Category Archives: Education

Thoughts on the NWP

This is a little late, but here goes anyway.

I always wanted to be a writer.  For years, I scribbled my heart and soul in notebooks, composed tons of story starts and a few finished pieces, even a couple of shaky but fun-to-write poems.  And yet, with twenty years of sustained writing and whole boxes of old journals and notebooks, I refused to call myself a writer.  “Real” writers were published.  I was half-embarrassed to admit to my amateurish efforts, and I rarely showed my writing to anyone.  I hid my notebook and my passion.  Few people knew just how much I loved writing–even my students, the very people I tried every day to inspire with a love for writing and books.

All that changed the summer I participated in the National Writing Project.  It was an exhilarating surprise to be expected to read and write and share it all with other teachers.  The group bubbled over with ideas and creativity and energy.  Every day, we wrote and read and laughed and cried together.  We participated in literature circles and writing groups; we shared demonstrations of best practice classroom strategies; we listened to wonderful speakers who introduced us to blogs and social networking ideas; we exchanged strategies for test preparation; and above all, we wrote.  Through writing, we learned to share our ideas, and we learned to share our souls.

The Writing Project changed my teaching and my life.  The NWP’s strength lies in its empowering of teachers, who carry that sense of power back to their students.  I came to the classroom with a perfectly adequate preparation to teach, but the NWP reignited my passion and reminded me of why I wanted to teach in the first place.  During that summer, I finally recognized myself as a writer, and that made a phenomenal difference in my classroom.

The NWP is not just a summer program.  It is a philosophy of education that truly puts students’ literacy needs first.  The NWP taught us strategies for modeling, discussing, and practicing the writing process with our students; it gave us ideas for ways to share amazing literature; it gave us the Writer’s Notebook where students can play in all genres of writing; and it helped us learn to collaborate to create even greater work.  Through WP workshops, retreats, and institutes, I continue to stay on top of the best ideas in education, and I am able to bring the best resources into my classroom.

The WP emphasizes that words may be the most important tools we have.  I want my students to always read deeply from the words of others, and never be afraid to share their own words with the world.  The WP gave me the excitement and energy to to bring that desire to my students.  I will never be able to say thank you enough.

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Filed under Education, writing

High School Flashbacks

A while ago, I wrote a blog about elementary school memories.  Today, since I have to spend my afternoon grading papers, I have high school on my mind.  Here is a list of some unforgettable high school moments.

1.  The first day of school, riding the waves of students through the crowded halls.  I finally spied an upperclassman I knew from band and suddenly felt at home.

2.  Helping to push that huge couch from room to room during Author’s Banquet so my friend could sit on it while she gave her Emily Dickinson presentation.  I was Jane Austen.  I wore a very flattering bonnet.

3.  A teacher who recited a list of the curse words we were never allowed to say in her class. 

4.  Managing to get over the whole permed-hair craze.  I had some very unfortunate experiences with perms in middle school.

5.  Reading the Christy Miller books again and again and again and sighing with my friends about how our school had no one like Todd.

6.  Staggering off the field at a band practice, nearly passing out, because I had only eaten M&M’s for lunch.  I did things like that frequently–not really eating lunch, I mean.  Because then I could save my lunch money and buy magazines.  Sigh.

7.  My friend sitting behind me in Algebra II, flicking my hair with her pencil and fuming because she couldn’t find any split ends.

8.  Riding in the back of someone’s truck to Amanda’s house after a band practice.  She took a big drink of water and spit it over the side of the truck, only we were going fast and the whole mouthful hit me in the face.

9.  Getting my permit and crying because I’d been too busy reading for the previous 16 years to notice how to get anywhere in my small hometown.  This infuriated my father and he refused to give me any directions, so we drove in circles while I bawled.

10.  And finally–just for you, Marla–the noisy clicking eraser that I used to annoy my friends.  I never said I was cool.

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Filed under Education, Memories

School days

You really should check out my husband’s blog, since his inspired this post.  (By the way, he brought me pretty jewelry as a back-to-school present today.  He’s pretty great.:) )  He wrote a blog today about his elementary school memories, and with school right around the corner, I’m having some flashbacks too.  So here are some of my Top Elementary School Memories.

1.  Sitting on the carpet in my mom’s kindergarten class, hoping hoping hoping that she wouldn’t separate my best friend and me.

2.  Accidentally walking in on a girl in the bathroom and being reviled by everyone I knew as a creppy perv.

3.  My first boyfriend bringing me candy, which my father ate.

4.  My sister and I dressing identically, hoping people would think we were twins.  (It happened much more often than you might think, based on how now she’s much taller and hotter than I am.)

5.  Walking my little sister across the railroad tracks to her preschool and feeling Grown Up.  Walking back to school by myself, talking to myself right out loud and laughing at how witty I was.

6.  The awesome days when my mom would give me a Lunchable to put in my lunch box.

7.  Hating New Kids on the Block just because they were cool.  But also being jealous of my sister’s super-cool NKOTB sleeping bag. 

8.  Making up insane imaginary games and bossing everyone around as to how they should be played.  Also making up clubs, but only if I could be president.  I had a few control issues.

9.  Writing and illustrating books with my friends, which we planned to sell and become famous authors.

10.  Piling out of the clown car with my family.

11.  Trying very hard to go to sleep at Beta Convention before bad movies came on HBO that I knew would get me in trouble if my parents found out I watched them.

12.  Attending the funeral of my best friend’s nephew, being with her while she touched his tiny hand.

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Filed under Education, Memories

Literature Concerns

Over the past year, I have been reading a variety of young adult books, hoping to find more options that my students would be interested in.  In doing so, I have started reading blogs written by some of the authors I like.  Today, while reading one of these blogs, written by an author I have very much admired, I was really taken aback by a rant against classic literature in the classroom and insinuating that the teachers who use it are responsible for making students hate reading.

I’ll admit I’m a classic literature nerd.  I love Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, and yes, even Great Expectations.  I think everyone should read these books, and not because they are “good for you” or even because they have been traditionally taught at certain grade levels.  These authors are amazing, and they offer things that readers can’t get anywhere else.  Some of these books are not easy to read, but I see that as a good thing.  If people only read things that are easy to understand, they never stretch their minds and grow.  Students need a challenge, and they need to learn to look at things from different points of view. 

I think there’s a misunderstanding about classic literature–too many people perceive it as boring and out of date, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  The books are so very relevant.  I’ve had so many students who were pleasantly surprised when they got into a particular novel that they thought would be dull, and they were fascinated by it.  The classics definitely belong in the classrooms.  But that doesn’t mean that those are the only types of books students should read, or that there isn’t much to learn from other types of novels too.  I love young adult literature–I have spent most of my day today rereading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Maybe it’s silly, but it’s a lot of fun to read, and that’s important.  I love discussing all types of books with my students.  And there are so many other genres students are interested in–anime, sci fi, etc. 

All students operate on different reading levels too.  That’s okay with me–education is not a competition.  People have to learn at their own rate.  One of the things I love about teaching is differentiation, trying to find a way to reach each student on his/her own level.  It’s not always easy, or even possible, but it’s part of my job.  No matter how fun or relevant to real life a book is, there is no one book or genre that is going to reach all students.  They need a variety, ideally covering ALL genres. 

Reading problems are huge in schools today, and there’s no easy solution.  I’ve thought about this so much over the past year that I’m not sure what I’ve written even makes sense, or expresses exactly what I think about the issue.  I guess what bugged me the most about reading this blog is that while we search for a solution, we’re all supposed to be on the same side here.  I don’t understand people who rant against classic literature, or YA literature, or any other kind.  They are all important.  People just need to READ.

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Filed under books, Education