Archive for February, 2010

Poetry Friday: Jared, age 8

This week’s Poetry Friday courtesy of Randi Allison. Thanks, Randi!

Did you see it?
Did you watch the opening ceremonies for the Olympics?
Did you note that Israel and Iran were separated by Ireland?
Did you remark to someone about how beautiful the faces of the world’s athletes are?
Did you see the optimism the athletes have for our world shining in their eyes?

Countries from around our globe have laid down their weapons for 16 days, and the best part is we are fortunate to watch it all unfold.

And now I’d like to introduce you to Jared who was so moved by his first viewing of the Olympics he just had to write…

Peace is a present waiting to be unwrapped.
When the box is ripped open
Peace is set free.
Peace is a gift
not just any gift,
Peace is a gift from God.
Peace is not just as important
as life.
Peace is a wish
that makes life important,

age 8

2 comments February 24th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Editor’s checklist

In this week’s Quick Tip, Jeff Anderson shares how he introduces the Editor’s Checklist in his classroom. This checklist helps his students keep track of writing conventions as they edit and revise their writing throughout the year. Jeff talks more about this strategy in his book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop.

Because I want to be a responsive teacher, responding to my students’ grammatical and mechanical needs as they arise, I have to strike a balance between what students may need at any given time and the overall blueprint of what my kids should know and be able to do when they walk out of my class at the end of the year. The editor’s checklist is an essential tool for meeting this goal in my classroom. This one tool can serve as a blueprint for the year, a placeholder, a record of your grammar and mechanics teaching.

I don’t mean the editor’s checklist found at the teacher supply store, or the lengthy list that comes with textbooks, or even the individual list that your students don’t keep in their writing folders. I bow down to worship any teacher who can get all of his or her students to keep their own personalized lists of idiosyncratic errors, but I could only keep up with these individualized checklists with my 150 students for about three weeks into the semester. I stress the word I because if I did not sit with individual students and tell them what they needed to work on, the lists were never made or added to or even referred to. It’s just like when I corrected errors on their papers. I would hope that if I sit next to them, working one-on-one, they would learn new writing skills by my modeling.

Researchers tell us to teach skills in context. They tell us to conference for one-on-one instruction, but I had thirty other students who were clamoring for me to assist them as well. I wonder, do math teachers teach most skills one-on-one? These attempts at teaching mechanics didn’t work because I never got to every kid. And I just deepened their dependence on some “other” authority instead of scaffolding them to tackle and reason with grammar and mechanics on their own.

Finally, I began keeping an organic editor’s checklist: a system that grows from student writing and what research says kids have to know. In my class, we constantly move back and forth between the editor’s checklist and writer’s notebook.

On the first day of school, I hang a long piece of white butcher paper on the wall, in a spot everyone can see. If kids ask about it, I tell them this sheet is going to help them grow up and be ready for high school. If no one says anything, I say, “So when are y’all going to leave me alone about the white butcher paper?” I get puzzled looks. I love to puzzle my kids. I tell them their brains are growing. On the second day, before school, I write across the top in big green letters Editor’s Checklist.

“I think you are now ready for me to share with you,” I say, pointing at the butcher paper, “the editor’s checklist.”

Audible groan. Just the word editing sends shivers down students’ spines. Who can blame them? Especially when they are assuming it is probably just one more way to make writing like filling out a worksheet. Their adolescent brains downshift: One more way to be wrong; one more rule that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t apply to me; one more thing I couldn’t care less about; one more thing to check off, be done with, so I can sit, talk, and write notes. When I have given my students a photocopied checklist in the past, that is, in fact, what they have done. They have checked off each box, one at a time. Checklists mostly get us checks, not editing, but this organic editor’s checklist is different.

“Have you ever seen an editor’s checklist?” Most students say no, even though they probably have seen one in one form or another. “This chart is going to help us learn many of the important things to be adult writers. Writers’ secrets, if you will.” A good percentage of my middle school students want to be adults, so I shamelessly use this desire to manipulate them into caring about mechanics. “You’re not a child anymore,” I say, “but you’re not an adult either. You’re in between. One of the ways we make our writing more adult is to use punctuation marks correctly.” I get a few smirks, but I have everyone’s attention. “Have you ever thought about why we have punctuation? Or better yet, why we have laws and rules everywhere we go?”

“So we won’t get in trouble,” offers Stephanie.
“Tell me more, Stephanie.”
“Well, it’s like we can’t go through stop signs because there would be a crash.”
“What other rules keep you safe?”
Albert’s hand shoots up. “The pool over at San Pedro Park; there are these signs that say ‘No Running.’”
“At Pecan Grove Apartments it says the same thing,” adds Ramiro.
“Can anyone think of a pool where they want you to run?” I ask.

Silence envelops the room as they search their brains.

“I guess that rule is pretty standard.” We talk about the conventions of eating at the table, restaurants, driving. After we have exhausted all the possible places where rules serve us, I ask, “Whom do you think invented conventions or rules for writing?”
“Teachers?” wonders Jeremy.
“Maybe there was this mean English teacher a long time ago who had a red pen for a hand,” I say, holding my right arm stiff in front of me, thrashing it around in crossing-out motions. “And she just started marking up papers for fun, slashing them to bits.”
“Whatever!” Sara says.
“No, it wasn’t a mean old teacher with a red-pen hand. It was the writers. They wanted to be understood. Don’t you want to be understood too? Grammar and mechanics are conventions. The word convention meant agreement in its original Latin form. You told me we had agreements or rules about eating, being at a pool, and so on. You said they told us how to act. Well, writers wanted people to understand what they said, even when they weren’t around. They wanted people to understand their words so they started agreeing on things: A period means stop this thought; a capital letter signals that a new sentence is beginning or that a word is a name.” This discussion begins building the concept. Referring to the editor’s checklist, I explain how we will learn more about how to follow the rules and how following conventions of mechanics and grammar makes our writing easier to understand. And what middle school students want is to be understood—finally.

“Are you tired of nobody hearing you? Writing gives you that power, and part of writing’s power is in its passion, its details, but all of that is lost if the grammar and mechanics can’t hold the message together.”

Soon after, I read Punctuation Takes a Vacation. This whimsical picture book by Robin Pulver (2003) describes the plight of a class whose punctuation gets so sick and tired of being erased, left out, and moved around that all the punctuation marks rebel and go on vacation. The story and illustrations describe how much punctuation is missed. The book is one more way to stress the value of punctuation as a tool writers harness to communicate. In truth, the editor’s checklist may only be semiorganic. While it grows from the hubris of student writing, it also incorporates my state standards along with Connors and Lunsford’s top twenty errors, listed in Chapter 1.

After I teach grammar and mechanics concepts through snippets of text or writers’ secrets, students help me list each rule on the editor’s checklist (see Figure 3.7). If appropriate, we add an annotation that reminds them of how to apply the rule and its purpose. It may be more appropriate to refer to another list posted in the room or to start a different wall chart. Figure 3.8 offers advice about which rules could go on the editor’s checklist and which could be posted separately. I find that posting capitalization rules and sentence patterns by themselves has several advantages. Separate lists serve as categorical organization for the high-priority rules and ensure that there is room left on the editor’s checklist for other important rules.

Add comment February 23rd, 2010

Podcast: Patrick Allen

In his new book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop, Patrick Allen writes:

“Reading should be left somewhat organic. When I confer, I am having the opportunity to talk one-on-one with a reader. About what he is thinking, in the moment… and he is able to beguile me with his thoughts as a reader– holding my attention, interest, and devotion to his coming to know.”

In his most recent podcast (recorded during the CCIRA Conference in Denver), Patrick shared some stories about students coming to know and becoming empowered readers through conferring.

Download Patrick’s podcast (2MB).

Read more about Patrick Allen.

Add comment February 18th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Independent reading conferences

In this week’s Quick Tip, Tony Stead shows what an independent reading conference looks like in his classroom as he helps a student select a just-right book. Check out his recent book, Good Choice: Supporting Independent Reading and Response, K-6, for more sample conferences.

The Conference in Action

Once children know when they will be attending the conference and are prepared for the encounter, the conference can begin. The conference must be a focused event, so I follow a sequence of implementation procedures to help with this task. These procedures include the following:

Implementation Procedures

■ I ask the student to tell me what he or she has been working on in independent reading. This is based on the tasks set at the previous conference. These tasks stem from each student’s ability to internalize the different strategies modeled in the whole-class settings.

■ Once the student has identified his or her goals, I ask a series of questions based on the goals. I may also ask the student to read part of the text to me to check his or her fluency, phrasing, and expression. If the student is unable to identify his or her reading goals, I remind the student what they were. At this stage, I usually end the conference because it’s obvious that the student is not prepared. I reschedule the conference for another day and make sure the student works on established goals during independent reading.

■ If the child is struggling with the set goals, I provide the appropriate scaffolds and make recommendations. I make sure I follow up with the child before the next conference so that I am not waiting an entire week to see whether the student has internalized the modeled strategies. This follow-up is not in the form of an additional conference, but more of an informal conversation. The conference with Jessica on pages 117–119 demonstrates this procedure.

■ If the child appears to have accomplished the set goals, I congratulate him or her and set new goals. I record these goals in a notebook or conference record sheet. I also have the student record his or her new goals.

■ If I find that I have several students struggling with specific strategies or goals, I call them together for small-group instruction. If I find that the majority of my students are struggling, I reintroduce the focus in a whole-class setting.

The following are two transcripts from conferences that demonstrate the previously described procedure. The first is with Jessica from Betty Mason’s second-grade class. This conference shows what I do when a child is struggling with his or her set goals. The second is with Kirk from Peter’s fifth-grade class. In this conference, Kirk has achieved his set goals, so I concentrate on other aspects of his reading.

Conference with Jessica in Grade 2

Focus: Selecting Texts That Are Comfortable Reads

Tony: Hi, Jessica. Would you like to tell me what you’ve been working on in your reading?

Jessica: Getting books that are right for me.

Tony: What do you mean, “books that are right”?

Jessica: Well, ones that I can read the words.

Tony: Do you think understanding what the words are saying is also important?

Jessica: Yeah.

Tony: Did you find any?

Jessica: I got three of ’em.

Tony: That’s terrific. Would you like to read one of them to me?

Jessica begins reading a book about fish. Her reading of the text is slow and labored. She mispronounces many words. My running record reveals that this book is too hard for her. After she has read four pages, I stop her because she is struggling.

Tony: Jessica, I’m noticing that you are having problems with some of the words.

Jessica: Some of them are hard for me.

Tony: So do you find this is an easy book to read and understand?

Jessica: I can read some of it.

Tony: Do you understand it?

Jessica: Some bits.

Tony: That’s great if you can understand some of it. Is there another book in your book bag that’s a bit easier? Maybe a book where you can read nearly all of the words and understand what’s happening?

Jessica: Well, I think that they could be a bit hard.

Tony: Then why don’t you go back to the classroom library and find one that feels just right. Remember how we talked about using the chart to help you select comfortable texts?

I refer Jessica to the chart created in the whole-class mini-lesson. Refer to pages 93–94 in Chapter 6.

Tony: Do you think you can do that, Jessica? Or do you need more help? Maybe one of your friends can help you.

Jessica: I think I can do it.

Tony: That’s terrific, Jessica. I’d like you to do that for me, and after I’ve finished my next conference, I’m going to come over to see how it’s all going. Does that sound good?

Jessica: Yeah.

I write down Jessica’s goals on her conference record sheet. I also write down the words: “I’m going to find something I can read and understand” on an index card and give it to Jessica. This is her record of her set goals. This is put into her book bag so that she has her own record of what she is going to be working on in her reading.

Tony: Okay, Jessica. I’ve written down in my notes that you are going to find a text that you can read and understand. I’ve written this on a card for you. It says, “I’m going to find something I can read and understand.” So can you tell me what you’re going to work on?

Jessica: Find something I know how to read.

Tony: And not only be able to read but also be able to . . .

Jessica: Understand.

Tony: Excellent. I’ll be over soon to check how you’re going.

At the end of my next conference, I go over to see how Jessica is doing. She has selected two books that appear easier. I congratulate her on her selections and ask her to find a few more. I tell her that when I meet with her next, I want her to bring one of her new selections to share at the conference. If Jessica had again struggled making appropriate selections, I would either have provided her with further support, or met with her in a small group with other children who were encountering the same problem.

Add comment February 16th, 2010

Poetry Friday: Nate, age 7

We’d like to introduce you to Randi Allison. Some people collect dolls, some collect baseball cards, Randi Allison collects children’s writing. For more than 25 years Randi has taught and shared her love and gift of literature with both children and adults alike. Randi has collected over 1300 children’s writings over the years. The children’s writings are beacons of light shining hope, faith, and courage. Randi is the author of Tastes Like Chocolate, thoughts from young people, (Crane Press, 2007). Randi currently lives in Colorado with her husband and continues to share her love of literacy with the children and adults of Douglas County School District, Colorado.

With all the snowy weather a lot of the country has seen, we thought we’d share this poem by Nate:

I am inside with my big brother
and he says,
“Let’s go out and walk in the snow.”

My big brother walks into the snow.
I follow and walk in his footprints
and I think,
someday when I’m grown up
I am going to walk
just like him.

age 7

In Nate’s own words…

The day I wrote this poem it was in January right after my brother’s birthday, and my brother said, “Let’s go outside and walk in the snow.” We got on our boots and jackets and mittens and scarves, we headed out. As we were walking I was behind my brother and I looked down and I began to walk in his footsteps, thinking, ‘someday I want to be just like him.’

1 comment February 12th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Parent/teacher conferences

Parent/teacher conferences can be stressful for both parties, but even more stressful to new teachers who are navigating this delicate relationship for the first time. In this week’s Quick Tip, the authors of Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Guiding, Reflecting, Coaching, offer some advice for veteran teachers on how to support new educators as they prepare for their first parents/teacher conference.

Newsletters, websites, and surveys are helpful, but face-to-face meetings serve as perhaps the most important communication venues. These might take the form of open houses, back-to –school nights, or parent/teacher conferences. Many schools host an open house for parents/guardians during the first weeks of school.

Jim Burke (2007) recommends preparing a handout, displaying student work, wearing professional attire, greeting parents upon their entrance, and emphasizing teacher availability for future conferences or email exchanges. He also gives parents index cards with questions similar to the survey questions suggested earlier. Mentors can help prepare beginning teachers for these occasions by describing the general procedures: who greets parents upon entering the building, how long parents usually stay in the classroom, whether teachers are expected to talk to the parents as a group or individually, what displays are usually provided, how many parents to expect, and where refreshments or other information (book fairs, etc.) are located. Beginning teachers will often feel more comfortable with a routine: greeting parents, introducing themselves, saying something positive about the student, giving a handout or index card, and inviting parents to circulate around the room. Mentors might role play situations with beginning teachers to help them feel more comfortable in this new situation.

Middle schools and high schools sometimes sponsor a back-to-school night in which parents adopt their child’s schedule and move from classroom to classroom, hearing a summary of each class for ten to fifteen minutes. Mentors and beginning teachers can jointly rehearse their own description of the course. Beginning teachers, who are often technologically adept, may wish to present a PowerPoint presentation, keeping the presentation organized and allowing the parents’ eyes to be directed to the screen rather than directly to the speaker. Since the session usually concludes with a question-and-answer time, mentors can help prepare beginning teachers with typical parental questions.

Of course, the most common encounter with parents is the parent/teacher conference. While beginning teachers are often acquainted with various school procedures in their past observational role as a student, they probably have not directly experienced parent/teacher conferences unless they themselves have children. Ellen Moir states, “Parent conferences require new teachers to be highly organized, articulate, tactful, and prepared to confer with parents about each student’s progress. This type of communication with parents can be awkward and difficult for beginning teachers. New teachers generally begin with the idea that parents are partners in the learning process, and they are not prepared for parents’ concerns or criticisms.” (1999, 21)

To assist new teachers in preparing for conferences, mentors can discuss the procedures and rehearse various encounters. Some teachers prepare folders with student work and use the time to explain the curriculum and show the student’s strengths and weaknesses (or “areas to work toward”) in the particular subject area. Other teachers create note cards with specific comments tailored to each student, allowing them to use the sandwich technique: saying something positive, presenting the student’s difficulties or challenges with the work, and concluding with ways the parents and teacher can work together for positive results. Yet others like to begin on a conversational note of talking about the student’s interests prior to talking about the student’s academic work.

Mentors working with student teachers might model the first conferences, then invite the student teacher to give added comments, and gradually move toward having the student teacher takes a leadership role in the conference. In a middle school or high school situation in which the student teacher is teaching various classes and the cooperating teacher has not yet turned over other classes, the student teacher can take a leadership role in the conferences with the parents of the students she is currently teaching. Th is initial experience will help the beginner feel more confident in future parent/teacher conferences.

Mentors can help make beginning teachers aware of the concerns that parents bring with them. Sidney Trubowitz and Maureen Picard Robins refer to “parents who themselves experienced schools as places of failure, parents whose family life is in disarray, parents with unrealistic expectations for their children, and parents whose cultural values are out of sync with those of the school” (2003, 80). Other parents may seem quiet-natured and remain silent during the conference, may be non-English speakers who require a translator, or may have little or no control over their children and frankly admit their deficiencies. For instance, a beginning  teacher may be excited to see a parent at a parent/teacher conference in which a student has earned an A– in class, thinking that this will be an easy conference to negotiate, only to discover that the parent is angry that the student doesn’t have an A on the report card.

Veteran teachers will often remark that each conference time often contains a new surprise, so mentors might prepare beginning teachers that occasionally a parent may cry, become angry, or seem apathetic. Sometimes a parent takes a negative comment personally, presuming that if a child is not doing well, it must be the parent’s fault. Mentors can show how to reassure parents by discussing or role playing possible encounters, illustrating how to defuse a problematic situation. While this might make some beginning teachers even more nervous, usually new teachers prefer to feel prepared, even for unlikely events.

Mentors need to emphasize that just as classes need to be learner centered, so, too, parent/teacher conferences should be parent centered. Teachers can encourage parents to describe their child’s interests and goals, to ask questions, and to share their concerns. Questions such as “What would you like me to know about your son?” or “What questions would you like to ask about your daughter’s work?” might lead to fruitful conversations. Most important, though, is for teachers to ask, “What ideas do you have for how we can help your child improve as a student? How can we work toward this goal together?” To create a true parent/teacher partnership, the conference needs to conclude with a two-way action plan: for instance, with the parent providing a work space and specified time for homework and the teacher agreeing to inform the parent of progress or problems with homework completion.

Mentors can help beginning teachers realize that what they say during a conference is often less important than what they ask and how well they listen.  Many schools have moved toward a student-led parent/teacher conference, which may not have been the beginning teacher’s experience in his own school years, his practicum, or his student teaching. In this instance, it’s helpful for mentors to explain the procedure and to prepare students to become leaders in the conference. If these conferences are  interdisciplinary, the beginning teacher may not see some of the parents of her own students, so she may want to set up individual conferences at another time for parents of struggling students.

In the following conversation, interdisciplinary team members describe to their new colleague how they prepare for parent/teacher conferences:

Amanda: Since parent-teacher conferences are scheduled for next week, let’s talk about what we can do to prepare. For instance, Kevin, since you’re a new teacher, you might have questions for us.

Kevin: Well I’d like to hear you describe a typical conference and what I should do to prepare.

Betty: What were you planning to do to prepare?

Kevin: Frankly, I hadn’t thought about it. I just figured I’d answer the parents’ questions.

Betty: Well, the most common question is, “How is my son or daughter doing in your class?” How can you prepare for that question?

Kevin: I guess I should have my grade book with me so I can look up the grades and assignment


Sam: That’s helpful. Sometimes I make a note card for each student with one positive comment and one goal for improvement.

Kevin: Um, I could try that.

Amanda: Would you like to see us role play some conferences?

Kevin: That would be great!

Amanda: If we each role played being the teacher, Kevin could see our different conference styles, and then he could decide which way suits him.

Kevin: Super! Could you role play a typical conference and then some difficult ones, such as a student not doing the work or a student who is the class clown? Then maybe I could role play the teacher’s role and get in some practice.

Amanda: OK, let’s try it.

Sam: Let’s go for it!

Helping beginning teachers know what to expect during conferences will assist them in feeling more prepared and confident as they initiate parent/teacher partnerships.

1 comment February 9th, 2010

Poetry Friday: When It Is Snowing

Here in Portland, the snow has taken an unseasonable absence and the sun is expected to stay with us all weekend. But some 500 miles southwest, our friends in the Washington, D.C. area are expecting up to 28 inches of snow by tomorrow night. And so this Poetry Friday, we wanted to provide an opportunity for some reflection amid the storm warnings and snow plows…

This week’s poem was written by Siv Cedering, a Swedish-American writer, poet, translator, illustrator, sculptor, and composer. Though she passed away in 2007, her diverse body of work continues to be recognized and admired throughout the U.S. and Europe. Counted among Cedering’s fans are Pat Johnson and Katie Keier, who use the poem for a think aloud as they model visualizing with poetry to aid comprehension in Catching Readers Before They Fall, due out next month.

When It Is Snowing
by Siv Cedering

When it is snowing
the blue jay
is the only piece of
in my

“When It Is Snowing” originally appeared in Color Poems, published by Calliopea Press in 1978. It is used with permission of the estate of Siv Cedering.

Add comment February 5th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: First draft writing is hard for everyone

In Teaching Adolescent Writers, Kelly Gallagher shares some of his classroom-tested strategies for motivating young writers. In this week’s Quick Tip, Kelly talks about how he helps his students overcome their fear of the blank page and shows them that writing is hard for everyone – even the most experienced and celebrated writers.

For many of my students, getting started is the hardest part of composing. Why? Because writing is hard, and beginning a writing task creates a formidable cognitive hurdle for inexperienced or reluctant writers. Unfortunately, many students continue year in and year out with the mistaken notion that writing is easy for some and difficult for others (generally speaking, they think writing is easy for the teacher and difficult for the students). My guess is that they have reached this erroneous conclusion primarily due to one of two reasons:
1. They have teachers who do not actively write. As a result, these teachers may have forgotten how hard they themselves struggled as developing writers. When teachers do not write, students lose the opportunity to see adults successfully struggle through the writing process.
2. They have teachers who do actively write but who have become expert at hiding the work it takes from their students. Often when teachers share their own writing, it is only after extensive revising and polishing that has been done out of the sight of the students.

Students’ anxiety is reduced when they come to understand that everyone—students, teachers, professional writers—has to work hard when they sit down to write. Even Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers working today, has to fight self-doubt when he sits down to write, as he recounts in On
Writing: With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in. (2000, p. 209)

Rather than hide the fact that writing is a constant struggle against the “self-doubt” King refers to, teachers serve their students better when they reveal their own writing doubts. What better way to model how to handle these doubts and the various challenges of writing than to compose in front of the students? Though students already know that writing is hard, they do not realize that more experienced writers often struggle as much as they do. Our students stand a greater chance of internalizing and embracing the complexity of writing when they see their teachers struggle to internalize and embrace
the complexity of writing.

Beyond the notion that writing is hard, a second reason surfaces to explain why my students have a difficult time diving into a first draft: they are often afraid their writing will be lousy. Writing is personal and risky, and many of my students are paralyzed by the notion that the writing they produce will be sub-par (especially when it comes to sharing their writing with their teacher and peers). They often feel they have nothing interesting to say, or if they do have an idea, they are unsure how to get it down on paper. My response to students faced with writing apprehension is simple and straightforward: Join the crowd.

Students do not understand that most first-draft writing, for everyone, is lousy. But a good writer recognizes that a lot of lousy first-draft writing must be done before better writing can occur. To help get students over the fear of failure, I begin our writing year by sharing the following poem:

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Author unknown

You’ve failed many times,
although you may not
You fell down
the first time
you tried to walk.
You almost drowned
the first time
you tried to
swim, didn’t you?
Did you hit the
ball the first time
you swung a bat?
Heavy hitters,
the ones who hit the most home runs,
also strike
out a lot.
English novelist
John Creasey got
752 rejection slips
before he published
564 books.
Babe Ruth struck out
1,330 times,
but he also hit 714 home runs.
Don’t worry about failure.
Worry about the
chances you miss
when you don’t
even try.

After sharing the poem I remind my students that Peter Elbow (1998) once said a person’s best writing is often mixed up with his worst. I tell them it is a requirement in my class to produce a lot of bad writing. From bad writing, I tell them, the seeds of good writing will eventually grow. Bad writing is necessary before good writing emerges. To better encourage them to take risks in first-draft writing and to understand that first- and second-draft writing are not the same thing, I share with them the chart depicted in Figure 3.1.

This chart, developed by my friend and mentor Mary K. Healy, who was an early leader in the Bay Area Writing Project, reinforces the idea that before writers can get it right they first have to get it down. Ralph Fletcher, in What a Writer Needs (1993), calls getting the first draft down “the sneeze.” He encourages students to blast out their thoughts without fear of how the writing will turn out. Once students recognize that first-draft writing is tentative and exploratory in nature, their trepidations begin to dissipate. This is the first step in breaking down their reticence.

Beyond getting students to embrace the difficulty of writing and helping them accept the notion that it’s okay for first-draft writing to be lousy, here are five additional ideas to consider. When implemented, these ideas help lower student anxiety about first-draft writing.

1 comment February 2nd, 2010

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