Friday, September 14, 2018

Becoming a Better Teacher of Writers by Jowan Nabha

Being a teacher-writer is new for me. It also hasn’t been easy to form a writing habit. I do know two things. One, writing has allowed me to share a part of myself that was hidden from before and it excites me to have finally found an outlet. Two, my audience is clear and hopefully, my writing reaches them.

One way becoming a teacher-writer has made me a better teacher of writers is that I understand that the process is not the same for any one person. I admit I am a distracted writer. I type one sentence; daydream a bit. I come back a few minutes later to that very same sentence, revise it, delete, find another place it would fit in my piece, and love it all over again. My process is messy but I’m learning how to work through my flaws. How can we get students to fall in love with that process if we ourselves struggle to manage it? Model. Model your struggle. Allow your students to see your vulnerability. It may be surprisingly refreshing to see your students enjoy helping you fill in the gaps.

Teaching children that writing is therapeutic perhaps isn’t a concept younger writers can developmentally appreciate yet. One way to help them learn this is by teaching them their writing journals are not just for the writer’s workshop. I believe modeling real-life examples of using writer’s journal throughout the day is key. Model. I’ll say it again. Model. We as teachers must be consistently writing in our own journals to show students how we think. If we’re happy about something, write it down. If something has inspired us, write it down. Write it down but also let your students know you’ve written this down. Allow them to see where you get your inspiration from. Who knows? It may one day also become their source as well.

Jowan Nabha is a student at the University of Michigan - Dearborn studying Early Childhood Education. Her prior educational background is in Managerial Accounting in which she received her Bachelor’s degree in. Now, Jowan dedicates her life to being a full-time stay at home mom of her three children. Jowan can be reached at or on Facebook at 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Never a Day Without a Line by Erin Vogler

I am a person who struggles with maintaining momentum. There. I said it. I am great at ideas, I’m even great at getting started. The middle, however, that daily focus on a commitment, it gets messy. Really messy. Especially in a classroom when you are being pulled in a million other directions.

With year 19 on the horizon, I think back to the dozens of commitments I try to make at the beginning of every year, and I see both a pattern and a problem. I’m sabotaging myself, and therefore, sabotaging my students. And I just have to let that sink in for a moment. My choices and commitments set us up to falter or flourish.

Too many goals and commitments force us to move quickly, we sample skills rather than master them. We become cogs in a curriculum wheel rather than individuals whose needs matter and are met.

So this year, in an effort to keep my momentum going in the two most important areas in an ELA classroom, our goals are simple.

There are only two: we will read and write every single day.

The added bonus is that to do that well, we will also have to listen to and talk about what makes writing good, as well as how to improve it through revision. It allows us to create and share pieces that matter to us, intentionally crafted for an audience beyond school.

We will learn from mentor texts and independent reading. We will tackle book club choices and, perhaps, a whole group text (a novel or a play). These choices will be made as student interests and needs reveal themselves. And yes, we will, in our work together this year, also do the things others say we need to do: meet the standards and prepare for assessments.

One thing is abundantly clear to me, more so than in any other year, the only way to do any of these things is to make that simple, initial commitment: We will read and write every single day.

With that commitment as my foundation, I cannot wait to see what year 19 brings!

Erin Vogler teaches middle and high school English at Keshequa Central School in the Genesee Valley in Western New York.  She can be found on Twitter @vogler3024 and Instagram @mrsvogler3024. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Writing With, Beside, and In Front of My Students by Deb Day

The hardest thing about being a teacher of writers was writing and sharing with my students.
I created wonderful lessons. I conferenced daily with groups. I read and commented on drafts each night. I had them share their work. But I remained “the sage on the stage” and never interacted with them as a writer.

Then I read Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle and Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher and changed how I taught Creative Writing.  While there were many great ideas in these books, the single most “teacher-changing” takeaway was how important it was for me to write beside, with, and in front of my students.

How could I ask them to write and share with the class if I wasn’t willing to write and share also?

And so I started.

When I asked them to create writer’s notebooks, I showed them mine under the document camera and on video.
When I asked them to write six-word memoirs and Twitter memoirs, I wrote mine on the whiteboard.

Poetry? I shared things I had written on my blog.

I love using mentor texts in class so students could see a published product. The trouble with professional pieces is students felt they could never achieve that “perfection”. When I used my own writing for an assignment, even if it was something published on my blog, I could talk about how I would change it now.

I felt like a writer fraud at times. Some of my writing was so horrible I was embarrassed to share it. But the benefit was that kids could see me struggle. I crossed out words and tried new ones. I scribbled things out and went back to originals. Sometimes, I erased the whole thing and started over. They learned that those minutes we spent writing every day in our notebooks could become publishable pieces of writing with a little work.

And I hope they learned that writing was fluid and never really finished or perfect.

So this year, as you start the year, I hope you write with your students, right up there, in front of the everyone. It will be the hardest thing you’ve done, but it will be worth it.

Afternoon in Creative Writing
Must write my life
In front of an audience
No place to hide
Be vulnerable
Just Write

Deb Day taught many different English classes during her twenty-eight-year teaching career. Creative Writing was her favorite class to teach in the last years of her career because she could write and share with her students. She is married, the mother of two sons and grandmother to six. She is owned by Chloe, an eight-year-old Goldendoodle. All this provides plenty of material for her blog, Coffee With Chloe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Because I Am a Teacher-Writer by Dawn Sherriff

I am a teacher-writer.  My process is my own.  I often find ideas through observation and sketching.   I keep a journal.  I do not write or sketch every day but my journal is always there for me when the lightning strikes.  I do reread the pages of my journal.  This has taught me the value of looking back to move forward.  I also have a blog.  Committing to my blog has taught me about deadlines (thanks TWT and Teach Write). My blog has also taught me how feedback can connect writers.  Feedback is a powerful link for writers.  When I read the feedback fellow writers offer on my blog, it energizes me and helps me recommit, each week, to my blogging. 

I am a reader.  Reading not only opens my eyes and mind to the possibilities of the world but to the possibilities that lie within words and sentences. 
I have been keeping a journal for 26 years.  It started when I became a teacher.  I was raised in the profession as a teacher-researcher.  The majority of my initial writing and observations were rooted in my classroom.  As time went on and I developed a love for reading and writing, I began to dabble with poetry, line drawings, and language in my journal.  Slowly, I began to open my journal not only to show but to teach. My sketches, observations, and writing taught me my process as a writer.  Ralph Fletcher says there is no single writing process that all writers go through for every writing piece.  To this day, I continue to learn about my habits and process as a writer.
During the 2015-2016 school year teachers were feeling confined by their writing instruction.  We read Joy Write, by Ralph Fletcher.  We decided to work together with the purpose of growing our experiences as teacher-writers.   We began to discuss and wonder how we could create greenbelts in classrooms.  Fletcher describes the greenbelt as a time for writers to write with a sense of discovery and play.  It is a time for teachers to take a step back and let the loose the writers.  My colleagues and I hoped that together, we might begin to enrich our writing instruction and expand our own experiences as teacher-writers.

This past year, I worked with Leigh-Ann and her first graders and Denia and her fifth graders to grow a greenbelt in their classrooms.  We did this through Journals.  We dedicated time each week for the children to use writing, sketching, and pictures to play, discover and think.  We wanted them to build habits of writers through Journal Pages.  Each week we framed the mini-workshop around a writerly habit.  I have learned about these habits as I developed my own.  For example, I learned through my own experience and playing with process, that copying a picture can support the discovery of ideas and thoughts worthy of writing.   These habits have been validated through reading the work of Donald Murray, Donald Graves, Ralph Fletcher, Georgia Heard, and others.

One week the invitations for Journal Pages looked like this:

With simple choices, clear structure and time, children drew to think and discover. 

While Harrison drew and wrote, he thought of a vacation in Maine:

These October first graders were developing the habit of observing to think and to listen to their own minds and ideas as they drew.  In 1999, Donald Graves wrote,

“We live in a noisy, busy world that shouts for our attention.  We learn to screen out stimuli in order to perform the normal tasks of daily living.  The problem is that we become accomplished at ignoring our senses.  We look but we don’t see.” 

Bring Life into Learning

The choices we offer during Journal Pages encourage children to see.  To see the possibilities in a picture, to see their thinking and ideas appear on paper when they are given a simple structure and time.

Another workshop invited writers to copy an art card, observe or use the #DWHabit Word of The Day as inspiration to write and/or draw:

Avery wrote and drew:

Ari, a 5th grader sketched and wrote:

I believe that when we teach from a place of not only understanding but experience AND understanding, we ooze empathy and our teaching is real and the kids know it.  This is the place we all need to work to teach from. 

I am thankful to work with teachers who have invited me into their classrooms as a colleague and a teacher-writer.  So my advice is to not only know your curriculum but live like a writer.  Build experiences in your classroom that are rooted in what you know a writer needs because you are a teacher-writer.

Dawn Sherriff is a Literacy Specialist who has been teaching for 26 years.  Her reading and writing work is rooted in visual literacy. She has worked with the Yale Center for British Arts teaching their Visual Literacy Summer Institute for teachers. Dawn thrives on working with teachers and children to develop their own process and habits as writers.  She continues to learn about her own process with her own journal and blog. She blogs weekly at let's observe and tweets sporadically at @dawnsherriff2.  When she’s not reading, writing, or blogging, she can be found driving her three girls around, sweating at Burn Boot Camp, or sitting poolside.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sharing My Writing Vulnerabilities by Karon McGovern

Most students in any given classroom that involves having to write will feel vulnerable at some stage or other. This vulnerability may involve a fear of writing or simply fears as a whole brought on by daily struggles with life.

This past school year, when the dreaded ‘research paper’ descended upon us, I decided to address both elements of vulnerability: the fear of writing and aching life fears that many young students have to confront every day.  I did this by asking students to write a paper on an element of life they have survived or a situation they are surviving daily as we started to write and through this, I was to showcase my own vulnerabilities as a teacher.

I modeled an example, every step of the way, invoking my own voice and my own pain over the loss of a loved one.  I was scared, as my own feelings were still raw, but as I wrote, badly, with more spelling and grammar errors I would have wanted my students to see from their teacher, I kept asking the students how I could better express some of the feelings I was trying to capture, demonstrating that there are always questions and no one right way.   I posted my examples in the students’ Google Classroom (mistakes and all), as we pursued our first drafts.  For their own work, the personal voice students had been granted by me,  and the “reality” of the content about which they were writing, freed them from the confines of the “literary analysis” type writing.  Their vulnerabilities strengthened their writing.

Still, one student remained frozen in space, unable to write. I spent time discussing how my own vulnerabilities are expressed and exercised in my writing and asked the student how she liked to let her own feelings out  …. “By painting,” she told me.  Then, I said, paint me an essay.  She did.  I faced my vulnerability as a writing teacher of being unable to get this one student to write, and she countered with facing her own vulnerabilities by way of oil on canvas.

Karon McGovern is an English Teacher at New Fairfield High School, Connecticut.  While currently at the “back end” of her working life, she is starting only her 7th year as a teacher, having spent over 30 years in the corporate world.  Karon is from the United Kingdom; most of her life has been spent in England.  She has embraced writing for over 30 years, having been involved in writing training material and technical manuals.  She finally gave up on the corporate world to take her lifelong passion for writing into the classroom to help nurture those skills in those who pass through our education system. You can follow Karon on Twitter at @MrsKPMcG

Friday, September 7, 2018

Tactics to Keep Writing Into the School Year by Georgia Parker

Summer provides a slower pace - time to recharge, gather thoughts and write without the responsibilities the school year holds.

The leisurely mornings of writing over a cup of coffee are coming to a close as we move into the beginning of a new school year with all the lesson planning, organizing, and endless meetings that September brings.

So how in the world do we keep up with our own writing and do our teacher jobs?

Here are several tactics I am implementing this school year:

I plan to wake up early every morning and workout three mornings and write two. I know there will be some mornings I need a little extra sleep, but I might as well set the bar high.

My school, like many, has a block schedule two days a week. I plan to use half of my free block period to write. This time will be on my calendar and in my planner so that it becomes like a meeting or task, like grading papers, that must be completed.

Carving out weekend time is always a challenge with errands to run and my own family to tend to; however, if I look at each weekend individually, I think I should be able to schedule two hours of writing time - just like I sneak in a yoga class or a long walk.

Just as exercise becomes a habit that makes us physically and emotionally more fit, writing time will make us, as teachers, stronger in the classroom and fill our own creative cups.

Georgia Parker has taught English in grades 6-9 at various times in her career. She has spent the last 23 years teaching English at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, FL. For the last 20 years she has taught English 8, and in the last six years has added YA Lit. Parker is a member of NCTE and ALAN, serves as a state representative for ALAN, and has presented at numerous conferences. She is  also the Co-Director of the Trinity Prep Author Fest and is the current Diane & Michael Mayer Endowed Chair of English at Trinity Preparatory School. Find her on Twitter at @gksparker.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Developing a Daily Writing Habit by Elisa Waingort

These are some of the highlights from my writing life this summer:

I committed to chunks of time to write. 
Why this worked: I thrive on routines. I created a daily schedule of activities and set a timer to help me stay on track. I alternated writing with reading a chapter or two from a book, tidying up the kitchen, unpacking a box or two from our recent move, and going to the gym.

I was flexible by writing throughout the day. 
Why this worked: Keeping to the same writing schedule every day is challenging for me. Life happens and the minute my schedule changes, even a little bit, the first thing to go is my writing.

I worked around my family’s summer schedule.
Why this worked: My family is important to me and because I didn’t become a writing hermit, I was able to respect our time together.

I didn’t second-guess, censor or give up on myself.
Why this worked: I am learning how to be self-compassionate. Because I wasn’t constantly sabotaging myself, I wrote more than ever before.

I used a timer for at least 10 minutes to pace myself. 
Why this worked: In order to be successful, I need to start with small steps. Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time. If I write for 10 minutes, about anything, then I will usually find a topic worth writing about before the timer goes off. More often than not, I ended up writing for more than 10 minutes.

How did I get started? I took advantage of a mostly travel-, professional commitments-free summer. I know those are few and far apart. However, I did have a mandate to write for my university program and a personal goal of developing a daily writing habit.

Although I have been afraid of failure, I have been more afraid of success. I have been my own worst enemy; it was time to change that.

I will keep these successes front and center as I continue to nurture my own writing habit and make plans for writing workshop with my students. I made a lot of progress. I also made a commitment to share my writing life with my students; if I’m serious about creating a community of writers in my classroom I must participate in that community.

Will you join me this year? I’d love to hear how you are planning to do that with your students. Share your ideas in the comments section below. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Story Sparks by VIctoria Williamson

One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a writer is: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ This is a difficult question to answer, but it becomes even harder when teaching writing to students and their question becomes: “Where am I going to get my ideas from?’

This is where paying close attention to my own writing process over the years has been very helpful. Ideas don’t pop into my head fully formed, but start with a spark – something I see on the news, a conversation I have with a friend, an unusual person I meet in the queue at the post office. Often story ideas can be sparked by something as simple as an interesting picture, and this is a technique I have been using recently with students as a creative writing exercise.

I begin with a picture I have found online or in a magazine – the more intriguing the better – and ask students suggest answers to three ‘W’ questions: Who/What is in the picture, What has happened up to that point, and What is going to happen next. Often I will ask students to answer these questions in groups. This is another technique that has been informed by my own writing experience – idea sparks can’t burn in a vacuum, and other people’s input is often needed to fuel the flame.

For younger students, creating the pictures themselves can be the first step in writing a story. As a child, many of my stories were sparked by character-driven board games such as Dungeons and Dragons, and my students also love to create alter-egos for themselves as a first step to creating new characters. I recently ran a Top Trumps card competition as a writing exercise, where students first created a drawing of their character before describing it. I found students whose characters were based on aspects of their own personalities often came up with more interesting or insightful stories. This made me reflect on my own stories, and I realized my best work also contained personal touches from my own life experience.

Having learned from my students what makes a good story, I hope to put this lesson to use over the next year to encourage new writers to create their own story sparks and bring them to life using their own personal experiences.

Victoria Williamson is an author from Scotland who has been a grade school and high school teacher as well as a teacher trainer in the UK, China and Africa. Her debut children’s novel focusing on refugee issues and finding a sense of belonging was published in April this year, with twenty percent of the royalties going to the Scottish Refugee Council. You can find out more about Victoria and her work on Twitter @strangelymagic and on her website:

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Bringing the Life of a Writer into the Classroom by Andy Schoenborn

For as long as I can remember the idea of being a writer appealed to me. I admire the beauty of the written word and the emotional connection it can create with readers. Writing was something I dabbled in when the inspiration struck and, when it struck, it was lightning on the page. And, like lightning, I never knew when or where that bolt with strike. I admit, I like waiting for the moment to strike.

In those moments, topics present themselves and the words flow free and easy. It feels like I am a writer. But, like the aftermath of a lightning strike, the thrill of writing in that moment can stop just as quickly once the words get stuck. Often this is where my writing would stop. I liked writing when it felt good, but as soon as it became difficult gave up.

It takes courage to write, and if I wait for the writing moment to strike it will burn fast and bright and fade in an instant. It seemed I was alone in these experiences - a feeling writers often have when teetering into the unknown.

Since joining Teach Write late last year my writing life changed.

I found writer friends who understand a writer’s process is unique to the writer. These friends taught me writing is work to be celebrated and shared. Perhaps, most importantly, I learned we all get stuck from time to time and, however challenging, those are moments to embrace. It is in that stickiness where the writer is waiting to emerge. The climb out of the muck is hard because it is the threshold to breakthrough.

It is in the muck where I found any excuse not to push on. I would check Facebook - just for a minute. I would play just one game of Clash Royale - it always turned to more. Doing the laundry or the dishes soon became top priority. Then, I would sit down to write and notice how dirty the floor was and couldn’t wait to sweep it. As it turns out writers will often find any excuse not to write. It was this realization that helped me understand that what I needed were dedicated writing times, writing habits, and routines.

Instead of waiting for writing bursts, I decided to build my writing stamina and create momentum by writing everyday over the summer. Some days I struggled to write a sentence and self-edited my way through drafts - those days were rough. Other days I was able to carve out marathon writing sessions and felt accomplished when the words behaved the way I wanted them too. But, the days in the middle, when I sat down to write because I had committed to writing everyday were the days that sustained my writing momentum.

Going into the school year these practices have shifted my perspective.

I have already spoken with few students while they were walking the hallways looking for classes. Each time I brought up that I was interested in helping them to develop their reading and writing identities by letting them choose their goals. And, each time, they lit up with excitement. I was surprised by this at first but, after recalling my summer writing practices, I realized that writing invitations, time to write, and agency is all a writer really wants.

With that in mind my focus for the school year has shifted. Instead of trying to figure out what I am going to teach students, I wonder what kind of invitations create opportunities for my students to want to write.

This year I am bringing my writing life to students to help them craft their own reader and writer identities. Using writer's notebooks, quick writes, and deep dives into their interests while aligning them to curricular needs. Just as writers do, students will set their own writing goals and weigh writing invitations to find their own paths.

I imagine my students will view writing much like I used to - as a bolt of inspiration that strikes when you least expect it. But they will learn, much like I did, that writing is much more about sitting down and doing the work - when you do the lightning strikes begin to occur more often. The will no longer need to like the idea of being writers.

They will be writers.

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 and follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.

Monday, September 3, 2018

"We forgot about the flowers." by Leigh Anne Eck

Happy Labor Day!

For some of us, Labor Day means a welcomed break from the start of a school year.  While for others, it's the much anticipated day before the school year begins.

Whether you have been in school for weeks or are starting tomorrow, I am sure ideas of how to build a writing community have permeated your thoughts.

Maybe you have planned quickwrites, or have your own writer's notebook ready to share with your students.  Maybe you have writing centers ready to go with fun pens that you love and different kinds of paper.  Maybe you have mentor texts that you have written this summer to model for your students.

You are ready to bring your writing life into your classroom.

But how many of you have "forgotten about the flowers?"

Back in 1978, I was an eighth grader, and the movie, Ice Castles was released.  I had this thing for Robby Benson (we share the same birthday!) so this quickly became one of my favorite movies.

It is a story about a figure skater who becomes blind, and with the help of the character played by Benson, finds a way to skate again.  He prepares her for a big competition, but no one knows she is blind. (Suspend reality here!)  She skates a flawless routine to the theme song of the movie, "Through the Eyes of Love."

The audience gives her a standing ovation and begins to throw flowers out onto the ice.  She takes her  final lap, not knowing that the flowers are in her way.  She stumbles and falls, revealing her secret to everyone there.  Robby goes out onto the ice to help her and says, "We forgot about the flowers."

On the second day of school, I planned a "write-around" activity where I gave a starter sentence and students had to add on to the story.  Then we moved to another student's writing and added to that story.  We moved four times to four different stories.  I thought this would be a great way to get kids up and moving while writing fun, silly stories.

Only I had one student who refused to participate.  I tried to coax him to write by telling him how much fun this activity could be.

Still nothing.

I came back to him and told him he only needed to write one sentence, just one sentence.

Still nothing.

So I let him be.  I later found out that he struggles with writing.  I was creating a space where he could stumble and fall, revealing his secret to everyone there, simply because I "forgot about the flowers."

I forgot about those students who struggle with writing or who have a fear of writing.  This is why being a teacher who writes is so important. When we write ourselves and bring our writing life into our classroom, we have a better understanding of the challenges our students face.

Here's to a year of bringing our writing life into the classroom...
and remembering the flowers!

Leigh Anne has entered her 12th year of teaching.  She has taught 4th and 5th grade and currently teaches 6th grade ELA at a middle school in Indiana.  She is 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

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