Category Archives: Writing

A Continuing Dilemma

Where I’ve been – and a possible shift in where I’m going is a post that really resonates with me. Sara shares her feelings here:

What that means is that I often feel split right down the middle when it comes to the writing I want to do vs. the writing that “counts.” And, my absence from my blog writing has much to do with this – as time spent blogging is time apart from data sets and writing publications that stand a chance of getting cited in other spaces, etc.

Sara pointed to danah boyd’s post where she reflected on what it means for research to have “impact.” Sara continued:

Yes, I work in a system that values a certain kind of publishing- and I knew that going into this job. And, yes, I expected “push-back” when it came to the degree to which I write for teachers. but, the reality is that my audience doesn’t turn to a journal on research in teacher education to learn. so, to use danah’s frame, the impact of my work is measured less by citation count than by shifts in teachers’ pedagogy and, perhaps more importantly, the engagment, motivation, and learning of each student in their classrooms.

The question that emerged for Sara was “Could a blog be useful in disseminating research findings?” Then her bigger question, “Can a blog that is mostly public be a space for the meaning making that happens prior to drafting a manuscript?”

I say yes and we would be the better for it. I have blogged very little since working on published research for the past two years. I can’t help but think all the published results would have been improved with input from the larger audience that would lead to better meaning making. I don’t have answers to this dilemma but this is something I keep struggling with a lot.


Photo Credit

More from Sara on The Book Trailer

What a treat! I was sinking as I thought more about the damage high-stakes testing is doing to our schools so it was so uplifting to read Sara Kajder’s article, The Book Trailer: Engaging Teens Through Technologies in this month’s issue of Educational Leadership.

It tells the story of students creating a two-minute video using still images, transitions and special effects (generated with MovieMaker or iMovie software), voiceovers, and a soundtrack. Students present the central characters, themes, or issues of the book visually and through written and voiceover narration. All trailers have to include the title of the book, the author’s name, and a presentation that is both authentic to the text and that works to “hook” readers. I also require students to submit their trailers with a piece of writing that explores the choices they made, with an analysis of the book that shows that they made decisions on the basis of the text, and not just by using the aspects of technology that would best captivate an audience.

Sara goes on to say that….

But technology is not the goal. Student writers and readers are at the center of our instruction. And we, as mindful teachers, must thoughtfully and deliberately prepare all of our students for success by critically exploring the new technological tools and then using the ones that can help us and our students to powerfully convey what we think and know.

I can’t think of a more exciting time to teach, as we’re immersed in new possibilities for working with words and with one another. When we teach creatively with emergent tools in mind, we stand a better chance of engaging reluctant students by giving what we teach real meaning. Each day is an invitation to examine, play, invent, reinvent, and join in the conversation.

Read the whole article. I’ve posted previously about Sara here and here.

Writing Next


The Alliance for Excellent Education has produced the Writing Next Report. It is written by Steve Graham and Delores Perin. The report identified 11 elements of current writing instruction that are supported by rigorous research that are effective to help students in grades 4-12 learn to write well and to use writing as a tool for learning. They then note that even when these elements are used together, they do not constitute a full writing program.

  1. Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions.
  2. Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts.
  3. Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions.
  4. Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete.
  5. Word processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments
  6. Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences
  7. Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition.
  8. Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task
  9. Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing.
  10. Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing.
  11. Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material.

I was struck by how many of these elements could be weaved right into blogging with our students. These are the things we need to point out to teachers and administrators. We need to emphasize the importance of our students developing the ability to write in online environments. Point out how blogging engages the students in a way that can let them take ownership of their own learning. Students learn about writing as they are participating in real writing situations. We need to start asking “Why aren’t our students blogging?” We need to use blogs to build literacy in the classroom. We need more students in on this mix.

In Diane Penrod’s book “Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy” this paragraph jumped out at me:

“In short, blogging might turn out to be the tipping point in education for lifelong learning. Its adaptive nature, malleability, and ease of use make blogs a killer application. Like its predecessor, e-mail, blogs might soon develop into a ubiquitous communication tool in schools. For literacy, this will be an important event: having an inexpensive, ever-present, easy-to-use method for transmitting information, knowledge, and meaning across student populations, suggesting that it is indeed possible to teach and upgrade th literacies students need right now and will continue to need in the future.”

Another point of interest in the report was a note about grammar instruction. Grammar instruction in the studies reviewed involved the explicit and systematic teaching of the parts of speech and structure of sentences. The meta-analysis found a negative effect for this type of instruction for students. The negative effect was small, but it was statistically significant, indicating that traditional grammar instruction is unlikely to help imporve the quality of student writing. Overall, the findings on grammar instruction suggest that, although teaching grammar is important, alternative procedures, such as sentence combining, are more effective than traditional approaches for improving the quality of student writing.

Read the report and reflect on your practices.

I also thought how this would be a great topic to explore for professional development on our blogs in school. Picture a community of learners in a school, each blogging away sharing their techniques as they relate to these elements of writing instruction. I can picture addressing number 10 with models coming from the blogs of students themselves. Now that could be motivating!

Think Pair Share with hand signals

I came across this video on YouTube which led me to Rebecca Newburn’s blog Information Age Education. It was of interest to me because I use the Think Pair Share activity a lot in the classroom. She extends the activity with Think Pair Share Write and Think Pair Share Blog. Now that really piqued my interest. See her post here for activities for more information on creating and using them in your classroom.

I keep trying to get control of my aggregator but keep finding such good blogs to read. Hmmmm that’s what I call a good problem.

Donald Murray will be missed

I was sad to hear that Donald Murray, writer and educator died at age 82, apparently of heart failure. This article from the Boston Globe quotes from his column “Now and Then”: 

“Each time I sit down to write I don’t know if I can do it,” he wrote. “The flow of writing is always a surprise and a challenge. Click the computer on and I am 17 again, wanting to write and not knowing if I can.”

Here are some recent “Now and Then” columns. Globe readers are posting their memories here.

Leonard Witt of PJNet Today tells how Donald Murray changed his life. Be sure to read his wonderful tribute to Murray that ends with this quote:

His students are everywhere and they worship the him, as well they should, because he was a great man who helped others find their way.

I know there are many of us who have learned so much from Donald Murray. His books are our guiding lights as we strive to teach writing as process not product. He shares the process behind his column for The Boston Globe here.

He said:

After I write a draft, I read it, hearing what I have said so I can dance to the music of the draft.

 Let’s all strive to teach our students to dance to the music of the draft. Donald Murray will be missed.

Proofreading with Podcasts

Over at Blogical Minds Mrs. C is trying out a new way to foster better proofreading by the students. The teacher prepared podcasts of their stories as written and posted this on the class blog:

I see your writing as a good start because you have your preliminary ideas on the blog. Now we need to do an initial proofing of your stories. This is something we need to talk about a bit. If you are proof-reading with only your eyes your writing may seem to flow and be OK. I think many times we read it as we are thinking it should sound and don’t always catch errors. What do you think? Sometimes those little bumps and hurdles that the eye does not catch can show up when you proof by reading aloud and listening. Let’s have a little fun today. I am going to do a podcast of each one of your stories. Then you will listen and we’ll all give feedback on this process.

Questions to think about:

  • Does my story flow?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it sounding like I thought I had written it?
  • Is reading aloud a good way to proof my work?
  • Would I have read it the same way?
  • Can punctuation help? How?
  • Did misspellings change my meanings? How can I look out for that?

The students are on Thanksgiving break now but I look forward to seeing how this works out when they return. Next time the students can make the podcasts. What do you think? Any other proofreading techniques you’ve used that you’d like to share?

Thinkpiece #3 – Writing to learn

Barbara Ganley continues to inspire me. Her post, Responding to & Evaluationg Writing is so timely. I’ve had “writing on my mind” for one of my thinkpieces for some time.  She is headed to a Faculty Writing Retreat where she will be leading a discussion on how they respond to student writing across the curriculum including evaluating the work. She will then follow this post with one outlining how and when she responds to writing in her classes and how she evaluates writing. I can’t wait! Her post yesterday though raised questions for her group. She wants to see how they respond.

This post made me think about the discussions I’ve had about writing with my elementary students. I use the Six Traits of Writing and build the blogging experiences around that framework. I did this with The Write Weblog and that worked well. They culminated all they had learned in their final PowerPoint presentation called The Blooming Bloggers Show. They did a superb job. I’m thinking though that this year I need to build in questions similar to Barbara’s early in the year. Get the kids thinking about this process. Here’s how I may adapt some of her questions to apply to the writing the kids will be doing on their blogs. Also, the great links she provided gave me a springboard for questions I’d like to ask.  Here goes!

  • Think of a time when a teacher responding to your writing that made you really put forth effort to improve it. Can you give details so that we understand better what it was that motivated you? On the other hand, can you remember a time when you wished the teacher had stepped back and resisted giving you feedback. Try to explain why it would have been better if the teacher had waited to help.
  • Who do you like to comment on your writing? Why did you make these choices?
  • What specific types of comments would be helpful for you in regard to your writing?
  • If you were going to comment on one of your peer’s posts what would you say to help the writer develop skill and confidence? You might want to address your comment around one of the six traits.
  • How does writing help you learn? What kinds of writing would you enjoy using to help you learn?
  • Think about times when teachers have given you a writing prompt in class. Is this helpful? Why or why not? Would it be helpful for students to create writing prompts for each other?

Elementary students don’t get much time to reflect on these types of questions. At first it is quite hard for them but I am convinced we need to promote those conversations. We can do it through the curriculum they are studying each day.
The last question above made me think about writing prompts that may help them with curriculum and assignments in class. I think the first step is to get them to write about what they were expected to learn from an assignment. Then maybe have them get in small groups and check to see if they are all on the same page. Just clarifying this in their minds really seems to help. Then extend this. Why learn this? What do they already know? What do they want to know?
A follow-up could be to talk/write about the steps they took to work on the assignment, any problems they had, how they tried to overcome the problem, what worked well and what strategies helped them the most. Then see if they have any feedback they want or would like to give.

I plan to continue thinking about “good questions” for mini writing activities that may help us understand what’s going on inside our students’ heads as they write. Blogs are good spaces to get kids writing to learn!

Points to ponder read here and there on Barbara’s links (mostly on the Middlebury’s Teaching Resources page): (which is a great resource you need to explore)

  • Recognition of growth as a writer and thinker is facilitated by documentation. 
  • To become better writers we must all read our own work critically.  We will comment on each other’s writing to achieve this goal.
  • Has the writer made the subject worth reading about?
  • Have you learned something about writing so far? What do you consider most beneficial? Least?
  • Use informal writing techniques (freewrites, responses, field notes, postings): writing to learn.
  • Publish good writing. It’s infectious.
  • Share the pleasure. 

Six traits of writing metaphors

The J. H. House bloggers have done it again but this time they have absolutely knocked my socks off! They blogged about metaphors that could be used to help them remember the Six Traits of Writing. The creativity is outstanding and you can tell they had a lot of fun with this. Here are links to the authors and their metaphors:

Zachary an office

Dianaa bedroom



Derrick people


Jason cars

And you have just got to read Jason’s “The Traits that teach the Traits of Writing.”

It is absolutely incredible! And just think, I haven’t even read the rest of the posts by this fantastic little group. So I’m off to read, blogging can wait!

Puzzled but pondering

I’m going to get to podcast again with the kids next week. The last time they talked about comments and what they meant to them.

I began thinking about podcasting topics and a puzzling situation that recently occurred came to mind. There’s an elementary student in one of the blogging groups that I follow and work with some. This student has one of the best “voices’ I have read on blogs. He’s creative. The topics are well-thought out. Punctuation and flow is not always perfect but the writing is excellent. I’ve seen continued improvement since this student has been blogging. In one of my conversations with the principal it came out that this student was not a good writer in his classroom That floored me. His classroom teacher could not believe his good writing on the blogs. It just didn’t add up.

So I’m just going to toss out some thoughts and invite input from you.

  • Do blogs offer a different type of ownership for students that helps bring out their creativity and spark? Do they care more because many others will be reading their work?
  • Is blogging more fun and does it bring forth more effort on the student’s part? In the groups I have worked with we are usually blogging once a week, not daily. Is it the novelty?
  • Are the formal rules of writing getting in the way? In our classrooms, most writing projects are of a more formal nature. I don’t think we have as many spontaneous writing activities in our classrooms. This takes me back to one of my favorite posts from Elizabeth Lane Lawley, rules? I don’t need no stinkin’ rules! It has stuck with me. She was talking about blogging and concluded with this statement:

    Feh. A pox on all their rules, that’s what I say.

    Now maybe we should make the same pronouncement on writing rules. Do we impose rules upon our students that constrict their creativity? Now I’m not saying toss out all the rules but use them with common sense. Allow mistakes so they can learn. It is about the process. If the process is done correctly I believe they will want the product to be good and they will work themselves to create that. Perhaps too many rules too soon hampers writing. Do you have rules you impose upon yourself? I know I do and they get in my way and slow me down. I’m still thinking here but I think we need to dig deeper in this area. I’m just on the surface level.

I’m stuck on this and will write more later.

I need to pose the right questions to the kids. Many times they have the answers. I like having the kids reflect about such matters. This type of reflecting is new to them but they usually rise to the occasion and then some. They need lots more practice on thinking about their learning and talking about it – not rules, not facts but what works for them.

What about the middle and high school kids? What questions would you ask them?

Another weblog project blooming!

Ewa McGrail is an Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy from the Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology Department. She came by one day last week and we had a spirited conversation about blogs and the possiblilities it held for literacy and language instruction. She had really taken a deep look at The Write Weblog and some other blogging projects. She teaches a small class of teachers on Wednesday evenings which just happens to be my late night! She asked me to do a session for her students and to address the following:

      • the learning that can take place
      • seeing the potential
      • getting a sense of where to start, where to go
      • understanding how to set up a blog for their own class
      • realizing the value of comments
      • commenting on student blogs
      • listening to Zachary’s podcast
        I did the session last night – great group! They left some great comments on Neville’s Bloggers.
        They were currently working on responding to student writing in their class. All of this fits so well with what they are doing and the professor is interested in some research possiblilities for later. We need that – especially at the elementary level. The texts they are using are Within and beyond the writing process in the secondary English classroom by Rosen and Wilson and Inside out: Strategies for teaching writing by Kirby, Kirby & Liner. I was familiar with Inside Out but not the other. I really like it The one for the secondary English classroom is a terrific read – lots and lots of good stuff. Chapter 8 lists seven assumptiona about teaching composition:
                1. Writing is thinking
                2. Writing is a language process.
                3. We learn to write by writing.
                4. Development of our own writing can be facilitated by becoming more conscious of our wrting process.
                5. Writing is a socially constructed process.
                6. We not only learn to write, but we write to learn.
                7. The young writer benefits from some direct instruction.

            Now that sounds just like what we’ve been saying about blogging, right?The really neat part is that Ewa wants to meet and do some planning for a course for next semester. She wants to blog also. It looks like this will be the beginning for a great project for next semester. Ewa and I will put our heads together later on and do some serious planning for next semester. Meanwhile I left the door open for any of her current students who wish to have more help on blogging. Then to top it off I received this warm email from her this morning:

                        Dear Anne,

                        I wanted to write and express our appreciation for your visit tonight to our theory and pedagogy of composition class (EDLA 7460). The focus of your presentation was ideally suited to our today’s class readings and discussion, which was responding to students’ writing.

                        Your session showed my students the possibilities of technology (weblogs) for teaching writing. It also made them rediscover again their belief that each student can learn to write, provided we teachers assist him/her in this process through meaningful, strategic, and engaging activities.

                        You clearly prepared for this presentation with care and concentration. Thank you again for sharing your expertise and knowledge with my students, and, perhaps most of all, for letting us hear the stories about your students and their growth as writers in their blogging adventures.


                        Ewa McGrail

                        I’m soaring again! And just think I get to go work with Miss Neville’s second graders this afternoon!