Check this out: Vicki Vinton and Cornelius Minor in the same building. The ESC South of LAUSD, brought these great educators to us — wow — what an opportunity –what a choice!
Vicki led the high school folks in reading, while Cornelius worked with elementary and middle school teachers on writing.
My notebook and brain is brimming with rich thinking and new teaching approaches Cornelius brought to life. As a side note, he has enough energy and passion to light a couple of stadiums.
Here are a just a few of my takeaways.
Mastery comes from practice. Our goal as teachers is to develop the emotional, social and intellectual energy so there is desire to practice. Practice only happens when we are engaged enough to try, fail, and try it again.
My job is to create the conditions for practice. The need for engagement must color all teaching moves.
I imagine my students’ passion for video games. Time doesn’t exist for them when they are gaming. Engagement goes on and on. They try and try, again and again. Through that practice they master the game and seek out more challenging experiences.
While writing and reading might not be video gaming, I need to remember this engagement can happen for my students and shoot for it. This is where learning happens. It’s my job to work toward it. Build it.
The average American has an attention span of seven minutes. With fatigue, attention span decreases.
I realize I need to look closely across our day; to reconsider my expectations and look at the realities. I need to notice it, measure it, address it. Think stamina. Think engagement. Always be aware of it and adjust for it. Stop the work before students disengage.
Essay writing is about thinking first. Teaching students to develop ideas and claims, reasons from evidence found in text comes first. Structure matters but it is not the first or second or even third teaching point. Moving students through a journey of thought about a text or subject is the bigger goal. Structure matters, it just shouldn’t be served up as a first move potentially preempting the harder thinking work.
Working with evidence to support a claim and develop a reason for the claim has befuddled my students, and my grasp on a good teaching pathway was weak.
Cornelius clarified my thinking and approach.
- The claim is a belief.
- The evidence is anything quoted or paraphrased from a text.
- The reason, or analysis, is the intersection of the two.
To develop this kind of thinking, consider “drill” work. Present a claim and a piece of evidence. Then ask students to find a reason that might connect the two.
It isn’t as easy as it might sound. Here’s one I tried.
Claim: Beyonce is a positive role model for women.
Evidence: In 2014, she became the highest-paid black musician in history.
Think: What might be the reason that links the evidence to the claim? How or why does this evidence support the claim?
Reason: Through hard work and talent, Beyonce has achieved great financial success.
Great thinking “drill” work to try, practice again and again on various claims and pieces of evidence, so when students go to writing, their analytical muscles are a bit more developed and can play the “game” with more skill.
Use the TCRWP student checklists with on demand writing. The new checklists with pictures and kid-friendly language are powerful tools that can direct students toward self assessment. That’s a win win. They see it. They set goals for the next step. You can find them in the new Writing Pathways book.
But, I have shied away from using them with students’ first piece, their pre- (before any instruction) on demand work. Why? I didn’t want them defeated before we even start the unit. Cornelius offered a simple (why-didn’t-I-think-of-that) solution. Use the grade level checklist that matches the work the student is “starting to” be successful in. White out the grade level and bam! The checklists look so similar it won’t be obvious one 5th grader is looking at the 3rd grade checklist while another is working on the 5th grade one. We do this accommodating in reading with just right texts. With a little white out, here is the tool for just right writing work.
Writing matters because it gives us tools to handle struggle. We all have experiences. We all have been and get broken. Writing gives students possibilities and power. Writing gives students tools to handle the struggle. Giving students that power, to work through their struggle and rise, matters well beyond any common core expectations.
At the end of the day, educators were begging for more. Every minute on Saturday was valuable. Side conversations did not exist. No one missed a minute of this powerful PD instruction. I left with renewed energy and purpose for the writing work I’m imagining my students will move towards.