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Write-It-Right Wednesday

Anything, and I mean anything, can be a writing prompt. While waiting for a friend the other day, this Pokestop popped up on my screen. What other amazing things/places are out there in the world I never saw before?

We are writers.

Writing serves my creative mania. In my classroom, historically, we write more than we read. Do I love books? Of course! Am I passionate and excited about passages, excerpts, themes, patterns, characters, and juicy plots? Naturally! But in my experience, if you truly want to a student, a person– to engage, spill their guts, bare their soul and express themselves, writing is it.

Write-It-Right Wednesdays are mini-lesson moments and writing workshop days. Mini lessons are those quick, here is a “thing you need to know” thing. Writing Workshop is a very different animal, and all I’ve learned is from my mentors Holly Stein and Kim Norton through the PSWP (part of the National Writing Project). The Puget Sound Writing Project is no longer, unfortunately, but Holly and Kim began a new venture, PSW Consortium.

Here is Writing Workshop:

  1. You write.
  2. Your students write.
  3. What do you write about? Whatever is on folks’ minds, part of the content, etc. Or what my friend Holly calls “Rule #10: write what you want.”
  4. Use images, news stories, personal anecdotes, objects, postcards, whatever.
  5. Writing is sacred time.
  6. If someone comes in the room to observe during this, they are asked to write, too.
  7. In small groups, each person takes a turn to read their writing. Nothing is in the listeners’ hands. Nothing.
  8. Second read: the listeners give feedback. Never, ever hand your writing over to someone else to read. Yes, it can get noisy. This is not about spelling or editing.
  9. The listeners take a few minutes to verbally give feedback, and hand over the feedback slips to the writer.
  10. The writer says “thank you.” That’s it. They can choose to take the listeners’ advice or not. This is important to teach in terms of preparing writers for criticism and to understand their own craft.


This is Holly’s Power Point. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it.

Writing Partner Feedback Sheet I have a format in Publisher where I put these two up on a page, and double-side photocopy. This document contains the essential information.

Two Writing Teachers


For the grammar lessons, I may try to use Grammarly in the classroom.

Here is an example from a student from a memoir unit:

7 feedback
This was from a modeling portion where I wrote the story, and students acted as my writing partner for feedback.

And for heaven’s sake, start a writing blog for your students:

Update: Two Writing Teachers wrote a great piece on Writing Workshop. Read and keep.

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Frida Kahlo: Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace
Frida Kahlo: Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace

A friend told me when I turned 50 some magical effect would take over me, and that essentially, I would be able to let most things go, not give a hoot over the little things (little things include petty, perfectionist people) and other positively beneficial emotions. Now that I am a few months into my 11th anniversary of 39 years, I suppose she was right. Maybe 50 is a magic number: in this decade we have thirty years of cumulative (starting from our 20s) life experiences: bosses, jobs, mates, perhaps children, and a reel of social media platitudes constantly reminding us to relax, relax, and relax.  And I confess: last year, when I was turning 50, I was elbow-deep in teacher evaluation hell and crying uncontrollably. A lot. (Of course there were plenty of organic, changes, milestones, and other layered factors that contributed.)

But there is something about finding that “good enough” confidence. And if you find it before you turn 50, or well after, it doesn’t matter. There is never a bad time to find this lily pad of peace. Toward the beginning of September I had this bubble of calm moment, this Zen chewy center, where I realized how much my whole life of art has created who I am, and how amazing that is. That no other teacher I know has my unique and qualified essential background in the visual arts, or approaches Language Arts the same exact way I do. I run my classroom more like a studio than a cubicle office. For years, I recognized my fatal flaw is not handling those who lack imagination well. (Understatement? Oh yes.) The dart-throwers, balloon-poppers and candy-stealers. Those who would rather take my mojo and throw it in the garbage than figure out how to create their own.

I am somewhat envious of Two Writing Teachers. They have found this collaborative and  important place to do good work. I am at an odd place right now, where I’m on the sidelines – no longer the rock star teacher, and not really asked to contribute or lead. I am definitely at that “now what?” question/stage in my teaching career.

So exactly how did my BFA help me be a better Language Arts teacher?

1. I took plenty of risks, including hours of figure drawing.

2. I put my art on the “wall” for review on a weekly basis.

3. I spent hours experimenting with various mediums to get exactly what I wanted. (Truth be known I didn’t know ahead of time it was what I wanted: my world was full of happy accidents.)

4. I got my hands (and clothes) dirty. I was primarily a print-maker, so rubbing grit on a lithographic stone is a texture that is burned in my memory.

5. I talked.

6. I listened.

7. I spent hours looking.

8. I failed.*

9. I was rejected.

10. I succeeded.*

11. I painted little.

12. I painted HUGE canvases that took up whole walls.

13. I lost art along the way.

14. I knew to pour black paint on a white canvas and get over fear.

15. I sought to understand art throughout history, and the story those artists were telling.

16. I had great mentors.

17. I painted over. Started over. Trashed. And Resurrected.

But the answer to the “now what?” question may be just this simple: enjoy this time. Enjoy this time that I know what I’m doing, I know when I need to change or tweak something, and I know when to put something aside or try something new. I am, and always will be, a work in progress. And if no one else understands my themes or style, then so be it. I will keep focused on this on-going struggle for communication and connection, and know that a portfolio of life is not always what stays in, but what is taken out.

*the biggie: it was how I determined my failures and successes, and this reflective, recursive, and responsive process has helped me immeasurably. My personal metric was often a combination of what I was trying to communicate synergized with what others perceived. Powerful stuff.