Celebrate: Engagement in Literacy

This week, I had the honor of spending four days in a room full of teachers learning with Cornelius Minor. Cornelius for 45 minutes is astounding, life-changing learning. Four days you can’t imagine. I suspect I’ll be mulling over my notes the whole school year. Today I want to celebrate and reflect on five pieces of learning.

First Lesson:

A lot of what makes a writer is what’s in the heart. Start where the heart is.  Consider the highs and lows in the writing life. Sketch the emotional EKG. The highs come from personal choice, feedback from someone you respect, and public acknowledgement. The lows come when personhood is denied, from personal tragedy, collective tragedy; when attention is only for grading.

As I look back on my school life, one class stands out.  In that class I wrote.  I spoke, I acted out dramatic scenes. I discovered I liked reading.  In that class, my ideas were heard and considered valuable. The writing we did was our choice and shared among our peers. That high school short story class gave me confidence, and the knowledge that reading and writing could be good. It was possible. Sadly, that was the first and last class. But the good news is that it took. Because of that class, I began a journey towards writing and reading. How does this inform my teaching decisions? If an environment exists that allows for confidence and engagement, the work will become a part of that student. The belief will live in them and fuel them as their abilities increase and through times when they hit bumps in their reading and writing lives.

Mastery is not the outcome engagement is.

Second Lesson:

Commit to the writing process in that it is a process. A lot of what we create is left on the cutting room floor. Create more cognition by repurposing what kids have to say. Create room for critical thinking – A place where kids are doing work around ideas before they write. Lead kids to be entrepreneurial in the work.

Classroom writing instruction should actively create spaces that produce thinking. How might that look? Gathering ideas for writing should include experiences of “text” that exists throughout our lives. The intent of this work is to relive or live experiences that conjure emotions. The sharing of story, read aloud,  pictures,  videos, music can create opportunities to talk, think and write a little about feelings and ideas.  Next, stretch students’ muscles by considering text with a shifted lens or filter it through another text. Allow students to practice the possibility that more than one idea can live in a text or can grow with exposure to another text. The idea is to get an idea. Not a “what happened” but a reaction to what happened. Stories and ideas live in emotions. Thinking can start by finding what we feel and then asking what does that make us think. Experiencing this process is empowering.

The writing workshop should trigger emotion.

Third Lesson:

Set high expectations. What you write today is the best thing that you have written in this class. If the draft is the best thing you’ve written to date, you are lifting the level in the end.

Too often students spend their time in their past learning. It’s a comfortable place to be. Working up to what students can do is a waste of their time and stops them from moving to what they need to do. How does this inform my instruction? The realization that every time you produce a draft it had better be the best thing you have ever produced is a cultural shift. Students’ energy builds in a unit and by the end, they produce a piece that shows growth. But strangely as we start the next unit, the draft is a notch lower than where they left off. That has been an expectation. And students have met it. And it needs to change.

“Students look at what you have just written, is it as good or better than your last piece? It needs to be. That’s the expectation.”

Fourth Lesson:

Conferences can be the most powerful tool in your teacher arsenal. A conference is your shot at being your kid’s favorite teacher. Sometimes even when I don’t have anything to teach I still use it.

Connecting to students is the most important part of the work. The challenge is to create the systems and maintain the energy around this with fidelity.  Data should direct effort. How might this look? Utilize technology to record conferences. Involve students in the record keeping, “would you take a picture of your work we’re talking about.” This will help me and get students to take a collaborative stance in our conferences. Create simple, written systems to make sure all students are covered. Reflect on data (checklists, conferences) with students throughout units. Create “go to” conferences that can be customized.

  • Writers develop stories around an object. You could do this by choosing an object, telling your story and right before the end, reflect. . . if it weren’t for this object . . .
  • Writers consider structure, one way to change up a story is to start with the outcome
  • Writers revisit a story by asking what other issues could be in this story. Could this story also be about . . .

Fifth Lesson:

This is not THE way it is A way to meet student needs.

Students are at the center. Their needs drive the work, and we adjust accordingly.  The goal is to build student confidence around cognition and literacy. Mastery is not the outcome. Lifelong engagement in literacy is. celebrate link up

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for a place to share our weekly celebrations at Discover Play Build.

7 thoughts on “Celebrate: Engagement in Literacy

  1. Julieanne, there are so many parts here that I began to highlight, and then I gave up, I just printed it all! It sounds like a fabulous time-and wow. Now you make me excited all over again, at least I’ll be watching to see what you share this year. This at the end is, to me, the most important, what I always wanted: “Mastery is not the outcome. Lifelong engagement in literacy is.” I am proud that I have students who come back to tell me that they are still writing, some are professionally writing, and/or they still love poetry, are finding more ways to keep it into their lives. It was my goal that they leave knowing they were good writers, knew how to keep learning, and that they loved it and the reading too. You’ve shared such a lot of great words for your year. I’m glad you’re celebrating!

  2. I love that you created this post filled with your learning! I look forward to following your path as you seek to implement your learning in your classroom. “Lifelong engagement in literacy is the goal,” and that is why I’m involved with students via an after school book club even after retirement.

  3. Yes, 50 minutes of Cornelius Minor is life altering! I can’t imagine FOUR DAYS! Love all the lessons . . . but right now thinking about #3. Set High Expectations. If we don’t have a target, we will never reach our goal.

    Thanks for so much to think about!

  4. Thank you for sharing these lessons. They are an important mind set for teachers and writers. Your post was filled with so much value, that I am going to print it for future reference.

  5. It must have been very exciting to be with Cornelius for a full four days. Great quote: “A lot of what makes a writer is what’s in the heart. Start where the heart is.” It takes me back to my morning with Georgia Heard last week. She is publishing a new book on her heart mapping that has resided in many language arts classrooms. Thanks for the ideas!

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