Tag Archives: TCRWP

Teaching Writing in High School: Reflections from TCRWP Workshop

More than twenty years ago I spent my summer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshops for teaching reading and teaching writing. My teachers, Katherine Bomer, Pam Allyn, Isoke Nia, and Lucy Caulkins left an indelible impact on my teaching over the course of two decades. My classrooms still is still guided by Reading and Writing Workshop.

Earlier this month I attended a three day summit with #TCRWP on teaching writing in the high school. Interestingly, in all my years teaching and working with TC, reading and writing workshop was for K-8 and it was enlightening to be working among high school teachers to see the possibilities of bringing this model of teaching into high school. This particular workshop focused on teaching memoir and narrative writing in high school. Despite being geared towards high school, many of the ideas and texts presented in the workshop are adaptable across grade levels.

Let’s start: “Writing is hard and the hardest part is getting started.”

Why start with narrative and memoir?

  1. When students tell their stories we are building relationships (culturally relevant teaching)
  2. We teach storytelling with passion and grace we help students make meaning from life

Launching memoir and getting students ready to begin writing is “having the courage to tell your own stories.”

We began with listening and viewing Renee Watson’s “This Body,” a poem from her book Watch Us Rise.

We started with the video, rather than a dense text as a mentor text to provide an accessible text for our students to discuss and write off of. One way to get started as a writers is getting inspired by other writers. Teachers can help students begin memoir by writing poems and vignettes.

Writers need time to write, lots of mentor texts, choice, and responses from a community of writers. One great move that my workshop leader showed was not to just provide one mentor text, but she actually offered us a Padlet with multiple mentor texts and had each of us pick one to read and study it and record the writing moves we noticed the writer using. What moves dis this writer make that inspired me? We use mentor texts to move our writing forward. After reading and discussing the mentor text students are able to build a vision how their own memoir can go based on the study of the mentor text.

Within the memoir lessons we were talking and thinking about what our memoir is really tell us? We focused and wrote around issues (Is there an issue hiding in a story that is big in your life?, change (Is there a critical change that happens in the story that means something to you?), and identity/relationship (Does the story arise a question about your relationship or identity?). We stretched our writing by talking and creating time lines. We also created some storyboard and story maps, and creating our own story arcs. We even used poetry to elevate our writing. We wrote poems off scenes in our memoirs to think deeper about our piece and place that we think needs more clarity or imagery.

Teaching students to write memoir can be a powerful start to the school year and launching of writing workshop. Memoir and narrative helps to celebrate the diverse voices in your classroom and provide choice and agency. By modeling our own stories and writing alongside our students, they can come to learn that their stories matter.

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Photographs as a Teaching Tool


Image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/buildings/litlrck2.JPG

“What do you see?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Who do you think they are?”

“What are they doing in the photograph?”

“Write down what the person is thinking in the photograph.”

“What might they be thinking but would never say?”

*   *   *   *

Historian and author, David McCullough was asked in an interview, “If you could give teachers one piece of advice, what would it be?”  His response was, “use pictures when teaching history.”  Whatever your content area, images and pictures are vital to students’ learning and deeper understanding.

Using photographs in your classroom repertoire help students synthesize, infer, connect, evaluate, understand point of view, rethink and revise.

Here are a few different activities to make using photographs more meaningful.

1. Photo Reveal – Cover photographs with sticky notes and reveal one sticky note at a time.  Students focus on the details and predict what the story of the photo will reveal.  Students write down observations of what they see looking closely at the details of the images to uncover the story in the photograph.

2. Photo Scavenger Hunt – At the beginning of a unit of study I offer my students a basket filled with images and I ask students to choose the pictures that capture their attention.  On sticky notes students catalogue observations and questions.  In small groups students share the images they have collected and begin creating categories for the photos.

3. Image Gallery Walk – Leave pictures on student desks with a blank sheet of paper.  Students to go around and leave responses of what they see, notice, think, and wonder.

5. Become the Person in the Picture – Have students volunteer to create a tableau (frozen picture) that mirrors the photograph and then have the picture come to life.  Students have to go beyond the literal image and infer a scene that conveys the story presented in the picture. Students can do this as an improvisation or write out the scene in their journal.

6. Compare and Contrast two images.  Students might look at the pictures in different ways when two images are presented next to each other.

7. Photo Connections – After the reading a text, students select a photograph that best supports the reading.  In their journals, students write additional details to support and extend the ideas presented in the text.

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