Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Write in the Middle
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Write in the Middle
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About the Workshop

Overview

In this eight-part workshop, classroom video and insightful discussion illustrate effective ways teachers can help their students become confident and proficient writers.

Middle school teachers from across the country share specific strategies they use with their students, and extensive video from each of their classrooms gives viewers an opportunity to see those strategies in action. The workshop explores several common themes that underlie effective writing instruction at the middle school level—providing engaging prompts, allowing student choice, modeling good writing, and using innovative approaches like multigenre writing. Some workshop videos feature aspects of the writing process, such as revision and pre-writing, while others illustrate successful strategies for teaching specific writing forms such as poetry or persuasive essays.

Workshop Summaries

Workshop 1: Creating a Community of Writers

After a brief introduction to the goals of all eight workshop sessions, middle school teacher and writing expert Linda Rief and several of the teachers whose classrooms are featured in Write in the Middle share strategies they use to build a safe writing environment for their students starting at the beginning of the school year.

Extended classroom video segments demonstrate some community-building activities teachers can use with their own students. Through classroom examples, teacher discussions, and interviews, Workshop 1 also examines how room arrangements can encourage written and spoken communication and how sharing their writing helps students become part of the writing community.

"Creating a Community of Writers" closes with an exploration of some of the psychological and emotional needs specific to young adolescents and their learning.

Workshop 2: Making Writing Meaningful

Workshop 2 demonstrates how teachers use authentic sources and topics to prompt students to write about things that matter to them—subjects that relate to their lives, relationships, and communities. The topic may be the students themselves—their feelings, emotions, reactions—or it may involve outside forces that have an impact on their lives.

Damond Moodie, a teacher from Oakland, California, uses current events as a prompt for encouraging his seventh-graders to write. Using television, newspapers, the Internet, and radio as sources, the students locate and summarize stories that interest them. Allen Teng, another teacher from Southern California, uses various resources and activities to guide his seventh-grade students through a lesson designed to help them develop and substantiate their opinions on controversial issues. We see Gloria Hamilton, who teaches eighth grade in the Los Angeles area, using an advice-column approach to prompt student writing.

In addition to classroom segments, the video also features teacher discussions about student engagement and excerpts from an interview with Linda Rief, the author of Seeking Diversity: Language Arts With Adolescents.

Workshop 3: Teaching Poetry

Many students—and teachers—avoid reading and writing poetry because it seems so difficult and foreign to their everyday experience. But for middle school students, poetry offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore feelings and emotions and to increase awareness of the power of written expression. In Workshop 3, we see two master teachers—Vivian Johnson, who teaches eighth grade in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and Jack Wilde, a fifth-grade teacher from Hanover, New Hampshire—helping their students develop as readers and writers of poetry.

Vivian Johnson introduces a mini-lesson on line breaks. The lesson features exemplars; excerpts from books on writing poetry; opportunities for discussion, sharing, and response; and writing applications. Throughout the classroom segments, we see how Vivian's carefully structured, student-centered approach fosters her students' appreciation and understanding of poetry and helps them begin to find their own poetic voices.

Like Vivian, Jack Wilde uses exemplars to teach his fifth-grade students about writing poetry. In the lesson featured in the video, Jack has the class read and analyze a published poem and then practice writing stanzas modeled on the exemplar to combine into a class poem. After the children share their writing, Jack leads them in a discussion of the difference between poetry and prose. Later, students will choose their own topics and write individual poems modeled on the exemplar.

Rounding out the video are excerpts from a conversation between Jack and Vivian, in which they share their overall approaches to teaching poetry as well as their reflections on specific instructional practices and strategies. Also featured is a cameo appearance from author and educator Tom Romano (Writing With Passion: Life Stories, Multiple Genres).

Workshop 4: Teaching Persuasive Writing

The fourth workshop features the classrooms of two teachers: sixth-grade language arts teacher Jenny Beasley from Somerset, Kentucky, and fifth-grade teacher Jack Wilde. Both are teaching units on persuasive writing that allow students to write about topics that matter to them—topics drawn from their experiences within their own communities. Also featured are excerpts from a discussion in which the two teachers reflect on their strategies and practices.

For Jenny's students, the definition of community is wide-ranging—it includes their families, their school, and their town. But under this broad umbrella, Jenny encourages her students to think specifically and concretely about issues that interest them. The students begin by exploring a range of possible editorial topics. When we catch up with the class, they already have narrowed their focus to one issue. Now, with Jenny's help, the students are laying the groundwork for effective and authentic editorials by stating their opinion, identifying their audience and purpose, and beginning to think about support for their point of view.

Meanwhile, Jack Wilde is introducing his students to persuasive writing by asking them to write on a familiar subject—their school community. Using a skillful mix of modeling, brainstorming, and conferring, Jack is teaching his class how to develop and organize an effective persuasive essay. The children's audience is the school principal and their purpose is to persuade him to go along with a suggested change—letting fifth-graders go home for lunch or giving students more computer time, for example. We see the students beginning their first drafts, well on their way to the unit's culminating activity: choosing representative essays for the principal to read and respond to.

Workshop 5: Teaching Multigenre Writing

Workshop 5 centers on multigenre writing, an eclectic approach to writing instruction that offers students a wide range of options for expressing ideas and communicating knowledge. As students explore different avenues for translating what they think or know into writing, they begin to understand that there is no single "right way" to communicate. Instead, writing demands intelligent, informed choices based on purpose, audience, content, and personal preference. Giving students the freedom to make these choices fosters their creativity and increases their engagement.

The first teacher featured in the video is Laurie Swistak from Newport, Rhode Island, whose fifth-graders are starting work on a research-based multigenre unit. Laurie begins by reviewing FQI—Facts/Questions/Interpretation —an inquiry framework that helps students think critically about genre choice. Through the course of two class periods, we see Laurie use whole-class and small group work to prepare her students to use FQI independently.

In the second part of the video, we see St. Paul teacher Mary Cathryn Ricker and her seventh-grade students approach multigenre writing from a different angle. Over the next few months, the students will prepare a portfolio of multigenre pieces focused on personal experience. To get the students started, Mary Cathryn introduces several literary models including Jerry Spinelli's entertaining memoir, Knots in My Yo-Yo String, and a collection of biographical poems about George Washington Carver. Later, we see her use a student poem—written in both English and Spanish—as a prompt, a particularly apt choice for her class of second-language learners.

Also featured in the video are excerpts from a conversation between Mary Cathryn and Laurie, and from an interview with Tom Romano, the author of Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers and a national expert on multigenre writing.

Workshop 6: Responding to Writing: Teacher to Student

Because of the personal nature of writing, one of the best ways to teach the craft is to interact directly with individual students. To make these vital student-teacher conferences as effective as possible, teachers need to be intentional in their planning and practice. At the same time, they must balance the benefits of conferencing with the challenges of fitting it into their busy classroom schedules.

"Responding to Writing: Teacher to Student" demonstrates how five teachers—Jenny Beasley, Vivian Johnson, Mary Cathryn Ricker, Laurie Swistak, and Jack Wilde—use student-teacher conferences to help their students improve as writers. The workshop provides classroom illustrations of several different approaches to conferring with students including formal one-on-one conferences, informal one-on-one interactions, and formal and informal conferences with student response groups.

Through interviews and discussion, the teachers reflect on their practice: planning effective one-on-one and group conferences, providing direction without taking over students' papers, using conferences to assess student learning and communicate expectations, and dealing with classroom management issues related to conferencing. The workshop also features excerpts from interviews with Tom Romano (Writing With Passion: Life Stories, Multiple Genres) and Linda Rief (Seeking Diversity: Language Arts With Adolescents).

Workshop 7: Responding to Writing: Peer to Peer

Peer responses provide a tremendous learning opportunity for young writers. These interactions help students with topic generation and idea development, increase their confidence about sharing their work, force them to look more objectively at their own writing, give them valuable feedback for possible revisions, and allow them to learn from the writing successes and challenges of their peers.

"Responding to Writing: Peer to Peer" visits the classrooms of three teachers—fifth-grade teacher Jack Wilde, seventh-grade teacher Velvet McReynolds, and eighth-grade teacher Vivian Johnson—to explore various ways that teachers can structure student interactions, from whole class responses to informal writing partnerships.

The video highlights teaching strategies that help students learn how to respond appropriately and meaningfully to each other's writing. Both Jack and Velvet model response using their own writing, and Jack and his students demonstrate how a whole-class response to an individual writer can help all the students hone their conferencing skills. We also sit in as Jack facilitates a small response group, another way of helping students learn how to respond more effectively.

The video abounds with classroom examples of students interacting. It also features excerpts from teacher discussions about peer conferencing, held at the end of the school year, as well as comments from Linda Rief, an eighth-grade English teacher and the author of Seeking Diversity: Language Arts With Adolescents.

Workshop 8: Teaching the Power of Revision

Workshop 8 takes viewers into the classrooms of three language arts teachers—Velvet McReynolds, Mary Cathryn Ricker, and Jack Wilde—as their students tackle the ongoing task of revision.

To Velvet McReynolds, revision is at the heart of the writing process—it's "where the magic happens." Using a student exemplar, class discussion, handouts, and individual and small-group work, Velvet prompts her seventh-graders to focus on revising personal narratives they wrote earlier in the year. The two-day session culminates with a celebration circle where students share "before" and "after" versions of their papers.

Mary Cathryn Ricker's seventh-grade students are beginning work on an autobiographical multigenre project. On the second day of the unit, Mary Cathryn presents a mini-lesson on the Barry Lane revision technique "exploding the moment." After the students "mine" their writing notebooks for a piece of personal writing to revise, Mary Cathryn moves around the room helping them come up with details that will expand and improve their writing.

Jack Wilde also is teaching a mini-lesson, this one on leads for persuasive essays. Using models drawn from past students' papers, Jack helps his class generate a list of effective ways to begin their papers. Then, after the students have drafted openings for their essays, they confer with one another and with Jack about possible revisions.

Throughout the workshop, we hear reflections on revision from both teachers and students, as well as discussions among the teachers about dealing with student resistance to revision, planning mini-lessons, and other issues related to the revision process.

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