#Celebratelu: Celebrating collaboration

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

Looking back on my teaching life, something I am doing more and more of these days, I count myself lucky to have had the chance to fashion Room 202 into a sort of teaching lab for new ideas.  We took Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s ideas for the “3 Big Questions” and nonfiction signposts for a test run, and we tried out their Book-Head-Heart reading strategy as well; when Katherine Bomer wrote her brilliant book on essaying, my sixth graders dived right into their own journeys of thought; my reading workshop would not be what it is without Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse whose student-centered thinking keeps me honest, or Linda Reif whose practices anchor so much of our work.  In lieu of colleagues in my building to work with, it’s been these teaching greats who have been my virtual collaborators, the ones who’ve kept my teaching life intellectually interesting and rich.

So, I was thrilled when Karen Caine asked if she could try out some writing workshop ideas in Room 202.  Karen’s book on persuasive writing has been the foundation of our persuasive writing unit for many years, and I was excited to learn more about her idea for writing clubs.

Karen worked her magic with my eager kiddos, introducing the idea that we would be writing about our persuasive topic research in a different way; rather than going straight for the 5 paragraph format they’ve been used to writing since third grade, we would reach into our narrative writing toolkits and try to aim for emotion and personal investment.

It was such a pleasure to listen in on Karen’s mini-lesson and her back and forth with my kiddos.  They could not wait to get to work, and I could not wait to read what they were able to come up with.  A few days later, once drafts were completed, Karen returned to explain what writing clubs could be and how we could use them to improve our writing, which I tried to chart in the moment:

IMG_0299
Table groups of students went to work right away, as we dashed about the room observing and taking notes.  The next day, I gathered my writers to discuss what the process had felt like, and what they had made of the task:
*they liked that they were able to:
– hear lots of different voices instead of just one (Mrs. Smith) which allowed for  lots of varied ideas about how to tweak their writing.
– have the chance to explain their thinking in more ways than just one allowed them to clarify their writer’s thinking 
-listen to others’ read their writing which gave them ideas 
-get affirmation for what was good writing  which was motivational and just felt good
*things we need to work on:
-too many suggestions were sometimes confusing, so we need to find a way to be more specific in asking for writing advice
-some people wanted to read their whole piece and that made it hard to remember where to give -suggestions, so we need to pick and choose one or two places in our writing 
-(my observation) students were resorting to writing cliches – “you needed more details” was the inevitable suggestion, even though students complain that teachers tell them to do this all the time and they don’t know WHICH details or HOW to provide these
-(my observation) we need to work on the language of writing asks and writing gives; there needed to be a consistent language for the club members so that club time is efficiently spent – i.e. that there is time left for students to return to their desks and write.
Writing clubs in the way Karen has imagined its orchestration and function feels so much more authentic and student driven than the partner peer editing I had tried for some time and abandoned.   I learned so much from our first try at this, and look forward to our next round as much as my kids do.  This, I believe, is know-how they can take into their writing work for years to come, whether in a formal setting as a class or as ad hoc groups they organize for themselves.  Fabulous!
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6 thoughts on “#Celebratelu: Celebrating collaboration

  1. It’s wonderful to peek into Room 202 and see writing clubs in action. Karen Caine is a new to me author. I wish I had known about her book when I was teaching.

  2. This is so great, Tara. I enjoyed every bit, but especially your chart, and “we try to understand the writer instead of the ‘you should'”. It is also a pleasure to see that Karen brought diverse ideas of persuasive work. It is authentic! Your students must adore you for trying new things, letting them know that’s a good thing!

  3. That chart is incredible. (It will be an inspiration for our writing work next week when we look to set goals.) We are all so lucky to have room 202 and you.

  4. I love reading your posts. You write in such detail that it captures me fully. Your classroom stories are inspirational. I learn from you all the time.

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