Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Takeaways for Classroom and Coaching Practices from a Summer of Writing

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I have written a lot this summer. Not much on the blog (and I feel guilty about that--I am working on letting it go!). Not even much as far as weekly slices are concerned, because I have been completely committed to finishing and then revising a chapter book that I started several years ago--I think that the first pieces of it were from 2008!

But, I have learned a lot about writing this summer, as I reflect on the work. I have gotten to know about communities that exist to mentor, encourage, and inspire writers. If any of you are trying to write a chapter book, firstfivepagesworkshop.blogspot.com is an incredible resource. I can not say enough about how much the community there has taught me. 

Here are a couple of big takeaways for classrooms. Writers crave responses. At the firstfivepages website, we put our writing up publicly for critiques and I read, re-read, read out loud, and even printed out many of the comments. On the days when we put up our revised versions, I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times I checked to see if my piece had any new comments. When we are really into writing, it’s brave and scary to put it out there, and that’s what we ask kids to do in workshop oriented classrooms. As a teacher, as a coach, as a human, I pledge to remember to respond when people, young or old, share their work with me.

Another takeaway for classrooms is that letting go of ideas or parts of written work is hard. I found myself going through a predictable process when my writing community made suggestions that involved significant revisions (and admittedly, my writing community was probably much more honest and critical than I would think most teachers would be to students). First, I have to say, I felt defensive. I wanted to explain why I made the decisions that I made and have my readers/critiquers just understand. Then, I would try to dig into what they were saying. This is when I was really grateful for written comments because I could repeatedly return to them. Gradually, I would rehearse in my head how to incorporate suggestions and feedback before I could sit down and really do meaningful revision. 

I’m not saying that students follow this same process when teachers give them stuff to work on, but this summer, I have developed a second favorite word. (My first favorite word is yet, since it opens up a world of possibility.) Maybe has a whole new place of power as a word for me this summer. When critiquers used the word maybe, I felt empowered, almost like their idea was my idea. (It wasn’t. Many times, the ideas were other people’s...) I am planning to use maybe in my practice much, much more. I am even working on a post about the power of maybe.

I’m off to celebrate my last day at the beach--this week I return to the land of working with meetings on Thursday and work-related tasks on Friday. 

Happy Writing,


  1. You've learned so much this summer thanks to all of the writing you've done. Wow! You really grabbed the bull by the horns and went for it.

    So lucky to have you as part of our critique group!

  2. Thanks for sharing this piece of writing! After reading this I took a step back and could honestly say that I too love getting feedback on the work I have shared, especially online.

    There have been written pieces published on my blog, music I've shared publicly and photos I've taken and shared and I do, I love feedback. In my case there are usually no comments and yes, it's a bit deflating but over the years I've taken on the philosophy that I'll create all of this for myself. I thought that writing blog posts will help me as a writer and allow me a space to get some of this stuff that's in my head - out. I've also taken on the idea that all the work that I have created can be seen as part of my legacy after I'm, cough cough, gone.

    So if I turn this idea upside down for a moment and consider my students I think it's safe to say that they too love feedback. Honestly, this is an area I could do better in. I think I'm pretty good at giving appropriate verbal feedback in the moment, but like you said, having the written comment allows you the opportunity to read, reread and consider their opinions.

    So, there it is. You've helped me create a personal goal for this year. I will do a much better job at providing more responsive written feedback to my students this year.

    Many thanks!

    John Howell

  3. I admire your persistence in working on your chapter book! What a powerful role model you are to your students!

  4. Best of luck with your book, Melanie. It may not be published YET, but MAYBE soon I will spot it on a shelf at my local bookstore.

  5. Response and letting go - we learn so much about teaching our kids to write by just doing it ourselves. How marvelous that you had this group to motivate and support your writing this summer, Melanie. All the best for a wonderful school year.

  6. Your observations are spot on, Melanie! I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who gets carried away checking for new comments. More importantly, this is such an important reminder for us about providing feedback to our students, and helping them learn the power of the word yet. Hope your school year gets off to a great start!

  7. Love this! Maybe… we will definitely give it a try. Did you read our slice this week? It is incredible how often we are posting about similar ideas, books…. Hope to meet some day!

    Clare and Tammy