Tomorrow is the first day of August. Before I know it September will be here, and school will be starting. Summers always seems to move at the speed of light, but this summer is going so quickly because over the past two weeks I have been participating in the Western New York Writing Project’s Summer Institute. WNYWP is an affiliate of the National Writing Project, and their goal is to improve students’ writing by first improving the way teachers teach writing. Below are some of my “take aways” from the institute:
1. It all starts with teachers of writing being writers themselves. That sounds like a simple concept, but most teachers I know (including myself before this institute) do not make the time to write consistently. When I was in college as an English major, however, all my professors were writers. Why the difference? Maybe it’s all the extra paperwork that goes along with teaching these days, or maybe it’s the planning of lessons that will engage students. Whatever it is, this needs to change. I teach my students that in order to get better at reading, they need to read consistently, so why did I never apply this to writing? This coming school year will be different. I plan to make time to write every day. That may mean writing a post for this blog, or maybe it’s a list of topics I have been thinking of. I. Will. Write.
2. Writing warm-ups get students excited about writing. In the WNYWP Summer Institute, we did a writing warm-up every day, and I loved them! Sometimes we would write about a video we’d watch, or maybe a poem we read. When I did the daily writing warm-up, I brought in an excerpt of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, and we wrote about that. The best part about the warm-up is that I don’t just have to explain what the video/poem means. A video could remind me of something that happened the week before, and I could write about that. A poem could remind me of an incident with a student, and I could write about that. I could write about anything! This free writing is necessary in our classrooms. Students need to be given the opportunity to write about whatever they want, in whatever form they want. It gets them excited about writing, just like letting them choose a book can get them excited about reading.
3. There are a lot of great interactive websites out there! Each day at the Summer Institute, we learned about a new website that could work well in any English classroom. We took Kahoot quizzes, learned how to make books on Storybird, had conversations using Today’s Meet, and learned how to make interactive presentations using Nearpod. All of these websites could be easily used in any classroom, not just English. Kahoot will show teachers whether or not review is needed for a certain topic. Today’s Meet is a great way to allow all students to be a part of a discussion, even the shy students. Storybird is great for any age to practice the art of storytelling. And Nearpod, well that program could be used weekly for mini-lesson presentations. I know I will be using these four programs. They are easy enough for my students to use, and they will enjoy them.
4. Writing is all about the process. Each day at the institute, one teacher would do a teaching demonstration for 45 minutes. As of today, all the teachers have done theirs, and I enjoyed every single one of them. They were all very different from one another, but the majority of the lessons were about the writing process. The process matters SO much more than the final product. The conferences students have with me and with one another are vital to their growth as writers. I care more about what I see in their “self-evaluation notes” than in the final product. Their notes tell me what they learned, how they learned it, and what they plan to do differently in the future. No rubric can tell me that.
It is now time for me to go to my last class for the Summer Institute. Today we will be sharing our writing and having open mic on the stage that is used for Shakespeare in Delaware Park. I am so excited, and I am already thinking about how I can do something similar with my own students. What a truly amazing experience this has been!