Sunday, July 23, 2017

Teachers Write 2017 - Tales from the Classroom #2

Hello there, friends! Can you believe we're halfway through Teachers Write already!

I know, I feel you. It's going way too fast! Time flies when you're having fun, right? I'm super excited to hear about all the fun you've been having but first, I have a special guest post today from one of our Teachers Write participants, Jennifer Laffin. Ever since she told me about this project she worked on with her students, I've been telling everyone about it. I'm sure you're going to think it's cool too!

Excitement was in the air. You could feel it. You could hear it.  Best of all, you could see it.  The hallways were lined with student-made cardboard books called cartoneras. Every student had written one. Now, it was time to share them.
Cartonera 1 Teach Write.PNG
It was early May and the students at my school, Star Center Elementary in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, were enjoying an hour of celebrating the publication of their cartonera in our annual Cartonera Project Celebration. They buzzed around the hallways, bouncing from book to book -- carefully reading and considerately leaving a “Raves From Readers” comment in each one they read:

“I did not know there were that many different kinds of owls. I learned a lot from your book.”

“I like how you added a picture of Walt Disney’s first cartoon. It was cool!”

“I can tell you love Italian greyhounds from all the details you wrote in your book.”

“I laughed out loud when the dog stole the grandpa’s fishing pole!

For the past seven months, students worked on developing their writing skills, writing every day in their classrooms with the help and support of their teachers and peers. After spring break, every student (yes, every) in our kindergarten through 5th grade school choose a favorite piece of their writing to revise, edit and publish in the form of a cartonera, a cardboard book.
Then on this afternoon in May, our Cartonera Celebration Day, our student-authors put their book on display outside their classrooms and spent the hour reading and responding to each other’s cartoneras. Younger students met up with their older buddies and read cartoneras together. Teachers snuck in some reading and raving while supervising the hallways. School board members, principals, janitors, parents, and other community visitors roamed, read and raved too. At the end of the hour when our authors returned to their classrooms, grabbed their cartonera, and read over their Raves, it was simply magical:

“Your brother read my book! He liked my joke at the beginning!”

“I can’t believe Mr. Steele read my cartonera!”

“Juan told me I should write a sequel to this book! He wants to know what happens next!”

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The school was buzzing -- all because of writing! (More information on what cartoneras are and a video of our Cartonera Project and Cartonera Celebration can be found in a link at the end of this post.)
But the Cartonera Project Celebration is more than just a celebration of writing, just as the cartoneras are more than just another published piece of writing. I think what elevates the Cartonera Project to the next level is actually quite simple: It is writing for an authentic audience.
When you or I write, we write in different ways depending on who our audience will be. When I am writing in my journal and I know only my eyes will see the page, I write in a more stream-of-consciousness manner, often not paying much attention to paragraphing and other conventions. When I write for children, I pay special attention to the words I choose, the lessons I want to convey, and sentence structure. When I write on one of my blogs, Teach Write or Sweet Writing Life, I know I am writing for other teachers so I choose topics that would be of interest to them, give lots of examples, and be sure that I have communicated my thoughts clearly and concisely.  
When students write and publish a cartonera, they are writing for a real audience, just as an author does. They are invested in their topic because they know many people will read it and they want their reader to feel something from their words. They choose their words carefully, add illustrations to enrich the story or topic, choose catchy titles and attention-getting grabbers, and make sure that all of the conventions are cared for in order to make the reader’s job easier and more enjoyable. It is not an “assignment.” Heck, it’s not even graded! But I would argue that our student writers get more out of this project to grow their writing identities than any other assignment they do in the entire year. Why? It all comes down to audience.
Why is writing for an authentic audience important?
  1. It gives the writer a sense of purpose. They are writing beyond themselves, beyond the teacher and beyond a grade. There is a goal in sight. It is probably unlike any writing goal they’ve had all year.
  2. When the reader responds to the writing, in our case on the Raves From Readers page, the author gains an understanding of the effect their writing had on their reader. Were their jokes funny? Was the setting clear? Did they teach the reader what they intended? Was anything confusing? This feedback is invaluable for growing a writing identity and engagement with writing.
  3. There is importance in their writing because someone will read it. (Someone beyond the teacher or their writing partner.)
  4. This writing is formative, not summative. It will not receive a grade. It does not have to be over with the placement of the final period. It can continue to live on with the audience and the interaction with the reader.
  5. It is real-world writing. It’s what real authors do. It’s what you and I do when WE write. (I’m not planning on turning this post into a teacher for a grade, after all…)

Being a teacher who writes has helped me gain a clearer understanding of the need for an authentic audience when my students write. It has helped me experience the interaction between the reader and the text from a different point-of-view. Knowing that someone else will be reading my writing has raised the bar for me to make sure I put my best work out there for you.
It’s similar to the writing we do here every day for Teachers Write. When we write and leave a comment on the daily post, we know others will see it. This shapes the words we use, the ideas we develop, and how we go about communicating our thoughts. It is a powerful motivator.
In preparing this post for you, the Teachers Write participants, I wanted to convey how a project at my school helped to elevate the level of writing our students did and how it was affected by being a teacher who writes myself. As you return to the classroom in the coming weeks, I challenge you to think of ways you can include an authentic audience in your writing classroom. I promise you -- it will make a world of difference!

If you think you would like to bring The Cartonera Project to your school, I can help with that too! The following resources may help.

Video of The Star Center Cartonera Project

You can also contact me directly for more information or to ask any questions through email at or on Twitter @laffinteach and @TeachWriteEDU.

Here's more about me: I am a former 4th and 5th grade teacher who found my passion for teaching writing and being a teacher who writes when I participated in the National Writing Project’s Summer Institute six years ago. I am now the owner of Teach Write LLC, an educational consulting company that specializes in helping teachers become stronger teachers of writers as well as develop writing habits themselves. I live in southeastern Wisconsin with my husband, two kids, two dogs, and too many notebooks and pens to count.

Thank you, thank you to Jennifer for sharing her cartoneras project. I'm obsessed with trying to figure out how to do this in my district. Jennifer and I met with a couple of other Teachers Write friends, Joy Olenick and Greg Armamentos, this week to talk about writing. Just one more example of why I absolutely love Teachers Write - fab friends in our online community have become real life friends.

And now! I can't wait to hear how week two went!

My goal for this week was to add another 5,000 words to my draft and I was actually a drafting machine! I've been tracking my progress with Pacemaker and seeing my word count move up along the graph really motivated me. Believe it or not, I hit 22,000 words last night. Woo hoo! I have to add a disclaimer here that I've NEVER written this fast in my life! Drafting has gotten easier with practice...please know that I've had many days when trying to get 500 words out was torture and don't think that I write like this all the time. Based on how I did last week, my goal for this week is to hit 38,000 words. Wish me luck! 

Today, in the comments:
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the not-so-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-totally-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?

A reminder of my rules for Teachers Write Sunday Check-Ins:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only offer constructive criticism.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.

Happy writing all!
P. S. Thank you for replying to each other's comments! 
While I read them all and do my best to reply and 
reply as soon as possible it doesn't always happen.
I so appreciate you cheering each other on through Teachers Write! You r-o-c-k!

Psst! Yes, you! One more thing...
Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter here!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/17/2017

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right just might discover your next “must-read” book!
Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It's Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children's literature - picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit - join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them. 

Last Week's Book Adventures:
I blame nErDcamp...I just had too much fun and then needed the rest of the week to recover! I did listen to more of Highly Illogical Behavior and I read more of The Evaporation of Sofi Snow...but I'm not done yet. I also started listening to Tracey Baptiste's The Jumbies. I did read through a bunch of workshop books I checked out from the library and I read a whole stack of picture books too.

Reviewed Last Week:
Click on any picture above to go read my review/post.

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
I just planned out the whole week in my bullet journal (why is it so hard to stay on top of things in the summer?!) and I have lots of trips to the dog park scheduled in so I'm hoping that will give me some time to read Highly Illogical Behavior and Jumbies with my ears. And I'm planning to finish Sofi Snow it's sooooooooo good. It reminds me a bit of Ender's Game and Hunger Games and it's riveting.

This Week's Reviews:
Check back throughout the week to read these reviews/posts. 

So, what are you reading this week? 
Link up below and don't forget to check out other blogs to see what they are reading!
To help build our community and support other bloggers, 
we ask that you comment on at least three other blogs before you. 
Also, if you tweet about your Monday post, don't forget to use #IMWAYR!

Teachers Write 2017 - Tale #1 From the Classroom

Welcome to our first official Sunday Check-In of the summer! How is everyone feeling?! I can't wait to read about your reflections in the comments. I've been doing the exercises, got going with my first draft of the YA contemporary I'm working on this summer, and jumped in on Friday Feedback. Woo hoo!


I'm super excited that Andy Starowicz is here to talk about how he took his experiences from Teachers Write into his classroom with a special poetry project he did with his students and the art teacher at his school. Andy has been a Teachers Write participant from the very beginning and I'm so glad he's here to share his tale from the classroom. 
What a fantastic start to Teachers Write! It is without a doubt the highlight of my summer, and each summer, I learn so many writing strategies (and activities that I need to modify a bit – remember, I teach sixth graders) that I can take back to my classroom in September. Because of Teachers Write, I now have a writer’s notebook (actually, a few notebooks) that is dedicated to just lesson/unit plans and project ideas (see below). These experiences within the Teachers Write community have had a major impact on my ELA lessons and units, including the poetry/art project that I am posting about today.
After years of teaching poetry to sixth graders (figurative language skills, alliteration, imagery, personification, onomatopoeia, repetition, tone, mode, simile, metaphor, rhyme scheme, and stanza) and accessing them with quizzes and tests (identifying the aspects in poetry; mostly multiple-choice questions), I needed something different. While researching to find how other teachers assess poetry skills, I found an interesting poetry project in which the students write the poems and the advanced art students create the art that brings the poetry to life. The problem was that most of these projects were done by high school and college students, so I had to do some major tweaking in order to create a fair assessment for my sixth grade students (and the art students that did the artwork).  
The key aspect to making this an effective project is that I needed the art teacher to help me with the creation of the assignment and the rubric with which we will assess the student poets and artists. The art teacher was more than willing to help me, and the fact that she was a writer (I did not know this before working with her on this project) was even better. We talked how important it was that the student poems were rich with descriptive details so that the artist could visualize the poem and then produce an image that represents the poem.  
The most powerful part of the project was that my sixth grade students would write the poems, but eighth grade advanced art students would bring the poem to life visually. The sixth graders would have three class periods (each period is forty minutes) to write their poems. They would use all of the skills that they learned during the three-week unit (I sprinkle in poetry during the entire school year, but the poetry unit is in January). The art students then had two weeks to create the art piece that accompanied the poem. Each sixth grade student worked with an eighth grade student, and they met four times (each session was twenty-five minutes) to work together on the project (including many revisions – they even met during free periods to tweak their poetry and art). During this time, the art teacher and I did mini-lessons on visualization and using sensory details.  
The finale of the project was the poetry/art show in the school library from 3:30 -5:15 for family and friends to see the final poems and pieces. The show was very well attended (especially by friends of the sixth and eighth grade students - close to 75 students came to the show). The students were assessed separately. The art students had a rubric and the poets had a rubric that was similar but focused more on the writing skills. The project was a great success (although, I am already looking at tweaking the directions and rubric for next year). Please feel free to offer any comments or suggestions that would make the project an even more effective learning experience in the future.
This summer with Teachers Write, my focus is on revising and assessing. As I provide positive feedback to my writing peers, I have been creating a list (in my school dedicated writer’s notebook) of writing skills and different aspects that I will be assessing this coming school year (for example, focusing on sentence/paragraph flow with strong transitions). As always, I am carefully reading each day’s lesson and the feedback that I’m receiving from all of you with the hopes that an activity or project idea will surface that I can use in the coming year. I hope that you will give me some feedback about the poetry/art project. I also hope that you have a productive summer of writing and learning with Teachers Write. Thank you, Jen, Kate, Gae, and Jo, for organizing this wonderful opportunity for all of us.

A big giant high five to Andy for sharing how he has been able to take Teachers Write into his classroom. If you'd like to hear more about Andy's poetry project or see the directions and the rubric he used, feel free to email him at 

And now, I've been waiting and waiting and waiting to hear...

How awesome was week one!?!?

I eased my way into Teachers Write after Nerdcamp Michigan at the beginning of the week. I did all the exercises Kate posted on her blog, started a shiny brand new draft of a young adult contemporary novel, and shared a snippet on Friday Feedback. I have a little over 1,000 words and even though it's not that's a start. I'm hoping to add at least 5,000 more by the end of the week two (hopefully more!). 
Hanging out with Gae at Nerdcamp Michigan earlier this week!
Today, in the comments:
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the not-so-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-totally-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?

A reminder of my rules for Teachers Write Sunday Check-Ins:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only offer constructive criticism.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.

4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.

Happy writing all!
P. S. Thank you for replying to each other's comments! 
While I read them all and do my best to reply and 
reply as soon as possible it doesn't always happen.
I so appreciate you cheering each other on through Teachers Write! You r-o-c-k!

Psst! Yes, you! One more thing...
Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter here!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Let's Celebrate nErDcamp Michigan 2017!

It's time to CELEBRATE This Week with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.  Every week Ruth invites us to share our celebrations from the week and link up at her blog. What a fun way to reflect on everything there is to be thankful for. 

*                  *                   *

This week I'm celebrating nErDcamp Michigan 2017!

*throws confetti*

I love nErDcamp!!! Every year it's so inspirational. I love being around so much great energy all in one place. I took tons of selfies...and still feel like I missed people! But here's my best photo recap!

Emily Arrow 
Emily Arrow kicked off nErDcamp! It was cool to hear her in person!

An amazing discussion of why it's important to have diverse books in our classrooms with Tracey Baptiste, Juana Medina, Karuna Riazi, Kathy Burnette, and Alex Gino. 

Louise Borden, who I presented with last year. She's always so smiley!
I moderated a panel on information fluency and sleuthing out alternative facts with Ruth Spiro, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Sarah Albee, and Daniel Nayeri. 
 I was surprisingly shocked to see Maria Villarreal from 826CHI, a non-profit writing and tutoring center for students in Chicago. I'll be volunteering for their middle school writing camp later this summer so it was awesome to see her.
Suzanne puts in so much work to make day one run smoothly! She's awesome. 
A bunch of friends! Jennifer Sniadecki, Kathy Burnette, Suzanne Gibbs, Crystal Brunelle, Nikki Ohs Barnes, and Kelly Vorhis. 
 I finally got to meet Marcie Flinchum Atkins! We've been writing friends for a long time so it was cool to get to hang out with her.
 Colby Sharp himself! 
Kathy Burnette and I presented on how to talk about things we don't know how to talk about...and share ideas for how to talk about race and culture with colleagues and students. Chad Everett joined us as we continued the conversation on day two. It was pretty powerful.  
 It's always wonderful to see Laurel Snyder and Debbie Kovacs. 
Look at those smiling faces!
It was so fun to see Minh LĂȘ again!
Gae Polisner and I led a session on Teachers Write with some awesome authors. Love Teachers Write!
Alaina Sharp is such a complete rockstar! 
She works so hard to make nErDcamp happen! 
Josh Funk is so funny. I got a sneak peak of one of his upcoming books...
it's awesome. Get ready!
This guy! Noah and I became friends at nErDcamp last year 
and he's seriously super cool.

Speaking of Noah, he was one of the kids who got to join in on the awesomeness of nErDcamp Jr. I had a group of twenty soon-to-be 5th graders who got to hang out with Erica Perl, Laura Shovan, Jerzy Drozd, Laurie Keller, Ruth McNally Barnshaw, Abby Cooper

It was another amazing few days of learning at nErDcamp!!! 
I already can't wait for next year.
What are you celebrating this week?