Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Are You a Writer? by Sara Pommarane

I am a writer.  These are three words that I would never have used in regards to myself until a few years ago.  Now they are words that I live by.  I am a writer.  I write for many different purposes, but my favorite writing is for myself. 

In my classroom, I have chosen to let students write for themselves.  If my favorite writing is for myself, then they need to have the opportunity to do the same.  After a five-week writer’s workshop where we gathered and collected ideas and chose a piece to bring to publication, I thought I’d check in with them to see how they viewed themselves as a writer.

I posed the questions, “What is a writer?” and “What does it take to become a writer?” and “Are you a writer?” to my fifth graders.  Their answers encompassed what being a writer is.

“A writer needs to have an imagination that can carry a reader to a different world.”

“Writing comes from inside of you.”

“I am a writer because I am unique and I use characters to show different perspectives.”

“It takes guts to be a writer.”

“It takes passion and enthusiasm to become a writer. You have to have perseverance.”

“I love sharing what I imagine and think on paper.”

“You don’t have to be excellent, but you can impress and amaze people with your writing.”

Of course, some didn’t think they were writers and one even wrote, “I write because my teacher told me to and I have to do whatever she says because she is basically the boss and in charge.” 

While it made me smile because I can hear this student’s voice through his writing, I also know that he is a writer.  Now, it’s my job to help him and the others who answered similarly realize it.

Challenge accepted.

Sara Pommarane is a fifth-grade teacher in Laramie, WY.  She is in her 14th year of teaching and her first group of Kindergarteners are graduating from high school in May!  Sara received her National Board Certification in Literacy in 2018.  She is married to a fellow educator and has two children.  Sara loves all things reading and writing.  You will often find her family fishing and her nearby with her nose in a book and her writer’s notebook not far away. You can follow her on Twitter @SaraPomm or through WyoWrites @wyowriting. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Good News about Goodreads by Kristin Patrick

For years I remained reluctant to commit to Goodreads for the same reason as many educators. I worried that if I couldn’t catalog all of the books that I experienced as an adult reader to date, why bother? I was too concerned with projecting a complete reading profile. Six years ago I convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary to recreate a diary of my past reading life. Goodreads would serve as an opportunity to enhance my future reading life and writing life.

Goodreads now serves as my version of a blog. Instead of providing concise summaries followed by critiques of literary merit, I write editorials of varying length co-mingled with passionate endorsements (and non-endorsements) of book titles. The commitment to record something, anything, for each book I read forces me to write for an online audience at least once a week. As a reader of approximately two hundred books read a year, I never run out of writing material. My Goodreads followers insist that they rely on my honest reviews and ratings to guide their book selections.

If your reading life is your life like it is for me, Goodreads can be a good solution for an educator’s commitment to write more.

Kristin meets her reading twin at Nerd Camp Michigan 2018. Kristin and Shari keep in touch through Goodreads.

Kristin Patrick is a Technology Integration Coach with Noblesville Schools. She is President of the Indiana State Literacy Association. Follow her on her on Twitter @krismarley12.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Ticking Clock by Liz Prather

One of the most important gifts a writing teacher can give herself is time to write. But with our 36 hour-obligations crammed into a 24-hour day, how can one find the time?

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests writing three pages every morning as soon as you get out of bed is a great way to tap into creativity. Other teachers write when their students write, which is also a great practice, but I’ve never been able to drop into my writing head while watching the time, circulating the room, and keeping an eye on Zak who may or may not be juuling in the corner. 

What I do is write for 15 minutes every morning at my school desk before I start my day.  Before I check my email, write anything on the board or head to the copy room, I open a Google document titled “A Daily Page,” set the timer on my iPhone, and start writing. 
 It’s not pretty. It’s not profound. But like all good daily practices -- flossing or flexing or stretching—it’s the showing up that counts.  This practice builds my writing fluency, helps me keep in touch with my writing self, and reminds me of why I do what I do. Limiting myself to 15 minutes makes that time precious, but it also pushes me to ignore the critical voice of perfection in my head.

Tomorrow, commit to 15 minutes of writing and honor your writing intentions by putting the most important work first.

A freelance writer and blogger, Liz Prather teaches writing at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter @PratherLiz and at her blog www.teachlikeeveryoneislistening.wordpress.com.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Letter to Reluctant Writers by Erin Vogler

Dear Writer,

Yes. I’m talking to you.  If you’re here and reading these words, this message is meant for you.

You don’t write every single day? So what? Maybe you just don’t write daily YET. Maybe you are tired, or busy, or scared. 

That’s okay. 

And it’s also not okay.

If something in you is telling you to write.  Listen.  Ideas and inspiration come to us for brief visits.  That story you want to tell? Write it while it’s with you.  Before long, the details will fade, your schedule will interfere, and your fears will tell you that you can’t write it...that your words aren’t good enough.

But they ARE.  We all have stories to tell, memories that we want to capture, poems to write, songs to sing - you get the picture, right? The truth is that our words matter.  Our stories, memories, and imaginations matter. In fact, I believe they are an essential piece of human connection.

I’m guessing that if you’re struggling, it’s because someone or something along the way made you feel like what you have to say doesn’t matter, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

And if you’re sitting there thinking that my first guess was wrong, maybe my second guess will land closer to your heart - perhaps your struggle is with feeling like you can’t possibly write well. That you’ll make mistakes, or that the writing will be terrible...and that can be paralyzing. 

But guess what? You WILL make mistakes. You WILL write things that are terrible.

That’s okay. As it should be, in fact.

You see, you have to write to get better at writing.  You have to experiment, and you will, often, fall flat on your face.

Eventually, however, with patience, a little grit, and a whole lot of grace, those words will start to sing. Your pen will fly across the page, you’ll feel the glory of that moment when everything begins falling into place. 

The only way to grow, as a writer and as a person, is to show up. Consistently, no matter how busy, fearful, or doubtful you may be feeling. 

So, what’s next?

Find tools that invite you to sit down and dig in.  If you want to jump beyond journaling or reflecting on your day, but aren’t sure where to begin, a simple internet search for writing prompts will give you plenty of fodder for ideas. Search your favorite social media platforms for writing and sketching challenges.  Write beside and in response to the words of other writers whose words resonate with you.

Take the leap.

A writing life is a life of intentional noticing.  The more you write, the more you’ll notice, and the more you notice, the more you’ll have the itch to pull out your notebook and write.  Be willing to embrace the bumps and imperfections, and remember that every writer feels the way you do, and much more often than we’d all like to admit.

If it helps, imagine me, in my classroom or my little house in Western New York, staring at the blank page along with you, probably frustrated, but having faith that the words will show up if we do.

Now, let’s open those notebooks (or docs) get to it!

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, often when she is avoiding her own writing due to self-doubt, an overbooked schedule, or by spending time with her three demanding dogs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Two Simple Tips for Teaching Student Writers by Valinda Kimmel

“Writers deserve to write for real, to write the kinds of texts that they see in the world—nonfiction chapter books, persuasive letters, stories, lab reports, reviews, poems—and to write for an audience of readers, not just for the teacher’s red pen.” –Lucy Calkins

I agree that kids should write for an audience, but do we really know how to help them think deeply about how they’ll communicate with their readers?

Heartfelt agreement does not equal teacher proficiency, however. I’ll be honest. I struggled with how to help student writers catch a vision and develop strategies to write in compelling ways for their intended audience.

Two simple strategies have bolstered my confidence in being able to mentor, guide, and coach kids toward communicating effectively when writing.

Doing the Work Myself

It’s a bit difficult to teach someone to do something that you don’t actually do yourself with some regularity. The last three years I’ve committed to writing weekly for an audience. I blog.
It’s equal parts agony and ecstasy.

Now, after lots of practice, I know how to plan and draft, revise and edit. I’m familiar with choosing my audience and being committed to a purpose for writing a particular piece.

 I also know that I have to sit (derrière in the chair) and begin the task. #thehardestpart

Cultivating Your Writer’s Craft

When I thought about great writers, authors, poets, and screenwriters, I’d assumed that the writing process for them was akin to something mystical.

Once I began to study how writers write, I learned that many undertake writing in a systematic way. They think about story arc(s). They research and hunt down sources. They think about their reason for writing and they choose well-known, tried and true devices for communicating in powerful ways.
A resource from Units of Study for 6-8 Writers by Calkins teaches students about setting goals and employing techniques. It’s clear, systematic and age-appropriate.


These simple charts have also impacted my own writing. Now I’m thinking at deeper levels about audience, intent, purpose, and craft. I purposefully choose techniques for refining my message.
It’s simple, really.

Start by being a writer yourself. Cultivate Your Writer’s Craft.

I have much to learn as a writer. And as a teacher of writers. But now I have some powerful strategies.

Watch out world--I’ve got a lot to say and my student writers do too!

Valinda Kimmel began teaching three decades ago. She most recently worked as a K-6 instructional coach on an elementary campus in Texas and now has an educational consulting service collaborating with teachers, coaches and campus administrators. You can find her on Twitter @vrkimmel and on her site at www.valindakimmel.com/

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Writing Isn't Hard by Trevor Bryan

I’m excited to say that in December my first book comes out. It’s a dream come true for me and I am beyond grateful that I have been given this opportunity. I know that many of you reading this post may have a similar dream and so I wanted to take this opportunity to share one of the lessons I learned that helped me get my book out of my brain and onto the page. This is it: Writing isn’t hard but it is terribly, excruciatingly, unbelievably time-consuming. 

It takes time to figure out ideas. It takes time to figure out a writing routine that works well. It takes time to dump your ideas onto the page, to craft a good lead, to figure out a structure, to clean it up, to share it, to receive feedback, to process the feedback and to revise your writing based on that feedback.

It took me countless hours to reread my work, to figure out where my writing wasn’t working and how to revise it. Long runs that lasted over an hour became an essential part of my writing process. When I couldn’t get a paragraph or section to achieve the clarity I desired, I’d strap on my running shoes (as soon as I had time) and let my feet do my thinking. Much of my writing time, like when running, wasn’t spent at a keyboard.

All in all, my book took me about four years to write. During this time, I had many discussions with people about how hard writing is. This belief was prominent. But when I rejected the belief that writing is hard and simply accepted that writing takes a really, really, really long time, I stopped beating myself up over garbled sentences, disconnected paragraphs and less than impressive word counts.

Writing, like all creative work, isn’t about good work or bad work. It’s about doing the work. Give yourself, give your work all the time it needs. Be patient. If you are, you might just find, writing isn’t as hard as you’ve been told it is.

Trevor Bryan has been an art teacher for 20 years in New Jersey. His mission is to help all students to explore, find and share their unique voices. He is co-founder of the popular education blog, Four O"Clock Faculty and is a consultant for best-selling author, Peter H. Reynolds's education company, FableVision Learning. Trevor's first book, The Art of Comprehension: Exploring Visual Texts to Foster Comprehension, Conversation and Confidence is due out this December through Stenhouse Publishing. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

I. Am. A. Writer. by Alexis Ennis

Say it with me:  I. Am. A. Writer.

I want my students to leave my class knowing they are a writer. I cannot do my job in making them feel confident as a writer if I do not see myself as a writer as well.

When you first meet me, I would not come out and tell you that I am a writer. Nor, would I even share that I like to write. Even my closest friends do not know that I write. Being a writer is not something I project to everyone, it is private...for now.

Last June, I wrote a post for this blog about wanting to be more and to write more. I expressed my lack of confidence in seeing myself as a writer. I took it upon myself to change this feeling and to feel more like a writer. I have started free writing when I feel stressed or find my mind racing. I blog about books. I started an outline of a book I hope to write. I challenged myself to the 100 Days of Summer Writing. (I made it to day 24.) I am making progress.

My advice? Take risks. Challenge yourself. Tell your students your challenges and your risks, they will want to read your stories and they will hold you accountable. Dedicate time to write. Write alongside your students. Just write something, every day.

If you are reading this blog, you are already on the “write” track. You are a writer. You want to write. You are looking for advice and suggestions. Say it with me, I am a writer.

Alexis Ennis is a 6th grade ELA teacher. You can follow her on Twitter @Mrs_Ennis_OMS, on Instagram @mrs_bookdragon, or at her blog www.mrsbookdragon.com.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Writing with Purpose and Passion by Danielle Waller

Writing calms my spirits, lifts me, sends me on a journey with my pen determining my track. Many times going down one road leads me to another, an often unexpected one. Often I think I have the end in mind, but it’s only the beginning of a new tale to spin.

Writing has always been in my bones. I dreamed of being a professional writer and my dream came true when I landed my first job writing for a community newspaper.

Rarely did I cover hard news, but I often pondered the awesome responsibility I had to tell someone's story. I thought, How incredible it is that I get to sit down with a total stranger and then weave together that person`s words to tell his or her story, bringing it alive for an audience!

When I write with students, we talk about our audience. The audience is never the teacher. At the start of the year, everyone wants to come up to me and ask, “Is this good?” I just smile and ask, “Do you think so?”

I tell them it doesn’t matter what I think of it! “Who is the audience for your story or article?” That gets them thinking and writing something that people want to read. They stop writing for the teacher and instead write because it's an issue they’re passionate about or it’s a story from their lives with real meaning. That's when you begin to see authentic writing.

I write along with my students. It's important for them to see that I have stories I'm working on too, and even ones I hope to publish one day. Many times it can be difficult to even begin. But starting the journey alongside your students is a great start. It’s okay not knowing where your pen will take you; you just need to begin.

Danielle Waller is a fourth-grade teacher at Dunn Elementary in Louisville, Kentucky. She is a career changer with a background in journalism and public relations. Follow her on Twitter: @Danielle_Waller

Thursday, October 18, 2018

I Need My Students to Write by Erica Johnson

I used to be dismissive of the idea of completing the writing assignments my students were tasked with, but in the past few years I realized that there is a benefit.  Writing with your students helps you better understand them and their struggles.  In order to truly be a teacher of writing, shouldn’t I also continue to work at a craft we are constantly telling students is never truly perfect? 

It’s September and we’ve finally arrived at their first major paper assignment for my class and it’s enough to paralyze most of them.  While they grapple with where to begin, I sit at the front of the room typing on the computer screen they can all see.  They can see me writing.

Before I started writing with students, I had always advised them that talking about their writing could help work through ideas.  It was time to live up to my own advice.  I move away from my desk, pull a chair up next to one of the tables, and join a group of students.

“Hey.  I saw you were stuck.  Would you mind helping me and then maybe I could give you some feedback too.” 

“You’re such a good writer,” a student tells me after reading the personal narrative I had been working on.  I don’t always believe that, but from my students, I’m pretty sure it’s sincere.

“The thing is,” I tell her, “that’s not entirely true.”

 The fact of the matter is that I’ve just been writing for a longer time.  If you keep writing and working on your paper, your writing can be just as good.  I’m not sure if they believe me when I tell them this, but I can see at least a little reassurance and relief. 

It’s funny really.  I had an idea once that I would become a published writer and abandon teaching for that idea.  I think now the opposite is true.  If I’m to be a writer, I need my students to do it.  I’m only a writer when I am writing with my students.

Erica Johnson has been teaching for seven years in central Arkansas and currently works with juniors and seniors at Vilonia High School.  She spent the past summer transforming her teaching philosophy at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in Washington, D.C.  When she isn’t spending time with her dog, she is visiting with her family and their latest addition: her niece Ivey.  She just started blogging recently with Teacher Captain’s (B)log and tries to post semi-regularly, but you can catch her more reliably on twitter @teachercap_e.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I Breathe, I Bask, I Write by Carla M. Brown

Words are such wonderful things, woven in the fabric of my fantasies.  I befriended them long ago in the picturesque canvas of my childhood memories. 

Soundscapes and landscapes left me fascinated.  Textures teased me with inquiry and intrigue.  Scents surged through my surroundings as tastes transported me to sensuous havens – and words helped me to breathe.

Language offers a medium through which to color one’s thoughts.  Now that I’m older, they mirror relationships, conundrums, pleasures, and pains.  I bask in their ability to unearth my most heart-wrenching catastrophes or proclaim miraculous milestones on behalf of strangers unknown – and then, I write.

I am proudest of the writing that offers my readers a transcendent experience.  I challenge myself to pen that which compels, contends, catalyzes and comforts.   Words make great playmates!  I am delighted by their rhyme and rhythm.  The ebb and flow of their tenor are subject to the composer, akin to a symphony of sorts.

I push myself to place my passions in print – through typing, texting (brainstorming with immediacy, that is), journaling, recording.  I am fueled by the recognition that what we write can imbue others in ways that we never imagined.  Writing is to be read.  To be shared.  To be esteemed.  To be held.

Many scripts and scribbles dance in my dreams: a children’s series for charred emotions; young adult fiction, both raw and revealing; the antithesis of annihilation by agony and poetry that pierces.

Words are wonderful things.

They are the sacred and most salient embers of my soul.

Carla M. Brown is an Educator, Speaker, Writer, & Coach and the owner of aspirExcel Enterprises.  There, she offers an array of inspirational services for businesses, non-profits, educators, parents, and students. When she isn’t embarking on escapades with her tribe of four boys, she enjoys exploring fabulous food adventures, losing herself in literacy love, and marital magic with her college sweetheart, Michael. You can connect with Carla on Twitter @mrscarlambrown, FaceBook at Carla M. Brown – Speaker & Writer, Instagram @carlamichellebrown or by visiting her website at www.carlambrown.com.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

I am a Writer, Hear me Roar! by Jen Greene

As a writer, it is so easy to convince yourself that you are not good enough.  Self-esteem has been a struggle of mine for over 30 years.  Even typing this blog post I keep deleting things thinking that no one really wants to read this.  Perhaps you can relate. 

Something that has helped me work through this struggle is writing.  In particular, forcing myself to share my writing.  I started off sharing with my students. I love to write, have always kept journals, but never shared them with anyone before becoming a teacher.  I read Harriet the Spy as a kid, I knew what could happen if my thoughts fell into the wrong hands!  But then I found myself in a room full of little people needed me to teach them how to write.  Sure, I could use amazing mentor texts to showcase writing styles, but I needed to teach them that not all writing is beautiful, perfect, and published.  More often than not, it’s messy, chaotic, and never sees the light of day.  But it’s important and it deserves to be heard.  I had to share my own writing with them to really illustrate this.  It was the best thing I could do for them, and for myself.

My students inspired and guided my writing just as much I did theirs.  We were a community, celebrating and struggling together.  It was transformative...so much so that it led me to the next step: sharing my writing with other grown-ups!

Through opportunities to contribute to community blogs, and with a lot of encouragement from the #TeachWrite community, I took the plunge and started my own blog.  It is slow moving, and I feel like I’m going to vomit every time I hit publish, but it’s happening.  I have conquered the fear. Maybe no one wants to read what I write, maybe no one agrees with me….who cares?  I have thoughts, I have a voice, and I’m sharing it.  I am writer, hear me roar!

My advice to you is this: start small.  Share with your students.  Share with your colleagues.  Share with your dog.  And when you feel ready- share with the world. 

You are a writer, we want to hear you roar!

Jen Greene is an elementary school teacher in the West Chester Area School District in West Chester, PA.  She is a fellow with the PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) and a doctoral student at Widener University.  Her tentative journey into blogging can be found by visiting https://GreeneLit.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter @GreeneMachine82

Monday, October 15, 2018

Putting Pen to Paper by Tracy Vogelgesang

I am a writer.  I am also a teacher of writing.  Long before I considered myself a “real” writer, I found comfort, wisdom, and peace in the simple act of putting pen to paper and releasing the thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head and heart. 

The act of writing in its many varied forms is therapeutic for me.  Whether writing personally or professionally, writing helps me make sense of the world around me and gives me a tool for precisely communicating with others. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and see them objectively.  It clears my mind so I can see the big picture and begin to flesh out the details.  It is an outlet that inspires my creativity, helps me find courage, and strengthens my voice.  It is more than a tool, a hobby, and a lifeline.  It is who I am. 

As a teacher who writes, my main objective is that my students know that they, too, are writers.  I strive for them to know that they have the tools they need to create and explore, express their feelings, make sense of chaos, and find their voices.  Together, we are a community of writers.  I share my writing with them and encourage them to share their writing, too.  Building a writing community in the classroom begins with a teacher who writes.  I am that teacher. 

I am a writer.

Tracy Vogelgesang currently teaches a writing community of third, fourth, and fifth graders.  She also teaches them how to explore the wonders that surround them through science. She has been teaching for 25 years and loves helping students discover their voices and realize the strengths and gifts they bring to this world. When Tracy isn’t teaching and writing, she spends her free time building memories with her husband, children, grandchildren, and sweet little Jack Russell terrier. She also reads, gardens, and enjoys time with family and friends. Tracy can be found on Twitter @Mrs_T_V.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Leaving My Writing Comfort Zone by Shannon Anderson

When I started teaching, I thought I wanted to stay in first grade forever. I loved the age and innocence of the kids. After all, first graders are adorable, love school, and think their teachers know everything.

Now in my 24th year in education, I’ve had experience in kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as teaching college-level education majors. There is definitely something wonderful about teaching every grade level and working with all of the different students. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience this if I had stayed where I was comfortable.

I’ve found that to be true for writing too. When my first picture book came out, I thought that was the only genre I wanted to write and publish. Picture books are beautiful and have a fun, young audience. I assumed I needed to stick to what I knew best.

After doing multiple school visits, I had more and more older students asking what books I had written for their ages. Challenge accepted. I wrote my first middle grade nonfiction book and a middle-grade novel. Then, I started exploring other genre possibilities.

I’m currently working on a Christian memoir for adults as well as two books for teachers. The next project I want to try is a chapter book series. When I teach my current 3rd-grade students, we don’t just write personal narratives all year long. I introduce them to poetry, informative writing, letter writing, and opinion writing, among others.

As young writers start to explore and learn about different kinds of writing, they figure out what they enjoy and what else they’d like to try next. It is through these trials and experiences we can grow to appreciate a variety of genres and improve our craft.

Life would be pretty boring if we only ate our favorite meal every day. If you find yourself stuck in a writing rut, or have never branched out to a different genre, try out a new one. What you learn may enhance your current projects or you may find a whole new form you enjoy.

Shannon Anderson is a children’s book author, third grade teacher, and national speaker. She’s the regional advisor for the Indiana SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), is the vice-president of the Indiana State Literacy Association, and was named JC Runyon’s Person of the Year for her work writing books for kids with social and emotional issues. You can follow Shannon on Twitter @shannonteaches or sign up for her free newsletter on her website: Shannonisteaching.com.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Giving Myself Time by Cameron Carter

Time is the epitome to my writing.

When was the last time you allowed yourself a designated time to sit down, maybe with your favorite beverage in hand, and just… WRITE.

Over the summer, I was fortunate to visit the Ohio Writing Project summer graduate program. The first hour of the class allowed students to just… WRITE. They were free to write about whatever they chose. At the end of the day’s class, students were asked to share a “golden line” from their pieces of writing. I sat in the room, awestruck, at how powerful one simple, golden line, showcased each writer’s piece.

After coming back home, I realized I do not set a designated time for myself to let my creative writing flow.

As always, I thought about my students and my practices in the classroom. Each and every day, I referred to my students as “writers.” I taught the importance of writing every day to build writing stamina. After these thoughts ran through my brain, I noticed I was not practicing what I was teaching my students to embrace.

It can be hard to set time to write for YOU, and just YOU. My advice for educators, and honestly, all people, is to keep writing. If not for you, write for your students.

Time is the epitome to my writing.

Cameron Carter teaches first grade for Worthington Schools in Columbus, Ohio. He currently is the Elementary Lead Ambassador for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), as well as the Elementary Liaison for the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (OCTELA).  He can be found on Twitter @CRCarter313 and Facebook @MrCartersClass.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writing is My Elixir by Fran Haley

I am a writer.

Which means, essentially, that I am an alchemist of words, continually experimenting with ways to convey ideas and inspiration. I write first as a revelation to myself. Once I have some substance on the page, once an idea solidifies, I refine the words repeatedly for a desired effect on readers. This is a point I emphasize to students when my teaching colleagues invite me into their classrooms: “Writing is a message. It involves a sender and a receiver. Your job, as the writer, is to make your reader think and feel what you think and feel.”

As I model for students and teachers, from ideas to final drafts, I involve them in the process. They help me make artistic choices—topic, word choices, sometimes form. They become invested. In fourth grade last week I modeled how poets get ideas from objects, photographs, art, wonder, and relationships (not just between humans, but, say, the relationship of the moon to oceans and tides). I shared my own ideas in these categories and students chose an object as the basis of a poem for me to write: An old tonic bottle I found partially buried in the dirt of what was once my grandfather’s childhood farm. “Write a rhyming poem,” said the students, with glee.

So, before their very eyes, I combined those ingredients: A bottle, a format, emotion, a need to make a vital connection to readers … stirring, refining …

Only as I began writing this post with that little bottle in mind did it occur to me that writing is my elixir. Not a meaningless formula that I hawk to achieve my own ends, but one of authentic, lifelong power.  Once the students get a taste of the real thing, they desire it forever.

As I do.

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 Fran on Twitter: @fahaley.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Starting Small and Making Time by Missy Springsteen Haupt

If you had asked me ten years ago if I was a writer, I would have said no.

There might have been some shame in my response, as a then 3rd-year English teacher aware that she wasn’t practicing what she preached. There most definitely would have been some defensiveness in the response, questioning how any teacher could find the time to be a writer.

The classroom teacher’s battle against time is one of those epic struggles right up there with Batman versus The Joker. We never really win. Sometimes the pressure makes us better. Sometimes it defeats us.

I don’t know how you find the time.
It’s one of the things I hear most often when talking with other teachers about writing.

Sometimes it’s delivered with awe: That’s amazing, how do you do it? 

Sometimes it can feel like an insult: You must not have enough responsibilities if you have time for that. 

It is almost always delivered with a sense of wistfulness: I wish I could.

I still haven’t found a good way to respond to that statement. You can, I promise you can, I want to say.

Writing matters, especially when we are teachers of writers, so we have to make time.

Instead of setting big goals or tasks for teachers who want to discover their writer-selves again, my advice is to make time. Start small. The fifteen minutes you spend mindlessly scrolling through social media while decompressing from the day? Replace it with writing time. Five minutes before you go to bed, commit to writing two or three sentences about your day in a journal. Most of my daily prewriting happens in my head during my morning workout. When my students write during class, I write with them.

Beginning the writing habit does not have to be sitting down to start a novel, or committing to a blog, or even creating anything good enough to share with an audience. It just means that you begin. Once the first sentence is down, that’s it: You’re a writer again.

And after you start the habit, you’ll be amazed at how you find the time where you thought it didn’t exist before.

Missy Springsteen-Haupt teaches middle school language arts at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Middle School in Clarion, Iowa. She blogs about teaching and writer’s workshop at themrshauptsteen.weebly.com and on Twitter @missyhauptsteen

Monday, October 8, 2018

Why Do I Write? by Tynea Lewis

We are constantly asking our students to write, but do we ever consider why we write?

I love the #WhyIWrite campaign because it makes me look into myself and reflect on the reasons why writing is so important to my life.

It’s a part of who I am. For me, it’s as essential as breathing. When I don’t do it, I am weak, overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated.

A few months ago, I was going through some boxes of things I probably hadn’t seen since the last time we moved. As I came across one piece of paper, I just stared at it. The colorful sentences brought peace to my heart.

Life has been chaotic lately, and I haven’t been writing as much as I did when this paper was penned a decade ago.

Reading my words about why I write brought joy to my heart. It refreshed me. It ignited that spark again and reminded me of the necessity writing has in my life.

My twenty-year-old self said it best…

I write to escape.
I write to discover.
I write to invent.
I write early in the morning.
I write late into the night.
I write until I fall asleep.
I write when I can’t sleep.
I write to make sense of the world.
I write to change the world.
I write to change myself.
I write to have purpose.
I write for no purpose.
I write to create new worlds.
I write to pass the time.
I write to capture time.
I write to keep memories.
I write to forget.
I write to paint a picture.
I write when I’m inspired.
I write when I’m frustrated.
I write when I’m confused.
I write when I’m bored.
I write to capture moments.
I write out of joy.
I write out of discipline.
I write to keep myself thinking.
I write to give myself a challenge.
I write to inspire others.
I write for fun.
I write for a job.
I write to learn.
I write to discover.
I write for my sanity.
I write because I’m insane.
I write because words are fascinating.
I write to reconnect with my childhood.
I write so I don’t have to use my mouth.
I write for comfort.
I write because it makes sense.
I write to make my mark on the world.
I write because I’d go crazy if I didn’t.

Why do you write?


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, working for Family Friend Poems and Write About, 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 tynealewis.com.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Because I AM a Writer by Den'ja Pommarane

I am a writer.

It has taken me a long time to believe it, but it is the truth. Even now, typing it, saying it in my mind, and out loud to my students, I still get the same phantom feelings of being an impostor. But that’s alright; I work through it.

It wasn’t that long ago I decided to call myself a writer. Of course, I wrote all the time. Emails, letters to parents, poems, short stories, graduation speeches, essays with my students- attempting to model the ideal; you name it, I wrote it. The problem I had saying "I am a writer" resided in the lack of publications bearing my name.

I felt the anger boil in me when my lines and words were incomplete or when I wrote in circles regarding thoughts I have, futures unknown, and the memories of pasts I’ve lived. I’ve been ill-tempered reviewing page after page of my text, looking for those nuggets of semantical gold; those gleaming diamond-lights of burning truth revealing human conditions. I’m eternally struggling to make my grey matter significant. Reflecting my life, my stance, my ground, my world, my universe into words to share.

I felt joy complimenting a colleague with a note when the words flowed with truth. I’ve had tears burn on my cheek, presenting a poem and photograph to my dad. Empathy and compassion graced my pen consoling a friend’s lost friend. Drafts have gone from good to great and great to fair all in a matter of minutes. I’ve laughed. I’ve raged. I’ve hurt. I’ve grinned from ear to ear. I’ve experienced all this in writing.

Because I AM a writer. 

Den’ja Pommarane (Pomm) has been an ELA teacher at Laramie High School in Laramie, Wyoming for 14 years. He is a lifelong seeker. When Pomm is not playing with his children, cooking for his wife, or working on the yard, folks can find him fishing the high plains lakes in the shadows of the Snowy Range.  You can follow Pomm on Twitter at @DenPommarane

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Road Trips, the King of Horror, and Conquering Writing Fears by Andy Schoenborn

Two summers ago my wife and I took our family on a vacation that took us from Michigan to Montreal and, eventually, to Bar Harbor, Maine. Our vacations are really like extended road trips and we love finding out of the way places to visit along the way.

Typically we set our course with main destinations in mind and use an app called Roadtrippers to pinpoint quirky out-of-the-way places along the way. On our way to Bar Harbor, we were looking for somewhere we could stop, stretch our legs, and fuel up before reaching our final destination. It happened that Bangor, Maine was the easiest place for us to stop before the final 40 minute or so drive to Bar Harbor, so I popped the name of the city into the app.

There was plenty to see in Bangor: a larger-than-life statue of Paul Bunyan, the beautiful Penobscot River walkway, and the Mount Hope Cemetery - I know our leg-stretcher ideas are a bit quirky.

However, there was one attraction on the map that intrigued me the most - Stephen King’s House. Sure, I knew he lived in Bangor, but this was the KING of horror and I simply did not believe it was really where he lived.

Since his “home” was only a few miles from the Paul Bunyan statue, I convinced my family to humor me by driving by - so we did.

We found the house and drove by like creepers - the home was not what I expected at all. It was, well, normal in the sense that I had a hard time believing that Stephen King would live so modestly. The only thing that seemed off was the over-the-top black fence adorned with spiders, vampire bats, and various garish figures that surrounded the property.

I laughed a little in disbelief and decided to hop out of the car to snap a few photos of “Stephen King’s House,” and I wasn’t alone. There was a small group of goth kids hanging around the fence talking in hushed voices and, being short on time, I struck up a quick conversation - easy for a teacher to do, I suppose.

“Hey, guys,” I said, feeling super touristy and dad-like, “is this really Stephen King’s house?”

The older of the three looked at me through his jet-black hair and said, “Yeah...it is.”

I laughed a bit, “Really? Don’t you think it’s a bit much with all of these horror motifs welded into the fence?”

He looked to his friends, then back to me pointing down the sidewalk, “He just took his dog for a walk, man. We’re waiting for him to come back.”

“Seriously!? You actually saw him leave his house?”

“Yeah, he left about ten minutes ago.”

Stunned, and not believing my luck, I said, “Did you talk to him?”

The goth kids huddled closer to each other and the older one started in again, “No way, man, we don’t even know what to say. I mean, what can you say to your idol?”

Without thinking, I blurted out, “‘Hello’ usually works pretty well,” and I ran back to the car to tell my wife and kids about our luck. They couldn’t care less. My children each groaned at the thought of meeting a famous author and said, “Nah” in unison.  My wife checked the time on her phone. “We have some time,” she said, “I know you’re excited - we can wait - just don’t be too much of a fan boy,” she smirked.

I ran back across the street to take pictures of the house on West Broadway with the goth kids.

After a few minutes, sure enough, there was Stephen King walking his corgi, Molly, aka “the Thing of Evil” down the sidewalk. The scene was just as normal as, well, a man walking his dog through his neighborhood.

As he came closer, I realized I had one shot at meeting the King of Horror. The opportunity was unexpected and my mind raced with thoughts like “he will think I’m crazy,” “you will make a fool of yourself,” and “who do you think you are to just talk to Stephen King?”

I decided to push all of those doubts aside and just go for it.

“Hello? Mr. King? I’m sure you hear this often, but I am a big fan of your work,” I reached out my arm to see if he would shake my hand. He did and said in his deep voice, “Hi. Call me Steve.” We chatted for a few minutes about his dog, took a selfie, and he excused himself. It was a fantastic moment.

As I jogged back to my family, I took a look back at Steve’s house and noticed the goth kids were still huddled in the same place and Steve was halfway down his driveway. They missed their chance to speak with their hero.

Writing is like that when we let our fears get the better of us. In the moment when we are deciding whether or not to hit the submit button questions buzz in our minds. We wonder if what we’ve done is any good. We wonder why anyone would care. We worry about what might happen if our idols find out how we really write.

The reality is we make our writing fears much larger than they ought to be. Writing is a craft that no one is able to master. There is always more to learn and more ways to grow as a writer.

Do not let your fear of writing stop you from doing what you love. You have something to say that benefits the world. Seek out invitations to write, no matter how small (or large) they may seem. Take a seat in the author’s chair and share your perspective.

When in doubt, push through the fears and insecurities you have as a writer - we all have them. Reach out to others and, if you’re not sure what to say, “hello” usually works pretty well.

Go for it, friends, we can’t wait to read what you write.

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 elafieldbook.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

No More Apologies

I am proud to declare: I am a writer. It's taken me years to claim that moniker. For years, I apologized for my writing. "I'm sorry that this isn't very good," was the prelude to every single piece of writing I shared. We all do it. (I still do it sometimes.) We apologize for ourselves and for our writing. When did this change for me?

It all started at the Northern Virginia Writing Project Summer Institute of 2007. One of the co-directors, Jim, did something every time we shared our writing. It stuck with me. Whenever any of us were 
about to apologize for our writing, he would interrupt the apology and say, "Read the crap." I was surprised to discover that every writer feels (or has felt) the need to apologize for their writing. This was nothing new. Every single time Jim said, "Read the crap." We'd giggle and read. It was liberating! That's when I (mostly) stopped apologizing for my writing. Calling myself a writer came later...

It was only a few years ago. I took a giant leap and attended a writing retreat. When I arrived, I knew only one other writer there. Every single person there was a writer, except me...or at least that's what I thought. Apparently, I spent a lot of time explaining away why I was there. I felt like I didn't fit. It felt like everyone there just knew I wasn't a real writer. It was at dinner one night, my friend Stacey just turned to me and said, "Stop. You are a writer." Everyone at the table smiled, nodded, and agreed. They gave me permission to wear that word with pride. I've never looked back. 

You can do it. Stop apologizing for your writing. Claim that name...say it with me, "I am a writer!" YES! It's the best thing that I've done for my writing life.

Michelle Haseltine spends her days with middle schoolers in Loudoun County, VA. Together they write, create, and collaborate 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. Michelle tweets regularly at @Mhaseltine and Instagrams at @Mhaselti.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall...

Each year when I book talk a Jason Reynolds book, I always ask my students the following questions.

What do writers look like?
If you were to describe a writer, how would they look?
Close your eyes and picture a writer.  Tell me what you see?

The most common answer, or picture, is an old man with grey hair and glasses. Many actually tell me they think a writer looks something like Albert Einstein.  I laugh and tell them to take a look at the author of this book.  Then I show them a picture of Jason Reynolds. You should see their reactions.

This conversation gives me valuable feedback. The most important being that my students have a very outdated and stereotypical view of writers, and they lack exposure to contemporary authors.  

It also makes me wonder that if this image is how they picture writers, where and how do they fit into this image.

I know many teachers have yet to add "writer" to their list of identities. Yet, if we do not see ourselves as writers, how can we effectively encourage our students to do the same.  Maybe we need to take a look in the mirror and ask that important question...

When we have the confidence to say, "I am a writer," then maybe, just maybe, our students will see themselves in that mirror, too.

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Will You Become a Writing Advocate? by Jennifer Laffin

Welcome to October, #TeachWrite friends!

There's a big holiday coming up this month!

Can you guess what it is?

If you said Halloween, good guess. But that's not it.

It's the National Day on Writing on October 20th!

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began the National Day on Writing in 2009 as a way to "to draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, and to help writers from all walks of life recognize how important writing is to their lives."

To celebrate, teacher-writers can share their reasons for writing on social media using the hashtag #whyIwrite.

We here at the #TeachWrite Chat Blog felt that this was an excellent opportunity to ask our audience of teacher-writers/guest bloggers to write about what inspires their writing life and let me tell you -- they responded with some GREAT posts that you will read throughout the month!

Looking to do a little reflection yourself? Consider the following questions:

  •  How does writing enrich your teaching and/or personal life?
  • What are you most proud of in your writing life?
  • What advice do you have for others who would like to begin a writing habit?
  • What are some ways you are challenging yourself with your writing?
  • What are your ‘big dreams’ in regards to writing?
  • How does writing for an audience affect you as a writer? 
  • How do you push past your writing struggles?
  • What motivates/inspires you to write?

Perhaps these prompts would make a good blog post for you.

Perhaps they would be good questions to sprinkle throughout your staff lounge.

Perhaps they are good questions to ask your students to answer.

Perhaps they would make a thought-provoking conversation starter at a PLC meeting.

Perhaps these prompts will help you determine some next steps for your writing and teaching life.

The more we think, talk, and take action on behalf of writing, the more others see the important role that writing plays in our lives. We become writing advocates.

I can't think of a better way to celebrate the National Day on Writing this month and always!

Jennifer Laffin is a teacher of teachers, the owner of Teach Write LLC, and a co-moderator of the #TeachWrite Twitter Chat. She is committed to helping teachers and their students grow as writers because she has seen how writing can transform you both personally and professionally. You can find her learning with others on Twitter at @laffinteach and @TeachWriteEDU or at www.teachwrite.org.

Want to write for a future series for this #TeachWrite Chat Blog? We are always looking for teacher-writers who would like to write for us. More information can be found here.

Write for Us!

The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing. We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.