Summer: A Time For Professional Learning

There is often the misconception that teachers have summers off and just relax and enjoying a paid vacation between June and August.  The reality is that many teachers use their summer breaks as a time for professional development.  Sometimes those professional development activities are more informal, such as reading professional books and articles, while other activities are more structured and formal, including coursework, conferences and workshops.

One of my favorite summer PD experiences is the Children’s Literature Conference at Shenandoah University (you can check out the conference here).  Attendees can either register to attend and complete coursework for either undergraduate or graduate credit or they can simply attend the conference and enjoy the presentations without receiving credit.  The authors and illustrators not only give inspiring keynote addresses, but during the breakout sessions, attendees are able to interact directly with the presenters during breakout sessions. I’ve met authors and illustrators such as Katherine Applegate, Sophie Blackall, Mac Barnett, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jason Reynolds, Grace Lin, and Tom Angleberger. I always leave the Shenandoah conference with new titles to use in my classroom and stories to tell my students.

Kate Messner’s free Teachers Write online camp is another summer opportunity that I’ve enjoyed for several years.  In the past, Kate Messner and several of her author friends offered mini-lessons, Q&A sessions, quickwrites, and Friday Feedback for participants.  This year, Kate is rolling out a format for the online camp that focuses on mentor texts.  To find out more about Teachers Write, please click here.  Teachers Write helped me rediscover myself as a writer and being a part of this community encouraged me as a teacher-writer.

Jennifer Laffin, the founder of Teach Write also offers opportunities for quality professional development through the Teach Write Academy.  Jen believes that it’s essential for teachers of writers to be writers themselves.  She’s created a variety of offerings that empower all teacher-writers, no matter their comfort level or experience.  This summer, I enrolled in a Focus on Fiction Workshop through the Teach Write Academy, but there are other workshops that are also available, including a virtual writing workshop, sessions on building a writing habit, and writing notebooks.  Jen’s courses are affordable and I’ve enjoyed not only getting to know Jen, but other teacher-writers from around the country while participating in weekly writing workshops.

Professional development, though, is not always a formal experience for teachers.  In the past, I’ve followed #bookaday to build my knowledge and awareness of children’s literature. Many groups are also available on the web and through social media and provide a platform for educators to share their thoughts on professional texts.  So, as educators settle in to the summer, it won’t be to discharge completely from their jobs, but instead to spend time refining their practices and preparing for the next school year. Thankfully, there are so many options for educators to explore during the summer!

Modeling The Writing Process For Students

Modeling is an essential part of writing instruction.  But, what exactly is modeling? How should we model writing for our students? Why should we even make time in our schedule to do this?

Modeling writing is important because it allows us to show the writing process to students instead of simply telling them about it.  Writing instruction should not be about assigning and grading projects, but about encouraging and developing our student-writers.

When we model writing for our students, we first need to understand and identify what we want to accomplish.  What do we want students to gain from the experience? What is the focus? What is our goal? How will the students be engaged during the process so that they are not passive bystanders, but participants in an open dialogue with the teacher.

When I model writing with my students, I want them to be a part of my experience and to glean something from that experience that will help them when they put pencil or pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard).  Also, when I model for students, I don’t want the process to be perfect.  I want them to see that writing can be messy and we don’t have to get it right the first time.  Instead, we may need to work a lot in order to improve a piece of writing.  Therefore, modeling should not just be used for a first draft, but for the entire writing process, including revising and editing.  Students need to see this process so they do not just assume that teachers write something one time and it’s automatically perfect and ready to share.  We want them to recognize that we mark up drafts and change words and sentences.  We want them to notice that we have to cross out or delete parts of drafts that need to be further refined.  I don’t want them to write a first draft and think that they’re finished, but instead to appreciate the first draft as just the beginning of the process.

While modeling takes time and needs to be scheduled and planned for,

After Evaluating Classroom Writing Instruction, What’s Next?

After evaluating the quality of writing instruction in the regular classroom, what’s next? For teachers who discover that they need to reevaluate how they address writing in their classrooms, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, and uncertain of the steps to take to improve their instructional practices.  Teaching writing is intimidating and challenging, but can also be one of the most rewarding experiences for an educator.

One step that teachers can take during the journey to improving their writing instruction is to become a teacher-writer.  After all, how can you teach something that you do not do? Would a math teacher avoid working out math problems? No.  Would a science teacher never conduct an experiment? No.  So why would a writing teacher not write? Again, I think that the answer circles back to the idea that writing is intimidating.  I also believe that it is hard for one to identify as a writer.  It’s easy to think of writers as those authors with published works instead of anyone who puts pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard.  Writers seem almost to be mythical creatures and as a result, identifying one’s self as a writer can be as intimidating as teaching writing.

So, what can a teacher do? First, it’s important to be a teacher who writes.  Teachers who write will be able to connect with their students and to better be able to share the writing journey with them. Therefore, it’s important to start putting words onto paper (or onto the screen).  The words do not need to be perfect. The idea is to feel what students experience and to share the writing journey with them.  Too often, writing instruction becomes about assigning and grading student work. Teachers who write are able to connect with their students in an authentic, meaningful way.

The journey to being a teacher-writer does not need to be a solitary one as there are many other teacher-writers who are also on this odyssey.  In particular, there are online groups who provide considerable resources and support for teacher-writers.  One such group can be found through twowritingteachers.org.  The Slice of Life (SOL) blogging community at twowritingteachers.org is a great place for teacher-writers not only to share their writing, but also to connect with other teachers who write. On Tuesdays, the folks at twowritingteachers.org invite teacher-writers to provide a link to their blog posts and ask that bloggers comment on at least three others posts. Every March, the SOL challenge at twowritingteachers.org encourages teacher-writers to blog for 31 days. Those teacher-writers who complete the challenge not only experience the euphoria of having written for 31 days straight, but also have the opportunity to win some amazing prizes.  In addition to the SOL challenge, the teacher-writers who oversee twowritingteachers.org also provide valuable resources on the website that can support classroom writing instruction. In addition, their monthly Twitter chats enable teacher-writers from all over the globe to connect, share ideas, and learn from each other.

Teachwrite.org is another one of my favorite online spaces that supports teacher-writers.  Created by Jennifer Laffin, Teach Write supports teacher writers in so many ways, including targeted professional development opportunities.  The Teach Write Facebook group is a place to share writing accomplishments and Jennifer’s Writing Round-Up is an incredible resource published on a weekly basis.  In addition, the Teach Write twitter chats, using #teachwrite, provide a platform for making connections and for sharing.

Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, and Gae Polisner host Teachers Write, a free online professional development opportunity during the summer that is another excellent opportunity for teacher-writers.  Mini-lessons and quick-writes are provided as a part of Teachers Write, including opportunities to connect directly with published writers.  Participants can share their works-in-process and receive feedback from their peers, as well as from the authors.

While instructional issues won’t immediately disappear, the process of becoming a teacher who writes can cultivate and support the evolution of classroom writing instruction.