Monday, July 30, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 1

The school district I have the honor of working for is hosting its 1st annual Literacy Summit titled "Full Court Press on Literacy" this week.  Today we kicked off the event with an introduction from MCCSC Superintendent Dr. Judy DeMuth.  There were several people to thank for getting the Literacy Summit together, some house keeping items, and then she handed it over to Mr. Cameron Rains, MCCSC Director of Elementary Education.  Mr. Rains, introduced as 'Almost Dr. Rains,' gave a brief overview of the Summit, took care of more house keeping items, and then introduced the presenters for the next three days; Dr. Danny Brassell, Kelly Gallagher (@KellyGToGo), Emily Iland, Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, Ellin Keene, Dr. Katie Wood Ray, Dr. Mike Schmoker, and Dr. Richard Allington.  Quite a lineup of literacy all-stars!!!

Several people who attended the Summit were chatting and posting ideas via Twitter, using the hashtag #litsummit.  Some of the ideas below come from my notes and some will come from following the #litsummit hashtag.

I decided to learn from Kelly Gallagher today so my Summit experience took me to the Bloomington High School South cafeteria.  Mr. Gallagher was a great mix of resources, personal experiences from the classroom, and humor that kept the audience engaged.  Here is a brief recap of the two sessions from today's Summit.

Mr. Gallagher started the session making reference to a PDF titled Writing Next; Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools Here is a link to the website:

The article outlines 200 studies of writing instruction and comes to the conclusion that there are 11 'things' that work when teaching writing...#1 among them all is modeling for students.  That was a reoccurring theme in Mr. Gallagher's message today.  This is what he had to say about modeling:
- modeling provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate good writing.  He used the following analogy to drive his point home. When a basketball coach sees a player not shooting the ball correctly, he does not stand over to the side and yell, "That's not right," or even worse, "Put some backspin on the ball."  If the player knew how to do that already there would be no need for further instruction.  Instead, the coach would pull the player over to the side and model how to hold the ball so that it sat up on the fingertips and not in the palm of the shooter's hand.  The coach would show the player over and over again until the player could repeat the process for himself.  That's modeling.  Telling someone that what they're doing is wrong is not modeling.

Mr. Gallagher stated that the number one best method for teaching students to become better writers is the one strategy that is rarely, if ever, used in the classroom...modeling.  Think about it.  How many times can you remember a teacher writing in front of you to see?  I'm not talking about writing something on the blackboard or dry erase board.  I mean, how many times did the teacher pretend that he/she was actually writing like you were being asked to write for an essay?  I can't remember any either.

Students need to watch us write.  Instead, we do all of our writing behind closed doors just like the Great and Powerful Oz.  When we show students our work it's already in final draft form.  If we would open the curtain and let the students in to our thinking, our writing process, and our editing/revising processes it would do more for them than simply showing them our final drafts.  Of course, just like the Great and Powerful Oz, if our 'curtains' are thrown back the students might actually find out that we aren't perfect.  Shocking, right?

Along with modeling our writing, students need to see 'mentor texts' so they can see what professional writing should look like to their audience.  He presented several ways to incorporate mentor texts into lessons and used a few of those strategies with us today.  One process that he said he always uses is to following this sequence when students write; writer goes, teacher goes, student goes.  He uses a published piece to show an example of writing.  He and the students discuss what the writer did, what the message was, and how the writing was set up.  Then he writes, mimicking the author's style while modeling for the students.  Finally, the students write using the skills they have just discussed and watched.  Simple.  Highly effective.

One part of today's presentation captured my attention a little more than the rest, although it was all highly engaging.  He pulled up a YouTube clip of Allen Iverson's rant about practice.  "We talkin' 'bout practice, man.  Not the game. Not the game. We talkin' 'bout practice, man."  This was in response to Iverson's coach publicly calling Iverson out for not being at all of the practices.  Iverson's temper tantrum...I mean, his point...was why should I come to all the practices if I'm already good?  Mr. Gallagher, without throwing a temper tantrum, argued that when it comes to writing, it IS about practice.  He said, "Students need to produce a lot of bad writing before they can become better writers. Students must have writing fluency (just like in reading) to become better writers.  You can only achieve writing fluency by writing a lot.  Students need deliberate practice in areas they need the most practice in to become better writers."  This was the example he used for practice: The average golfer who goes to the driving range will most likely not improve his game.  He's really only there for entertainment if he doesn't work on the part of his golf game that needs improving.  Rarely, if ever, will your average golfer practice hitting balls out of the sand, underneath tree branches, or from anywhere else they may find themselves on a golf course. But those are the shots we need to practice because when we actually play a round of golf we are going to be in the sand, behind the tree, and anywhere else we shouldn't be to begin with on the course.  Yep, we talkin' 'bout practice, man.

The main message I took from today's Summit session was that our students need to see us, hear us, watch us, and experience through us how we seem to always have a final draft the first time we write.  Because in reality, we don't.  They need to see that process so they will know how to become better writers.  Follow this simple routine...Model, practice, model, practice, model, practice and then repeat.  Does that sound like your experience when it comes to writing in schools?

I am going to share some of the other highlights and resources from today's session in bullet form, rather than in paragraphs and in no particular order so I don't bore you to death.  You're welcome.

  • Let students know that their 1st drafts will NEVER be accepted as their final drafts.  Mr. Gallagher goes so far as to call them 'crummy' drafts.
  • Editing does not only mean to move the commas or to check spelling.  There's a lot more that goes into great editing.
  • One broad topic has several sub topics.  Don't try writing everything about a subject, water polo for example, which will probably end up as nothing important or interesting about the topic.  Instead, write about the rules of water polo, strategies of water polo, unwritten rules about the game, etc.  More focused writing usually equals more interesting writing.
  • At the beginning of the year start students out writing and editing one sentence.  Don't try to write War and Peace and then be disappointed when you have tons to grade and the students had no idea how to write.
  • Gradually move on to six word memoirs, Twitter updates of 140 characters or less, and then to paragraphs, short stories, etc.
  • Before students can write one poem they need to read hundreds.
  • Are your students reading and writing enough to compete in today's job market or to be accepted into the college of their choice?
  • Peer response is not the same as peer editing.  Totally different process and outcome.
  • Allow students to edit as a group for more collaboration.
  • Ask students, "What did this author do in the writing that you would like to try?"
Ideas for generating writing topics, especially for the student who claims, "I don't know what to write about."
  • In a writing journal at the beginning of the year, have students make an 'idea territory' page with 75 possible topics they could write about throughout the year.
  • Show this phrase to students...A ________________ Worth Seeing
  • Show a picture on the screen and have students write one sentence explaining what is happening in the picture.  Use that sentence to spark their writing.
  • Use a technique from Sports Illustrated where they write '6 Things You Should Know About...' and let the students come up with the topic.
  • Write this phrase...Sometimes, _______________ is cruel.
  • Use this as a topic generator...I was a witness to ____________.
  • Make a list of 'Ever Wonder Why?' topics.
  • Make a David Letterman Top 10 List.
There were so many great ideas being shared today and this is just a brief outline of a few of those ideas.  If you would like to see more, follow the Twitter hashtag #litsummit . This was only day one and we still have two more days to go.  I'm looking forward to the next two days of learning and growing professionally.


  1. Thanks for posting this! Karen Streib -Fairview

  2. Thanks, Karen. I hope it was helpful.