Saturday, March 31, 2012

Do You Reply to Comments?

I need your help.  Do you reply to comments?
The Reply
I’ve been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge for the last 31 days.  During the challenge nearly 150 people were posting writing each day on their blogs.  Each day everyone was finding something to write.  Participants joined for a variety of reasons, but it wasn't long until what emerged was a caring writing community.  Though I enjoyed the writing I was soon as addicted to reading and leaving comments for people as I was at trying to get my post written. 
Of course, I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed getting comments on my blog too.  As I read comments I began to notice a pattern in the types of comments people left on the blog.   I also began to wonder about replying to the comments.  Should I be just reading them and considering the comments?  Should I be replying?  When should I reply?  How do I let people know I have replied?  Do people who comment check back to see if a reply has been posted?  
When I leave a comment I typically do not check back to see if a comment I’ve made has had further conversation or a reply.  I typically do not request to receive an email for further comments on the reply or the post either.  For this reason, I don’t typically reply to comments left on my blog.  I typically smile to myself, shout an “amen”, ponder further thinking, or react in some way, but I do not typically reply.  I just didn’t think anyone came back to read. 
Should We Reply
During this challenge I’ve noticed a few things about replies.  Some blog writers reply often and to everyone.  Some blog writers reply on occasion.  Other blog writers, probably assuming no one checks back, do not reply to comments.  At one point in the challenge I had someone remind me they were waiting on a reply to a previous comment.  

I loved the way Kevin (@dogtrax) one day tweeted that he had replied to the comments on a conversation about Facebook that had generated quite a bit of discussion.  I thought that was such a smart idea. 

So I’m Wondering....

  • Do you reply to comments on your blog?
  • Do you go back to check for replies to the comments you leave?
  • What do you think?   

Please comment.  I might even reply.  ;o)    

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Habit of Writing

"We simply carry on as writers knowing that if we do, what we need to teach about writing will become clear along the way, if we develop the eyes to see it."   Katie Wood Ray, What You Know by Heart

As many of you know I've been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  The idea is to post writing for the entire month of March.  Writing for 31 days seemed like a bit of a crazy commitment to me, but I decided I was going to join.  It was that or begin to exercise.  Besides, I needed to build my writing habit again. I'd gotten away from the habit of spending time writing, collecting ideas, or just playing with words.  So on March 1st I began posting to my daily (I use that term loosely) blog, Merely Day by Day.  The challenge seemed to fit better with the premise of that blog which was to capture little snippets of life.

During the challenge, I've been reminded of the significance of time, audience, and process as I've tried to post each day.  It's made me think a lot about the writing community in our classroom.  Honestly, it has given me an admiration for how hard my students work each day and created a bit of jealously of the ease in which they settle into writing each day.  Most of all, it's reminded me of the importance of my role in providing opportunities to build the habit of writing.

To Develop a Habit of Writing Young Writers Need:

  • Time to Write:  In our classroom students have time to write about self-selected topics everyday.  Our workshop typically allows about forty minutes for writing.  Students need time to develop a process as writers - time to practice all kinds of writing, time to think, time to learn, time to talk together as writers, time to grow ideas.  For me, and I think I can safely say for my young writers, this time is nonnegotiable.  
  • A Place to Write:  I typically sit on my couch with my laptop to write, but students also need a place to write.  I try to create spaces for writers to move in the classroom.  I have a small table in which students love to gather to write.  This year the places have become little collaborative writing groups.  I've noticed students move into particular groups of friends who support them as writers.  They need their tools close enough that finding them doesn't interrupt their work.  
  • Community Conversations:  This is a big one for me.  I think writers need to be able to talk together as they work.  We spend time figuring out what our room should sound like so everyone can work within it.  We also spend time learning about the conversations writers have as they work.   At the end of each writer's workshop we take time to share, learn from, and celebrate a few pieces of writing.  
  • A Writer's Notebook:  My first graders have a writer's notebook in which they learn to keep ideas.  Sometimes after reading a book or having a conversation I'll note students have a lot of connections to it.  When this happens I'll say, "If this book has given you an idea for your writing get your writer's notebook so you can ave the idea."  Our notebooks also give us a place to play with our writing.  In our notebooks students draw, write, list, web, use post-its, and find ways to think about their stories.  
  • Mentor Text:  As I've been writing everyday, I've been reminded how important reading is for placing words in my head and my heart.  I realize how helpful reading the slices of others has been in helping me think about topics, structures, and craft.  As I read I realize sentences catch my attention, words jump off the page, and crafting techniques begin to tuck themselves into my mind.  As I've been writing more, I've realized I need to read more.  I've been pushing to find the time for both.  My young writers need this same opportunity to read and notice the way authors craft their stories.  
As I walk into my classroom each day during this challenge I have a renewed appreciation of the work these young writers do everyday.  The more I write the more I find my myself talking to my students writer to writer once again.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I Am a Teacher of Writing

If you open my cabinet at school, this is what you will see.  Shelves of professional development books that have inspired me and improved my practice.  It's funny when I think about it.  I just don't think about these as books on the shelf, but as having actual educators and researchers right with me to help me learn and grow in what I do.  Like so many educators, I could retrace my teaching journey through these books.

Lately, my focus of attention has been on our writer's workshop.  Digital media, conversations about celebration and publication, changes with the Common Core and a new student teacher (a fabulous one!) have me thinking a lot about writing.  Interestingly when I reflect back on times I have felt the writing in my classroom was at its best, it was during a time I was writing myself.  Katie Ray in What You Know By Heart comments about a conference she had with a student, "My response to Jennifer in this conference was clearly and simply driven by what I know about writing as a reader and a writer, not as a teacher (p. xiii)."

Trying to write, teach, and live isn't always an easy balance.  However, I know I am a better teacher of writing when I am living the life of a writer.  For this reason, I joined Two Writing Teachers, Ruth and Stacey, in the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  My slices live on my other blog, Merely Day By Day.  In conjunction with this event, I am going to focus a few posts on this blog to the teaching of writing.

If writing is the best way for me to be a better teacher of writing, reading the thoughts of educators and writers on the teaching of writing is a close second.  With a student teacher in my classroom and a daughter who is student teaching in a high school classroom, I think a lot about the books I hope they will read.  There have been so many books that have shifted my thinking, but I want to narrow them down to the five I don't think we should live without.  (Picture me on my couch with a narrowed stack of at least 15 professional book about writing.  Some are about the structure of the workshop, some specific to an age range of students, and some just about the craft writing.  Now picture me getting up to grab chocolate to help with this impossible task.)

Five Books You Need to be a Teacher of Writing

Writing Workshop:  The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi  This book is a great book for getting started in a Writer's Workshop.  Ralph and JoAnn give the basics for setting up a workshop and beginning with writers.  It is a relatively quick read that is well organized for daily use and reference.

Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray
Once a workshop is running this is the perfect book for thinking about how to deepen the work that is happening within it.  This book helps consider ways to build a community of writers that talk the talk of authors.  It also helps to take a closer look at the side by side work we do with young writers.  This is my favorite book for thinking about the books I use as mentor texts for budding authors.  In her chapter titled "An Invitation to My Library:  The Craft of Text Structure,"  Katie shares how to look at books to find mentor texts that support the work of writers.

What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher
Perhaps I should just say, "Make sure you read everything by Ralph Fletcher."  I think Ralph is just good at getting down to what is most important.  This book has really helped me look at student writing through a closer lens.  This book takes a look at the actual components of writing:  beginnings, endings, small moments, voice, creating a sense of place, moving a story through time, etc..

The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks
You might be surprised to find this book here.  Digital and workshop?  When I think of books that have radically shifted my thinking, this book is one of those.  When I first read the book I read it to find out more about the ways to use new tools of technology in my classroom.  (Read more here: Confessions of a Not-So-Techie Teacher)  The book turned out to make me think far differently about the entire of process of writing.  Troy made me rethink my definition of writing.  I found myself thinking more what it means to compose a message for an audience.
About the Authors:  Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray with Lisa Cleaveland
While you are reading everything by Ralph Fletcher make sure you read everything by Katie Wood Ray. If you're a primary teacher, you should own this book.  In this book Katie talks about the word that writers do in a writer's workshop.  Using examples from Lisa's classroom, Katie walks us through setting up, and living in, a writer's workshop.  Katie shares some of her units of study and the mentor texts she uses alongside of this work.  Katie shares much of the language she uses in her workshop with readers.

That really wasn't very easy.   Which professional books about writing do you find yourself returning to again and again?