 things on a grocery list. I am a fantastic problem solver - as long as that problem doesn’t impact me directly.

I have noticed, over the years, that I have a desire to be a writer. But my struggle to write consistently comes from the fact that writing takes time, practice, determination and time. (Yes, I said it twice).  I envy those who can create a blog post every day and sound eloquent, intelligent and put together. I struggle to get my thoughts down on a monthly basis. But I am noticing that I am becoming more attuned to my ideas of sharing my professional journey. I am noticing that I feel like I don’t have to be eloquent all the time. I just need to share more often.

My writing has started to change. I had a blog about 2 years ago that I thought would revolutionize inquiry based learning and make everyone sit up and take notice. I tried to be witty and knowledgeable in every blog post. I wrote 5 posts before I burned out. So I gave up. But the embers of that burn out continued to smolder. I read more blogs by people I admire. I started to notice that not everyone had something life-altering to say in each post. It was more about sharing and getting ideas on “paper” (virtual, but paper nonetheless).  So, another blog was started. And this one feels…better. More authentic. And for me, that’s something worth noticing.

Pam Taylor is a Kindergarten teacher and Makerspace facilitator in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. At almost 20 years of experience in the classroom and as a literacy consultant, Pam continues to find the love and humour in the smile of 4 and 5 year olds each day. She can be found on Twitter with the handle @TayloredInquiry.  Her blog can be found at

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Growing as a Writer by Michelle Olson

This school year, I started with such excitement as I was bringing back Writer’s Workshop to my school. I loved seeing how the students grew to love writing as they realized that it could be fun!

But one thing that I noticed was, as much excitement that I had for the writing of my students, I was not writing. Sure, I wrote occasionally when I wasn’t conferring with students and I wrote when I needed to for job purposes, but I was not writing regularly for me or because I wanted to be writing.

Fast forward to April… I had the itch to write. I hadn’t ever really felt this before, to the degree where I was wanting to share my writing. It was such a strange feeling to have, wanting to share what I had written, not just with my students, but also with the world, anyone who was willing to read what I had written!

So I did something that I never thought I would do, I started my very own blog. I had been thinking about this for awhile and finally took the plunge.

And what a feeling! I love being able to write...about my love for literacy and my family.  I can keep writing and growing as a writer!

Michelle Olson-I am a reading specialist by day and wife, mom, and Usborne book lady by night! I recently earned my doctorate and focused on students’ attitudes towards themselves as writers and their own writing. Follow me on Twitter at @molson414 and at my blog, Books on the Back Porch: I am also a contributor for the Reading by Example blog:

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Noticing my Writerly Life by Ona Feinberg

Laughing about my dog’s antics, my son said, “I wish it were still March, so I could write about this.”

In March, his class wrote daily, inspired by The Two Writing Teachers “Slice of Life” challenge. I loved having a slicing partner, watching my kid become a writer.

“You can still write slices even though it’s not March!  Open your google doc!” I smiled, internally rolling my eyes: Kids! Like you can only write in March... 

Then I paused. Even I haven’t written much since March. I still notice slices and write in my head. Writing every day for a month makes me a forever-noticer. I see patterns and characters everywhere. In March I race to write them down. After March, there are many forgotten stories. Why does the March Slice of Life Challenge help me live my writerly life? How can I keep that all year?

Time. In March, I know I need to write every day. It’s a priority.

Focus. Every day I write a small slice of life, not a long story, lesson, or essay. I notice a slice, and I write!

Choice. I write in paragraphs, in poetry, in 6-word memoir… Any format - the choice is mine.

Audience. During March, more people read my blog than any other time. It feels good, real people reading my words.

Feedback. More readers equal more comments. I notice the kinds of comments I get depend on the writing I do, so I grow as a writer.

Community. Commenting is part of the March challenge, so I read more blogs than usual. I get to know other writers, getting new ideas, giving feedback.

Time, focus, choice, audience, feedback, and community. . .  How can I keep these all year?  How can I offer these to my students?

Ona Feinberg is a K-5 Instructional Coach in Central Pennsylvania. She began her teaching career in second grade, and started teaching 6th grade in 2001. She is passionate about teaching, reading, writing, authenticity, kindness, and her three children. When she isn’t at school you might find her writing, reading, or walking her dog, Finnegan Foxy Feinberg. You can follow her on her blog, or on twitter @OnaFeinberg

Monday, May 21, 2018

What I See Deep Inside by Erin Denny

My life as a (gulp) writer has changed recently.

I finally decided to start characterizing myself in the ways that I see me deep inside. You know, those profound places in which others aren’t allowed.

I’ve whispered some of my dreams to a select few over the past the years, but I’ve never actually owned that part of my life. 

I’m an extremist: food really sweet or salty, classroom icy cold. I guess I was worried about being one of those people who never went anywhere with their dreams, like if I didn’t become published then none of my writing mattered.

But, lately, I’ve noticed, as I’m finally accepting my empty nest (a whole other story), that I want to be a person that I’m proud of.

When my kids were little, it was all about wanting to be someone they were proud of. I still want that, of course, but now I’m beginning to look at how I see myself: what makes me think ‘that was a good day’ as I lay my head down at night.

One thing I desire is to be a person who lives out who I am inside.  Inside of me is a writer who has many stories to tell, a writer that has been caged up for far too long.

I’m proud of the "me" that’s a teacher and a mom, but I’m more than ‘Erin the Teacher’ or ‘Erin the Mom,’ right? I also love music, creating in all different ways, talking with people, traveling, reading, playing with my cats, and WRITING. 

As I’ve embraced “Erin the Writer,” I noticed others have too.

Who am I going to be at the end of my life?

I have no idea, but I like the direction I’m headed.

Erin Denny teaches 4th grade ELAR in a North Texas school district. She just received her master’s degree in education and is working towards a Master Reading Certificate. She hastwo beautiful and amazing children, one a musician and the other a writer. She loves being a mom, a teacher, and learning. You can follow her on Twitter at @MzDenne.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Journey is How We Grow by Tynea Lewis

Sometimes as writers there are so many ideas floating around in our heads that it becomes a jumbled mess.

We start pieces because an idea is sparked within us, but we don’t always know how it’s going to end. We type one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Slowly, a piece emerges. Slowly, everything makes sense.

Honestly, I struggled with this post, which is unusual and quite a bit frustrating. When I started, I didn’t know what it was going to look like. As ideas came, I jotted them down, and then it became a puzzle to put together. One piece here, one piece there.

But the more I think of it, isn’t that the joy of writing?

Sometimes you have to welcome the unknown and see it as a journey instead of a destination.

We forget that the journey is how we grow. We learn so many things about ourselves and our writing along the way.

I love the idea of writing notebooks. Everything in one place, neat and tidy. I’ve tried to start them time and time again, but I don’t keep up with them.

My system?

A file folder filed with scraps of paper, torn off napkins, empty gum wrappers.

It might look like trash, but it’s filled with treasure.

Treasure of undiscovered stories, articles, and poems.

I like the fluidity of a folder. It’s easy to move the pieces around. It’s easy to fit the pieces together.

As I reflect on this system, I realize I’ve done it ever since I was little.

There’s a folder in my filing cabinet filled with ideas from elementary school.

There’s a folder in my filing cabinet filled with ideas from high school and college.

And now there’s a folder on my desk filled with little nuggets I capture throughout the day as a mom of two preschoolers.

Collect the ideas.

Store them away.

And you will discover a treasure chest one day.

Tynea Lewis is a former Title I teacher from Pennsylvania. She was named a 30 Under 30 honoree by the International Literacy Association in 2016 for her work with LitPick Student Book Reviews, an online reading and writing program. When she’s not busy overseeing the program or working for Family Friend Poems, she loves to spend time with her husband and young daughters, write for a variety of audiences, and escape to the quietness of the mountains. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @TyneaLewis or on her blog at

Friday, May 18, 2018

Reconnecting with My Writing Life by Wendy Chaulk

We had a tall, beautiful, lush pine tree in our backyard. Birds played in its branches. Last summer, I noticed it was turning red. Not all of it, just some of the lower needles. I trimmed some branches hoping to bring it back to life. Over the winter, it became obvious that the tree was a goner. All of the needles turned red and then brown. Branches snapped off easily. The tree was dead. Recently, my husband chopped it down. Seeing it lying there made me sad, but I know that it served its purpose as a tree and now will become mulch or firewood.
This tree’s circle of life reminded me of my writing life. Over the summer, my writing life exploded! I wrote every day and I enjoyed playing with words and format. I kept my notebook with me at all times to jot ideas. I wrote with my students and shared openly with them. I was growing as a writer!

As time passed, things changed. I had responsibilities that pulled me from my writing. I was too tired at the end of the day to do anything. I wasn’t feeding my writing life and it was slowly dying; my needles were turning red.

In February, I trimmed some activities and began writing more frequently because a writing hero encouraged me. I wrote daily in March for #SliceofLife. I write several times a week. I am sharing my writing with others again in person, on my own blog, and as a guest blogger. I am growing again. Those red needles are turning green!

This summer, I will keep the circle of my writing life rolling forward. Daily writing. Reconnecting with my writing family. My writing life will grow and thrive, not die and turn into mulch or firewood.

Wendy Chaulk teaches fifth and sixth grades in a looping classroom in Gillette, Wyoming. She is a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project. She has taught professional development writing classes for teachers in her district. If she isn’t reading or writing, you can find her trying to figure out her camera or camping in the mountains. Find Wendy on Twitter @wluvs2teach and follow her blog, Chaulk it Up.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Five Ways to Use Noticing to Build Curiosity by Georganna Rapaport


Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.  – William Arthur Ward, American writer

As we ask students to notice the world around them, what we really hope to instill is a sense of curiosity and wonder. To be curious is to wonder, think, and to want to learn something.  While it seems a difficult skill to teach, we must remember that learners come to us naturally curious; we just need to let it flourish. 

Here's how:

Model Your Own Curiosity!   Students should see our excitement for things we don’t understand and our drive to “figure it out”.  Equally important, is the comfort we model when we notice we don’t have all the answers.

Question, question, question… As lead learners, we must frequently question the world around us asking “I wonder why?” or “How does that work?”   Classrooms are spaces where questioning is not only accepted but also encouraged. 

Notice that curiosity takes TIME!  We need to build time into our day for noticing, inquiry, and wonder to support deeper understanding and personal relevance.  Our classrooms need to be places of calm where students can be present in the moments around them.

Teach students to be curious about the moves of their favorite authors.  We can model our reading in a way that visualizes our sense of inquiry into the author’s writing strategies.  What did this author do to make this story so wonderful?  We can help them to name the author’s effective techniques and try them in their own writing. 

Help students notice what they are doing well as writers.   Students need support noticing where they are in their learning process.  Students become the drivers of their personal writing process though compliments and feedback.   As their guide, we celebrate alongside them when we notice they have tried a new strategy in their writing.

Georganna Rapaport is a fourth-grade teacher in Palmer Lake, Colorado.  She believes learning is the vehicle by which we find purpose to enrich our lives and works to empower students to take control of their learning.  She is a happy wife, proud mom, and an avid reader and writer.  She shares her writing at Purpose: Find it, Live it.  Follow her on Twitter @grapaport


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Try, Rinse, Repeat by Melissa-Ann Pero

I’ve been teaching writing to high school seniors for 17 years.  I notice that every year I have to review the basics, and that’s to be expected.  But I began to notice that my students wanted their writing to be completed not only quickly, but in no great length and with little substance. And so I noticed I needed to change how I taught writing.

Classroom writing assignments used to have minimum page numbers, and students would have the opportunity to correct only grammar mistakes to earn back points. But as digital submissions have become the norm and the technology for commenting and revision has exploded, my teaching style has embraced these advanced, and my students are reaping the rewards.

Now every classroom writing assignment must follow three simple rules. Try. Rinse. Repeat. (#tryrinserepeat)
I ask students to write. I ask them to revise. I ask them to write again. Writing assignments now contain content expectations only, allowing students to concentrate on what they want and need to say instead of counting pages or word counts. In addition, using Google Docs allows me and their peers to leave clear comments and questions for students to consider.

So I’ve noticed my students are submitting writing that has more meaning than filler. I’ve noticed that students ask when a paper will be returned because they are eager to make revisions. I’ve noticed my students are revising their work after considering comments and questions. I’ve noticed that my students’ ability to communicate through writing is improving.

And more importantly, so have they.


Melissa-Ann Pero is a high school English teacher and yearbook advisor currently working on her Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been a presentor at various district, area, and state conferences in Pennsylvania. She is a Google Level 1 Educator, an Apple Certified Teacher, a Keystone Technology Innovator, and a bit of an edtech junkie.  She’s always looking grow her PLN so please follow her on Twitter @bshsmspero

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What Do You Notice? by Tammy Breitweiser

What we notice and our reflections on them are the keys that open the secret society we belong to as writers.

What I notice finds its way into my many notebooks. These sparks are written as observations, conversations,  or connections my own brain makes which are uniquely mine. To capture these keys and then use them to unlock my stories is a valuable and powerful tool in my writing life. 

This behavior is shared with students as well so they can capture their own sparks into their notebooks to impact their writing.

Whenever I get the feeling to write something down I do and I share this sentiment with students. Often when working with young writers I will write down something they say as a connection or observation to use myself later. When I am away from my notebook I make notes in my phone and then transcribe them later or add them to my Google Doc “Notes and Musings”. This DOC is essentially a notebook in digital form.

I have cultivated ideas from notebooks from years ago and from yesterday. You never know when a piece will need some unlocking and one of these sparks are perfect to move the writing along where it needs to go. The right keys in writing take us to the place for our readers to understand the thinking in the authors head.

My writer's notebooks are the treasure chests that collect the jewels and sparkle of a story I am writing.  These sparks are keys that open up the doorways to the writing. They are the beginnings that unlock the secrets to the story, poem, blog post, or essay I am writing. They help me to unlock my own thoughts so it is possible to reach my readers.

Sparks allow my mind to open a doorway and walk down a path that I didn't think of before especially when I am stuck with the piece I am writing.

Key questions that noticings can unlock are:

  • Where do I want the story to go next? 
  • What is the next right thing?
  • What will allow me to open up the story in a whole new way?

These snippets allow freedom of thought that we didn’t think possible when starting with the blank page. Sparks open doorways to new writer status. A doorway that leads to stairs that can strengthen the relationship between author and reader. As the author, I hand off the key of understanding to the reader.

Notebooks are essential to writing which means they are essential for my students!

Tammy L. Breitweiser is a curriculum coach in Northwest Indiana where she is currently dedicated to impacting student achievement in grades 7 and 8. With more than 22 years of experience, she is a reading advocate who believes in the reading and writing connection. She is working a collection of short stories and poems and a book about teaching writing.  You can connect with Tammy on Twitter (@tlbreit) or through her blog Tammy’s Reading/Writing Life:

Monday, May 14, 2018

When Writing is Not Inspired by Sharon Murchie

I have a discussion board synthesis essay (and two meaningful comments) due in Blackboard by midnight tonight for my doctoral program.

I am not inspired.

The topic doesn’t inspire me.

The other students’ discussions don’t inspire me.

I have to write this essay.

I am looking around the room at my own students, as they write their practice timed SAT literary analysis essay.

I have my favorite Facebook teacher group (2ndaryELA) pulled up on my phone.

We teachers are all noticing the same thing: our students’ writing is not inspired. They are just phoning it in, day after day. They are passively writing mundane pieces with no voice, no passion, and very little thought. The Facebook group is lamenting the soul-crushing student essay—the one that crushes our souls as teachers—the one that we read thousands of every single year.

Why don’t our students care about Paul Bogard’s “Let There Be Dark” essay enough to write passionately (in 50 minutes) about the rhetorical moves he makes?

Why must they crush our souls with their soulless discussion (written in 50 minutes) of the former US President Jimmy Carter’s Foreword to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, A Photographic Journey by Subhankar Banerjee?

They are not inspired.

The topic doesn’t inspire them.

The other students’ discussions don’t inspire them.

They have to write this essay.

Somewhere, in the maelstrom of all of this SAT and AP testing, we have lost our souls and jeopardized theirs.

The Metric lyric echoes in my head.

       “The scream becomes a yawn/I’ll shut up and carry on.”

I desperately want to solve this problem. Find the solution. Touch the souls of my students. Get my own soul back.

But I can’t fix it tonight.

I have a discussion board synthesis essay (and two meaningful comments) due in Blackboard by midnight.

I yawn. I’ll carry on.

Sharon Murchie is a high school ELA teacher in Bath, Michigan and a doctoral student at Central Michigan University. She blogs personally at and professionally at You can find her on Facebook and follow her (@smurchies) on Twitter.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

This month’s theme of "Noticings" was quite serendipitous as I concluded my semester with my undergraduates at the University of Louisville (quite early for the spring semester, as we have to be done by the Kentucky Derby!)

We have spent four months together, working alongside children and noticing their strategic moves as writers. We read about the need for writing in schools today. We wrote and reflected on ourselves as writers through different writing engagements. We’ve completed two reflection pieces to bookmark the ways our thinking changed over the semester. My students wrote a literacy history at the beginning and the end of our semester. We also completed a “Writing Is…” engagement at the start and end of our class. I write about that here because I notice such beautiful evolutions and transformations in my students’ thinking about writing.

 I list some themes I notice below:

·      Writing is a process: My students realized the ongoing nature of writing- how it never ends, how we can’t be “done” during workshop in school, meant to take time, and most importantly, realizing the need to be okay with the “messiness” instead of crossing writing off a to-do list.
·      Writing is beautiful: My students began to appreciate the beauty and the artfulness of writing, as they believe it’s not a cookie cutter deal, a piece of artwork, and a way to express a student’s identity. (This one is my favorite!)
·      Writing is more than just grammar and mechanics: In January, students discuss writing as mechanical and grammatical- a reflection of their own writing experiences they had mentioned in literacy histories. In April, there is no discussion of grammar or mechanics. We know it matters- it’s just now we know it’s not the ONLY thing that matters.
·      Writing is therapy. This was evident in both January and April, but more students reflected on the therapeutic nature of writing. The teacher education program is tough! It also has limited opportunities to write other than for academic purposes. Many students discussed how our writing engagements helped them relax or de-stress. I hope they continue :)

Thanks to beautiful teacher-writers like Katie Wood Ray, Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher, Lester Laminack, Georgia Heard, and others who shaped my students’ thinking as we explored how our students deserve a space for writing!

Emily Zuccaro is a doctoral candidate at the University of Louisville studying elementary literacy education and language learning. She loves coffee shops and libraries and walking the Big Four Bridge. She is supported by her boyfriend, Tyler, their son, Brinley, and their two cats and dog. You can follow her on Twitter @miss_zuccaro.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Seeing the Writing Process in a New Way by Jeremy Hyler

Quite often I reflect on how I have evolved as a writer since 2010. That was the year I participated in the Summer Institute through the Chippewa River Writing Project which is a satellite site of the National Writing Project. Prior to the four week, intensive writing professional development, I was blind to the fact that the process of writing could be so magical and transformative. I was so blind that I thought the five paragraph essay was the only way to go.

It wasn’t until after enduring the four-week rigorous professional development that I discovered writing is much more than a formulated response to a prompt given by a teacher or instructor. Writing is so much more than putting words down on paper (virtually or literally). Through my own transformation, I have contributed to several professional texts and co-authored two books. Writing has become a major part of my life and well-being. It is because of writing that I am who I am today.

Now, I have taken what I have learned from the Writing Project and not only applied it to my own writing, but have opened up a whole new writing world to my own students who are now composing writing pieces on Google Documents, social media templates, and video platforms. I engage my students in a writing process that is messy, collaborative and welcoming. My students are more eager to share and become more comfortable every day when it comes to sharing their writing.

We are writers!

Jeremy Hyler is an 8th grade English and Science teacher at Fulton Middle School in Michigan (U.S.). He is also co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University and the vice-president of The Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG).  As well as contributing to many professional texts, Hyler has co-authored Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014) with Dr. Troy Hicks and From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age. In addition to his writings, he has presented at professional conferences in the state of Michigan as well as at the national level and international level. Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremybballer or go to his website

Thursday, May 10, 2018

How Changing What I Noticed Transformed My Teaching by Dana Clark

I’ve never been a “red penner.” 

Maybe because I innately knew that bright red slashes across a child’s work would cause more harm than good.  Maybe because somewhere deep inside I was still suffering from the harm it did to my young writer’s soul.  However, even without the red pen in hand, in the early years of my teaching, my eyes would autocorrect student writing as I read, and I saw all that wasn’t there. 

Viewing a writer’s work through deficit lenses limited my ability to provide strong feedback, and more importantly, my belief in what my students could do.  It was not until I changed the way I looked at writing, noticing all that was there on the page, that I was able to become a true mentor. 
Changing my view took time and practice, but it was well worth the work. 

If you are looking for ways to help you on this journey, here are some steps that may put you on the right path…

1.  Play “Ten Things I Love About You”-  Each time you bring home a piece of student writing, read the work until you are able to name five to ten specific things that the child has done well or is attempting to try out.

2.  Read student work through different lenses-  When I walk through an art gallery, I often find myself appreciating different aspects of the artists’ work: the use of color, the choice of medium, the way little images are hidden like little treasures for me to find.  Looking through lenses can help us to see all the beauty in a piece of art, or in a piece of writing.  Looking at writing by using the qualities of good writing as your lenses can help you see all your kids can do!  *Quick tip-  I usually look through the conventions lens last so that I can really focus on the message that the child intended to send with their piece.

3. Ask the student - At the start of a writing conference, ask the child to share something he or she has tried out or is particularly proud of.  Listening to a child talk about all the energy and heart that they have put forward can inspire us to see the beauty too.

Changing what I noticed meant I had to train my brain to look at writing differently.  Today, I feel like noticing through positive lenses has completely changed me as a writing teacher, and has also given me the best gift of all; the belief that my kids can do amazing things.  Because when we believe that they can, they do.

(This post was inspired by Katherine Bomer, who helped me to see the “hidden gems” in all my students’ work.)

Dana Clark is a literacy coach by day, devoted mom by night, and reader in any spare minute she can find.   You can find her on Twitter @dana_dclark or follow her blog

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Writing with Enemies and Friends by Danielle DeFauw

As a teacher-writer, I notice a consistent presence of enemies and friends.

Enemy #1: Fear!
Enemy #2: Procrastination.

I write for personal and professional purposes and audiences, and no matter the context, I have battled the voice in my head:

You really think you have something to say that people will want to read? You’re wasting your time. What can you add that others don’t already know?

And the voice goes on, but I’ll spare you the details.

That inner voice blocks me. Too often, I simply do not write. I wait. And I keep waiting until I remember my Friends.

Friend #1: SMART Goals
Friend #2: Grit

Luckily, Friends #1 and #2 combat both those enemies:

The only way I write is if I set time to write.

My SMART Goal (Goal #1) is to write for academic purposes one hour a day, Monday through Friday, and document the time and tasks completed with tomorrow’s wish items. If I meet my academic writing goal, my reward is not chocolate. It’s more writing (Goal #2).

I discovered I could never silence the angst in my heart to write children’s literature, so I made writing one hour a day in children’s literature my reward.

Grit helps me meet those goals more days than not. I literally set a stopwatch and when there are interruptions, I stop the timer, take care of my kids, husband, students, or someone else, and then I continue the stopwatch.

No matter how beautifully busy my day is, I can usually find four pockets of fifteen minutes to meet Goal #1, which propels me into meeting Goal #2.

Of course, I prefer to write with no interruptions and some days I do. With just fifteen minutes at a time, fear and procrastination lose their grip on my writer’s voice.

Danielle L. DeFauw, Ph.D., is an associate professor of reading and language arts at the University of Michigan - Dearborn. She can be reached at Join her blog: Writing Connections. Follow her on Twitter: danielle_defauw.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

When I Stick With It by Fran Haley

Writing is mysterious.

When I start spilling words on the page, I never know what’s going to happen. I usually have a glimmer of an idea, as fine as a grain of sand, or as fragile as a sand dollar that washes ashore. I find these in pieces.

Ideas, like sand dollars, hardly ever arrive whole, intact.
I heard a scientist say:  “The beach is alive. There’s so much more going on under the sand than what we see.”

Writing is like that.

In my mind, ideas lie buried under all kinds of daily strata; I sift the clutter to see if any little treasures shake out.

Some bits don’t seem very appealing, like shell fragments that a beachcomber ignores, but here’s what I’ve noticed: The simplest things spark deep connections, reveal hidden meanings. An example: Trying to compose a blog post when I was exhausted, I felt I had nothing of value to say. All I wanted was to go to bed and sleep. I couldn’t shake the image of burrowing under the blankets . . . so that’s what I wrote about. The blanket quickly became a metaphor for the love of my family, wrapped tight around me. I thought, Well, it’s done. It’s meaningful to me, but I doubt anyone else will be interested.

That post set the record on my blog for the most likes.


Ideas and images come for a reason, with messages that the writer, as receiver, has the singular calling to interpret and convey. I’m often in awe of where the writing leads when I stick with it.

I’ve learned, above all, that writing is a relationship. It’s alive. Work at it, and the writing will work for you; stay faithful to the writing, and the writing stays faithful to you.

Fran Haley is a K-12 English Language Arts educator currently serving as a K-5 literacy coach. Writing is her favorite thing to do and to teach; she loves helping others of all ages grow to love writing. She facilitates writing workshop training for teachers in her district and authors the blog Lit Bits and Pieces: Snippets of Learning and Life. Connect with her on Twitter: @fahaley.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Most Powerful PD by Cherylann Schmidt

For 13 years, I thought of myself as a writing teacher. I wore that identity as a team jersey. Mind you though, I never really wrote and didn’t think of myself as a writer.

In 2007, I began working on a doctorate in Reading, Writing, Literacy, and what I learned was that writing is hard. Very hard. Sometimes I wanted to cry. Sometimes I wanted to give up. Sometimes I felt that I had nothing to say. Sometimes I felt I had a lot to say and no way to say it.

Quite simply put, my writing life became the most powerful PD I have ever embarked upon. I transitioned from writing teacher to writer.
I found feedback to be the most important writing tool I used, so I began to look more deeply at the feedback I give student writing. My comments changed from being scribbled notes on their final drafts to a separate typed page. Using their own words, I began to show students how their writing could be improved. I used phrases such as “What would happen if you…” I stopped being the final say and started mentoring them as novice writers, giving them control over their words.

Now when I hand scored essays back, I give students reflection questions to answer--questions that make them read and think about the feedback. I allow students to revise an already graded paper in order to apply feedback.

I continue to reflect on my practice as a writer, and this process continues to weave its way into my teaching. My identity has changed once more from writing teacher to coach. Just as coaches show their novice athletes how to handle a ball or racket, I show my novice writers how to brainstorm, draft, conference, and draft again.

Cherylann Schmidt is a writer, middle school ELA teacher in NJ, and professor in the Urban Teaching Residency program in GSE at UPenn. Her toughest critic and taskmaster is her Pit Bull, Keira. She maintains a blog about YA Literature and adolescent reading at Cherylann can be found on Twitter at @ya_reader or @DrSchmidtJPC 

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Thing About Writing by Jennifer Laffin

The thing about writing
is that it makes me notice life.

And what I notice might have gone unnoticed
if I wasn't a writer
and unremembered
if I wasn't a notebook keeper.

Things like...
     A man vacuuming his driveway
     Seven cardinals sitting together on the side of the highway
     The yellowing of the willow branches in late winter.

            Being a writer
            opens your eyes.

            Keeping a notebook
            opens your memory.

I keenly search for artifacts and memories that I can
add to my notebook.

Words I overhear someone say while
in line at the deli counter.

Strange things I see like that lady with
four different colors of hair on her head in front of me at Target.

Or the way the nursing home always seems to smell
like bathroom air freshener when I walk through the front door to visit Papa.

       I record these things in my notebook
       for safekeeping.

Some will just become memories that
I can relive with a simple rereading.

Others may become sparks for stories
or other writing adventures.

Either way, this is my life -- my noticings.

And that's what I love about writing:
The noticing.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

When Our Own Notebooks Open Doors

I am a notebook wannabe. I admire the sketch notes from notebookers on social media. Maybe envious would be a better word.  I have started more notebooks than I care to count.  I have tried different sizes, different bindings, and with and without lines.  Sometimes I think my notebook has to be perfect; they have to live up to images I have in my mind.  And when they don't, I quit using them.

And I start over again.

A few weeks ago, I started another new notebook. We were testing, so I thought this would be the perfect time for my students to shake the dust off of their own notebooks.  We did a quick write after we watched a Kid President video.

I wanted to write along with my students in each period because I believe that is what good writing teachers do.  As I was summarizing my morning entries to my afternoon class, I told them about an entry about not forgiving my dad before he passed away.  One student quietly raised her hand and asked me to read the entry. This student typically does not freely participate in class, so I knew my writing must have struck a chord with her.

When it was time for them to write, this student immediately began to write in her notebook, which is something she does not like to do.

The next day, this student was behaving poorly and not making good choices.  She became defiant and argumentative.  I held her back after class, and I tried to get her to open up about what was really going on.

She was full of anger and was taking it out on me.  Finally, after the tears began to fall, she admitted to me that a special day was coming up, and she had not heard from her dad.

I knew then, the chord I struck earlier in the week when I shared my notebook was ringing and needed to be heard.

So I listened.

That day, I realized the power our own notebooks hold for our students.  My writing about my dad opened a door for her.  A door she needed to walk through in order to let go of all the anger she held in her heart.

That was also the day I noticed my notebook no longer had to be perfect.

Leigh Anne is about to wrap up her 11th year of teaching.  She has taught 4th, 5th and currently teaches 6th grade ELA at a middle school in Indiana.  She is currently working on her Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction at Western Governors University with a goal of becoming a literacy coach.  Leigh Anne has a passion for connecting kids with books and helping teachers develop a writing life.  You can connect with her on Twitter @Teachr4 or on her blog, A Day in the Life

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Within the Pages of My Notebook by Andy Schoenborn

Okay. Okay. I have stalled long enough.  I'm not sure why, but this post has been a challenge for me.  Wait, that is not entirely true.  I know exactly why the post has been difficult.

It is entirely too easy to encourage others to be vulnerable as a writer.

Heck, I even tweet about quite a bit!

But, choosing to share your writing insecurities is something else entirely.

I remember when I first started sharing my sloppy writing process on the visualizer in front of my students.  I was so nervous, and I worried a lot.

  • I worried students would see my mistakes - I am no grammarian.
  • I worried students would mock my dyslexia - a love for literacy and dyslexia seem odd partners.
  • I worried students would perceive my half thoughts as noticings as crazy.
  • I worried students would lose confidence in my ability to teach them how to write.
Still, I was compelled to push myself, knowing mentor teachers like Murray, Graves, Atwell, Newkirk, Kittle, and Gallagher were showing me the way. Eventually, I could no longer hide behind my fears.

When I overcame my anxiety, I noticed students appreciated when I wrote in the raw. It helped them to see that writing struggles were not theirs alone to bear. Sharing my writing helped me understand the moves I make as a writer as well.

As I paid close attention to my writing mentors, I noticed each of them sharing their process at conferences in plain sight. They sit in the front row, notebooks in hand, and capture ideas on the physical page. The most remarkable instance of notebooking I have seen was when Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle were speaking with Nancie Atwell.  As she spoke, they both down and wrote in their notebooks capturing as much as they could, and it all happened on stage!


Meanwhile, I was busy tweeting, hoping to remember the tweets I like and telling myself I would return to them, but it never happened.  Digital note-taking, for me, stays in cyberspace, whereas my physical writing stays close by - usually tucked under my arm - right where I like to keep it.

When I met Michelle Haseltine, a middle school teacher from Virginia and - for my money - a quintessential notebooker, she gushed over the positive aspects of note booking whenever she had the chance.  Recently, she shared her pages, and they looked great!

Her notebook pages were neat and organized. They contained colorful ink, interesting pictures, and inspirational stickers. They are, quite simply, beautiful works of metacognitive art.  

Michelle's notebook looked nothing like mine. My notebooks are just for me. The writing is too loose. They are mostly illegible (even for me). In comparison, my notebooks are a mess.


Yet, they work for me.

I am a big idea person, and I find that I think much quicker than I write. I feel the need to capture my ideas as fast as I can, for fear the words may just float away and be gone forever.

My notebooks are like scratchings, in which I can stay on the surface of the ideas for a while to get them down, then go back, land for gold, reflect, and curate the moments I don't want to lose.

Good examples are my notes from Beers and Probst's Disrupting Thinking and Newkirk's Embarrassment.

I like to arrange the ideas in a 3 x 3 grid using an amateur photography technique called the rule of thirds.  By placing a subject (or idea) along the sight lines, they create a more dynamic view and become memorable. Taking it a step further, using Canva to create concise image resources makes it possible to share my noticings with you!

Not all notebooks are created the same. I wish mine were artistic expressions, but that is not the purpose. Just as each writer develops their own voice over time, each notebook is the unique signature of the mind who wrote it.

Yeah, my notebooks are sloppy and, for the most part, illegible but when I think of it as my signature, I am reminded of the prescriptions my doctors write. Their signatures are notoriously indecipherable and yet, their patents receive just what they need.

Within the pages of my notebooks, so do I.

Andy Schoenborn is a high school English teacher in Michigan at Mt. Pleasant Public Schools.  He focuses his work on progressive literacy methods including student-centered critical thinking, digital collaboration, and professional development.  As a past-president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and National Writing Project teacher consultant for Central Michigan University’s Chippewa River Writing Project he frequently conducts workshops related to literacy and technology.  Read his thoughts on literacy in the, read his student’s poetry on, and follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Invitation to Notebook

My name is Michelle and I am a notebook-er. I connect with myself and with the world around me first through the pages of my notebook. It’s no wonder...I’ve kept a notebook for over thirty years. I opened my first notebook in 1982 and it started me on a journey that I could have never imagined.

It’s a journey I want to share with the world. Notebooks saved my life. (Ok, maybe a bit dramatic, but there’s quite a lot of truth in it.) My notebook is a companion, a friend, a place where I can be wrong and silly and wrong again and there’s no judgment. My notebook accompanies me to all sorts of places I’d rather not be. It gives me an escape, no matter where I am. I untangle the world, my world, in the pages of my notebook.

It’s not pretty...well, sometimes it’s pretty...colorful pens and all. Over the years I have learned some lessons about notebook-ing. Here are a few words of advice...Give yourself permission for your notebook to be just for you. Maybe down the road, you’ll share a page or an excerpt with a trusted friend but the intended audience should be for you. It’s more freeing that way. Allow yourself, invite yourself to be truthful and authentic and raw. You’ll be surprised at what erupts from your pens.

Commit to writing something, even if it’s just a line, in your notebook on most days. Habit builds writers. My notebook holds everything from to-do lists to poems to diary-like entries to learning from a book or a conference. I love to use my notebook to reflect on my day in the classroom. Looking back helps me grow and learn and often laugh.

Find a notebook that speaks to you. Right now, I prefer hardbound sketchbooks. The pages are sturdy and beautifully blank. I use my favorite pens and markers to fill the pages with my thoughts and plans and ideas. Find just the right writing utensil too!

Time in my notebook is reflection and relaxation and growth. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my notebooks. Please find a notebook, a good pen, and note the world around you in the pages of your own notebook. Consider this your invitation...

Michelle Haseltine spends her days with middle schoolers in Loudoun County, VA. Together they write, read, think, and create every single day. Michelle is a co-facilitator of our #TeachWrite twitter chat and a Teacher Consultant with the Northern Virginia Writing Project. She blogs regularly at One Grateful Teacher and Your Story Matters. Michelle tweets regularly at @Mhaseltine and instagrams at @Mhaselti

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