Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I spent this past Saturday with my favorite kind of people-- writing project folks.

Saturday was the Columbus Area Writing Project Fall Forum.
And what a grand to time we had.  

We renewed friendships and made new ones.
We continued old conversations and asked new questions.

In  most sessions, we also wrote.  That's what writing project folks do.

Our conversations were initiated in the morning by JoBeth Allen.

Her work with family partnerships left us assessing the relationships in our own schools and communities
She highlighted the differences between what we commonly believe or have heard about parent involvement and  the fact that research actually tells us that not all parental involvement is created equal.  It matters what kind of involvement.

She suggested a telling activity for all classrooms or schools to try.
List everything your school is doing in the following three columns.
  •  Increases student learning 
  •  Builds stronger relationships
  •  Neither of the above but we keep doing it anyway 
So what is the best kind of parent involvement?

According to Henderson and Mapp ( 2002) we should be aiming for  family-school partnerships that foster respectful relationships, are linked to student learning, and also support student learning at home.

How can we do that?

JoBeth's answer  and the focus of her work is  sharing and valuing  family funds of knowledge.
One way to accomplish that  is the Family Dialogue Journal.

As this effective strategy has developed, teachers of students of all ages K-12 have created a variety of specific methods of implementation.  But in essence, each student takes home his dialogue
 journal after having worked with a group in the classroom  to address the following:

What have we learned this week to share with our families?
What question will we ask our families? 
The rich sharing and conversations that resulted in the samples she shared with us, from across age groups promoted an incorporation of family funds of  knowledge in the classroom and curriculum that no "curriculum night " could.

For more from JoBeth check out the books she shared with us or see this article.


After lunch J. Patrick Lewis shared writing wisdom, school experiences and , of course, read us poems.
Pat's words of wisdom included the following:

  • Children will not gravitate to poetry. They must be led to it.
  • Surround your students  with all kinds of poetry, not just what you like.
  • Children are notoriously bad at reading poetry in public--they need models and time to practice.
  • Reading is important. Samuel Johnson said Never trust a writer who does not read twice as much as he writes.
  •  Most people have had uniformly bad college poetry experiences in which students were required to analyze poems and scour them for meaning.  Instead we should read poetry for the AHA moment-- that phrase/sentences structure we have never seen before.
He shared some specific writing advice for young writers (and us grown folks, as well.) 

  • Imitate great pieces.
  • Always read out loud so that your ears have as much fun as your mouth.
  • Try not to rhyme.  Children are bad at it. They don't have the time or take the time to do it well and do not have the necessary vocabulary.
  • If you catch an adjective, kill it!  
This is the second time this week I have heard anti-adjective talk .Nouns already contain or imply the adjectives you might be tempted to use. Now, of course, I am on the lookout for unnecessary  modifiers in my own writing and that of others..  Pat gave examples -- pesky insect and dark cave.

He shared Jane Yolen's tip for writing and my new favorite piece of advice for myself-- BIC or Butt in Chair.

For more  wonderful words, check out  the books (there are more than 80) and  to one of the poems, to which he treated us, Poetry Is.... 

 In addition to these fantastic speakers,  and the thought- provoking conversations they both initiated, we were further engaged, as our CAWP Teacher Consultants led concurrent sessions ranging in topics, from flipped classrooms to slam poetry, from  teacher activism to Google tools, from writing in science class to the newest children's books.

My head hurt when I got home.

The good kind of hurt where my brain was expanding to accommodate the new ideas and thinking.
The good kind of hurt where my mind was raising questions I didn't know I had.
The good kind of hurt where I am already thinking about how to use what I heard.

That always happens when I spend the day with my favorite kind of folks- Writing Project people.

It's not too early for you to begin to think about joining us for the CAWP 2014 Summer Writing Institute.
Watch our website for applications beginning in January.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

When was the last time you engaged in a formal learning activity or professional development event?
Reflect on that experience. 
What were the highlights for you?
How did you use the information you gained?
What questions do you still have related to the new information?

Write about this learning event.  You may want to simply share what you learned or a plan you have developed to incorporate the new learning in your work.

You may want to write an essay responding to the information shared or a poem reflecting on  the experience.

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