Monday, August 29, 2005

Halecrest beliefs about Writing

A hearty thank you to Sea World, our fine partner, and the wonderful Joy Wolf, as well as Soung Pae who contributed to a fruitful day of learning to kick off the 2005-06 school year. As a staff here are the top seven beliefs about writing that we developed with the assistance of Soung.
We believe...
Reading and writing need to support each other (share literature).
Writing everyday (anytime writing) isessential.
Students should write with a purpose; keep audience/reader in mind.
Authentic and honest modeling and using whole/part/whole methodology is crucial.
We need to have high expectations for writing quality.
We must see ourselves as writers, take risks, and create a safe environment for students to take risks.
Students should talk about their writing with teacher, peers and the whole class.

This will be a work in progress throughout the year, but what a great start we've made!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Too good to be true?

This paragraph in Chapter 1 of Writing Essentials is one of the reasons why Routman is so appealing to read as an educator.
A major purpose of this book is to help you develop and refine your beliefs and practices for teaching writing effectively and in a way that is sensible and enjoyable. By reducing the clutter in our teaching lives - the overplanning, the unnecessary activities, the paper load, all the "stuff" that takes our time and energy and does little to improve teaching and learning - we bring joy back into our work. Nothing I do in classrooms is difficult or draining. As you read this book and get ideas, you will be thinking, I can do that, too.

I hope you have this intended response as you dig into Routman's book.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But Words Really Hurt

As we work to improve our skills in teaching writing, one element that Regie Routman highlights so effectively throughout her book is the central place of the realtionship between the teacher and the student. She emphasizes the need to speak to students in a respectful and kind voice. She also says that teachers should use supportive language in conferenceas and always begin with positive comments. Criticism kills! I think her approach dovetais nicely with the Whale Done philosophy in Ken Blanchard's book. Students will work harder and with greater purpose if they believe that you are for them. It's an old cliche, but full of truth that, "They won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Writing to understand

One of the purposes of writing is that it can help one more fully understand a concept or line of thinking. This was illustrated to me while reading Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat, a wonderful gift from one of our very kind teachers. Friedman was discussing the genesis of his book idea and said this:
I wanted to drop everything and write a book that would enable me to understand how this flattening process happened and what its implications might be for countries, companies, and individuals.

That really struck me. He indicates that the process of writing the book would better help him understand this phenomenon that he had been uncovering. This underscores the great value in writing across the curriculum. Students should be encouraged and taught to write a summary of a new concept in math or a finding in science. They shuold also be able to write as they explore new ideas. The process of writing will hellp refine their thinking and cement new concepts. This announcement of an NCTE conference gives more food for thought on this topic. Professor Jeffrey Golub says,
We can do so much more with writing than simply use it to show what we have learned. We can actually accomplish the learning itself through writing.

Janet Swenson adds,
These actions are dependent, however, on a student's ability to 're-view' what they have been thinking at a particular point in time--in other words, asking students to write is not always for the purpose of measuring their learning about a particular subject; sometimes it is for the purpose of improving the quality of their thinking.

So, by students writing they can accomplish more learning and improve their quality of thinking, or maybe even write a national bestseller like Thomas Friedman! Let's get to writing!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Qualities of great schools

I'm always interested to read studies that define the qualities of great schools. This article in the Toronto Star describes the results of a study by economist David Johnson which will be published Thursday by the C.D. Howe Institute. In this study he found evidence that socioeonomic status is not an unbendable influence on student performance. Comparing several demographics across 3,000 schools he uncovered several that outperformed similar schools. He visited 13 of these higher performing schools and found these characteristics.
The teachers worked in teams, particularly in the primary grades. In some cases, schools started preparing children for testing from the time they started kindergarten, but not at the expense of other activities, teachers said.

Higher performing schools had strong extracurricular programs and effectively communicated their expectations about homework and behaviour to parents.

Schools with lower socio-economic data relied heavily on the strong leadership of their principal to provide discipline and communicate expectations.

Except for that last one :), I think we can discuss how those characteristics can be applied to Halecrest. I also like some of the practices of Burnhamthorpe Public School, one of his exemplar programs.
Every month the entire school focuses on one concept that improves literacy. One month the whole school worked on how to phrase a question.

The parent council at Burnhamthorpe puts out a newsletter with articles on how to nurture children's intelligence and improve literacy.

There's an emphasis on the arts that has made for an award-winning choir, visiting opera performers, choral and jazz music. Extracurricular activities range from chess club and math club to line dancing and soccer.

Every Burnhamthorpe student has a T-shirt with the school motto: "Good, better, best. Never let it rest until my good is better and my better is my best."

Definitely some ideas worth thinking about.

The purpose of staff development

I came across this quote in a book by Richard Dufour, The Principal as Staff Developer, and it says better than I what the goal of staff development should be.

The ultimate goal of training programs is not to create individuals who unthinkingly follow a cookbook approach to teaching, but to develop thoughtful professionals who have the ability to assess and revise their own actions in order to improve the likelihood of success for their students.

Quality staff development is about thinking and learning.

Craft - The Missing Link

No, I'm not weighing in on the evolution versus intelligent design debate - at least not yet :) I was reading Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portalupi's book Craft Lessons and noticed the similarity of their emphasis with that of Regie Routman. Here's what they say on pages 2 and 3.

Many teachers show students elaborate prewriting strategies (webs, story maps, time lines, outlines), and expect students to use them. They give students detailed editing checklists to use, either individually or in pairs.
The middle element - craft - gets the least attention. During this part of the authoring cycle, students are left on their own to make a thousand decisions in their texts about leads, voice, structure, supporting detail, setting, mood , character, and so on. This is unfortunate because craft is the cauldron in which the writing gets forged.

This is the very aim of modeled and shared writing. Students need to be given explicit examples of a writer making those myriad decisions (modeled) as she writes, then provided the opportunity to join the teacher in creating a product (shared). Having taught 9th grade English over 10 years ago, I wish I could go back and try it again. I'm afraid those poor students received very little in the way of modeled or shared writing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

We don't need no stinking writing program!

That's a take off from some bad movie, I think. Regie Routman would agree that there is no perfect writing program that is waiting for us to discover it. We need to develop into a team of excellent writing teachers.
Ms. Routman provides a summary of the main components of a writing workshop:
1. Establish a genuine purpose and audience for all writing
2. Start by demonstrating (writing aloud, shared writing, sharing exemplary writing).
3. Gradually release responsibility to students (a samll group or partners conversing before writing or writing together, sustained writing with your guidance).
4. Celebrate, respond, evaluate, teach, amd move forward (have conferences with students).

We will be focusing our staff development this year on the second and fourth items on the list, but I think the first one bears constant attention. Students will genuinely be excited about writing when the writing has a real purpose and a clearly intended audience.