Friday, November 23, 2012

Teaching Large Scale Revision: Working with Our Most Proficient Writers

Here are some more notes from the past, looking for principles that still hold true.  I think it becomes all too EASY to leave our most proficient writers to their own devices, after all, these writers "get it" and often do what we teach them, but how do we take them even further? It is our job to teach ALL of our students to grow.  Do our most proficient writers reach their full potential in our workshops? 

It would seem that the habit of mind that would most support these writers would be teaching them how to make their revision work in more meaningful and complex.  After all, revision is a habit of mind, and when writers develop this habit and learn to do it well, it causes them to approach writing with a more reflective stance, work with increased independence, and of course, lifts the level of their writing.

Trouble We Encounter with Proficient Writers
     These writers often do EVERYTHING we teach them
     At times, these writers are reluctant to take risks (teacher-pleasers)
     These writers sometimes see revision as something I did wrong
     These writers look at revision as too much extra work; and need to learn to see revising as an art.
     These writers might move through revision TOO fast, this work helps them to slow down

Think about them as professional writers, look at their writing with an adult lens (professional writer), but translate into words that are accessible to kids.  “At its core, the truth of the matter is, revision is matching what is in your heart with what is on the page.”  

Logistics and Content
It helps for students to write on one side and skip lines when drafting because it makes it easier to draft and revise across pages and manipulate scenes in order to revise on a larger scale versus a line or word here or there. The following are some tips for large scale revision shared at a TCRWP reunion in 2007 with an all-star staff developer (who happens to be our staff developer, Colleen Cruz):
  1. Writers ask themselves questions about their writing to help plan their revision work, such as: Where is the trouble or tension (that's what makes it interesting to read)? Who is the audience? Does it make sense?
  2. Writers experiment with different structures that highlight the important parts of their pieces (flashback, flash forward, framing etc.)  There are two parts to stories: the outer stories (actions/reactions); the inner stories (feelings/responses). Often call external and internal.
  3. Writers consider the pacing of the text at different places and make changes (sentence structure, punctuation, content) to help slow the reader down, or speed them up.
  4. Writers work with intention - uniting what seem to be unconnected pieces in order to create layers
  5. Writers revise dialogue, making sure to break it up for rhythm and timing.  Ask: What work do we want dialogue to do in this scene? Again, we see we’re coming back to intention and the writer's purpose.
  6. Writers use objects as metaphors that will match their intended meaning, making sure it is placed with care and weighted throughout the piece (don't bang the reader over the head with it) so that the message resonates with the audience.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Don't Forget the Craft

There's a Fine Line between Craft and Crap: Let's Not Cross the Border

In 2007, I attended a keynote address, Lester Laminack was the speaker, at the TCRWP August Writing Institute and was doing some fall cleaning and re-reading some notes.  It was the first time I ever heard Lester speak, and I must admit that, even now that I have heard him on several occasions throughout the years, I still feel like the kids (and teachers) are fortunate to have such a gifted orator and author in their midst.  I think it is powerful to revisit notes from several years ago and see what advice still holds true in these changing times, what gems we might have forgotten over the passage of time, and how thinking has evolved from that point.
Lester began with sharing that in "all forms of art; simplicity is elegance".  There is an inherent danger when we focus on craft in isolation - students tend to over generalize.  This is not surprising, in that, Brian Cambourne, the renowned Australian educational researcher, explained that approximation is one of the principles of learning.  It's that place where we're not quite sure if we've got it right, but because it's new and we're excited about what we are learning, we tend to overuse it.

Lester went on to encourage teachers to “bathe children in the language of the things we hope that they will write.” How often do we do this? How often do we invite children to write just like (name the author)?  In the 1980’s, during the whole language movement, teachers often made the mistake of drowning kids versus immersing them in language.  Here is where we fell into the trap of just teaching kids HOW to do it, and often neglected the more important WHEN and WHY of using it in our writing.

Lester explained, that “technique should serve the writer’s intention.” Encourage writers to form theories about WHY the writer applied the craft to that particular place.  What effect was it intended to have on the reader?  I think that when I enter classrooms where writers are having trouble find the heart of their stories, it is often because they're unsure about their intention. 

We need to make sure that, first and foremost, writers recognize that our classrooms, our schools and our communities are places where their stories matter.  An all important question to guide our conferring is: Why are you writing this PARTICULAR piece? Who do you hope will read it? What are you trying to show/say? 

According to Lester, “the teaching of and application of craft should be designed to fine-tune the writer’s intentions so that their readers are able to interpret the author’s meaning. Authors are intentional and deliberate about their craft decisions in a text, we can teach our writers to approach their writing with the same stance, and when rehearsing, choosing, developing, drafting, revising and editing it’s all about making the meaning clearer – it’s all about intention. How do you approach the teaching of craft? I think it’s an important question – in that – the CCLS seem to highlight structure, organization and elaboration? What about craft? Do we still feel like it has a place in our teaching?  To learn more about Lester's books and advice for writers, teachers and schools, visit the following website: 

Reflecting on the Principal Gala at the Botanical Gardens (2015)

It is important for leaders to retreat to the mountains. This event stands at a cross-section. We need it to determine the road ahead. ...