Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slice 23 of 31-#sol17: Thinking about author's craft

This is the 10th year that Two Writing Teachers has hosted the Slice of Life Challenge. Thirty-one days of writing during the month of March, here we go!


I always admire people who admit when they're not sure of something, and recently one of our teachers asked what we meant when we talked about author's craft:
  • How do we teach it? 
  • What do we mean by it? 
  • Is there a list of craft moves we should be responsible for?
  • What if we say the wrong thing?
  • How do we teach something we don't really understand ourselves?
She really got me thinking about author's craft and the high leverage moves to teach a complicated subject. I sat with her and another teacher at the end of the day, and together we studied The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. We chose this one because it is a picture book they both owned and had read before. (Hat tip to Clare and Tammy who wisely pointed out how powerful it is to use the books in the classroom, rather than appear with our own that the teachers don't have once we leave! If you missed it, check out this post.) As we read through the pages of The Other Side, I began to point out some of the craft moves I noticed, including:
  • sentence variation
  • repetition
  • beginning sentences with conjunctions
  • the repeated use of the word "that"
  • intentional paragraphing and use of white space
The teachers caught on quickly, realizing that they did know about author's craft; they just hadn't realized they did. The interesting conversation happened when we talked about the impact these craft moves have on readers. Yes, in the case of this story, repetition could be to emphasize a point or draw readers' attention to an idea. But no, that's not always the case. Sometimes authors might use repetition to create playfulness or create a rhythm in their prose. No, there's not an answer that is necessarily the right answer. It's interpretive. 

When I first started teaching, I had a principal who asked us to debate whether teaching is an art or a science during a faculty meeting. If you ever have the chance to engage colleagues in this discussion, I recommend it. This work session with these teachers was a great example of teaching as an art without clear, readily available answers and formulas. 

Happy Slicing,


  1. Sometimes it's the terminology that trips teachers up. They know the concept but have never attached vocabulary to it. I love that the teacher wasn't sure what was meant by craft and came to you to find out.

  2. Teachers I work with feel the same way about author's craft. Thank you for this insightful post about ways to help them understand that they already know quite a bit about it and to know there isn't always one right answer.

  3. Such a vulnerable question from that teacher. We can not assume everyone has the same understanding of specific jargon. We may know what the terms mean but it might be good practice to step back and review occasionally.

  4. Surrounding ourselves with the words of authors we know and trust is an important part of studying author craft. I use Think Aloud a lot to share with teachers and kids about 'words I wish I had written.' I am also reminded of Katie Wood Ray's most important question What is this author doing that I wish I could do?' This discussion that took place was such a rich and important one. Learning to read like writers comes into sharp focus when the talk turns to author's craft. There is little doubt that it becomes easier to recognize you become someone who chooses to write.

  5. Craft is tough -- teachers often ask was is the difference between elaboration and craft. I get the question -- sometimes it is both. I like your take on it: "No, there's not an answer that is necessarily the right answer. It's interpretive." That really is it, isn't it? I will use that line in the future for sure! Thanks for the shout out...

  6. It's great to have a glimpse into the thoughtful work you do with teachers, Melanie. The Other Side is a beautiful choice for doing this work.

  7. It's great to have a glimpse into the thoughtful work you do with teachers, Melanie. The Other Side is a beautiful choice for doing this work.

  8. And where's Larkin??? I can't find her ... did she stop slicing? So many slicers, I might just be missing her. I love reading her slices.


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