Summer at TCRWP

It was only a few drops when I entered the Starbucks on Broadway. Then. Downpour. My desire to move on disappeared and I sat down, thankful I was inside with a charged laptop after a day of TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute. Not a bad place to be caught in a rain storm. Lots to read and reflect on.

The institute starts at Riverside Church listening to Lucy. I will never tire of her message of purpose. The importance of writing. The importance of narratives. The importance of teaching children that their story matters.

Lucy reads a child’s story. Treasuring each word. We hear the importance of this writer’s story. We know, and more importantly, the writer knows, this matters. To find meaning in our lives, we must believe. Something is there. We have stories of consequence.

Lucy spoke of the trouble with writing. When we get to “thorny” places. When we think we have nothing more to say. When we get to the uncomfortable mistakes and empty places in our lives, those stories can lead us to something. Maybe change. If this speaks to you as a writer, think of what it could mean for our students. Stories of confusion and trouble need to be explored. And as teachers, we need to create a safe place for them to be told.

Thinking of my writing workshop, I know I did not meet this need as much as I should have.  The mission of finding writing that matters gets lost. The focus gets deflected. Easily.

I come to the institute to be inspired and aligned to what needs to be created. To be reminded of the importance of what I’ve always believed. That our stories matter. And it’s imperative that students do this work.

The how to teach writing that inspires joyful and courageous writing is the focus of the small group sessions that follow.

Katie Clements: Making Literary Essays Meaningful and Beautiful.
Katie started us off thinking about how we see literary essay with our students and how our students see literary essay. Many saw the work as tedious and uninspired. 
The idea of meaning and beauty was not in our day to day experience.

Katie offered some ways to make literary essays meaningful and beautiful. These ideas give writers permission to grow personal ideas to find joy and importance that liberates thinking and the writer.

• Structure matters, but not one structure
• Include some uncertainty in your thinking
• Provide room for the reader to make meaning
• Create time for lots of attempts and trials
• Showcase a unique take on the text
• Invite the reader in so the reader has a place in the literary essay
• Allow for more joyful and playful language and approach
• Incorporate characteristics of multiple genres
• “Prevision”

We thought and wrote around texts. Lots of quick attempts to see the text differently. Ways to make meaning
• Notice a detail that catches your attention.
• Ask yourself what haven’t you written about or how do two elements work together.
• Study times of trouble and write long about them.



• Talk with others about tentative ideas.

• Move up and down the ladder of abstraction (small detail to big ideas)

Katy Wischow: Creating Tool Kits for Small Groups and Revision
I use tools. But I was sure my “kit” of tools could use improvement.

Katy set us up to discover ways to use mentor texts across the writing process. Most of my tools revolve around revision. But Katy had us thinking about how tools could be used.

A few things to consider-

Look at what could be used and ask, how does a writer get to an idea? Travel to author’s web page.

Wonder — how do you think this author got there. Both Jack Gantos and Ralph Fletcher have published ways of mapping their neighborhood. Georgia Heard has her beautiful heart mapping ideas. Author websites and YouTube videos can provide insight into the invisible work writers do.

Mark up a text with post its. Asking, what are the big things I want to show? Consider craft, structure, grammar and our own attempts at writing. 

Clarify the teach by creating tools. If I can’t say it as a step by step, 1-2-3 process, then I’m not clear on how to teach that strategy. Tool creation tightens up your knowledge.

As with all tools, it comes down to selecting the right tool for the job. What and when to use them. We thought about tools as scaffolds. Acknowledging that some tools will always be needed. And other tools are helpful in the moment.

There’s more, but the rain has lessened, so I’m off. Tomorrow will offer more learning and (hopefully) clear skies.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.