Effective Lessons For Everyone

by Guest Bloggers and 2013 Literacy for All Conference speakers, Lynne Dorfman, Co-Director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, and Rose Cappelli, Reading and Writing Consultant

Pulling Onions graphicOn his website, Pulling Onions (www.gardendigest.com/laws.htm), Michael Garofalo says of gardening that, “Gardeners must dance with feedback, play with results, turn as they learn. Learning to think as a gardener is inseparable from the acts of gardening. Learning how to garden is learning how to slow down.” We think the same often holds true for writing. Writers must learn to think like writers as they practice craft. Sometimes this means slowing down a bit in the writing workshop to give every writer a chance to discover what writers do, try something out first in collaboration with other writers, then individually, and finally reflect on what was learned to let others’ thinking in and deepen individual understanding.

This gradual release structure for lesson design and workshop management has been voiced by many literacy giants including Regie Routman, Margaret Mooney, and Lev Vygotsky and is part of the thinking behind the kinds of lessons we conduct with students. When we teach writing using mentor texts or mentor authors, we begin by returning to a portion of a familiar text (picture book, novel, article, song lyric, poem, etc.) to engage in closer reading. With guidance, students discover and discuss the technique or strategy the author used.

The point of the lesson then becomes clear and purposeful as students understand exactly what they will do. They brainstorm situations, words, ideas, whatever lends itself best to the lesson. Modeling, of course, is essential. Teachers of writers should be teachers who write, and writing in front of your students will help them see the invisible writing process that is going on inside your head. Some students may be itching to write, but many need the shared or guided experience to build confidence for writing and deepen their understanding of the task at hand. This shared writing time is vitally important for non-writers (students who can write but choose not to), struggling writers, and English language learners. A writer’s notebook is a great place for students to try things out with a partner or small group. Sometimes the whole class participates in a shared experience, offering ideas and revisions as the teacher scribes. At this point in time most students are ready to write independently. Sometimes a small, flexible group may need another shared experience in order to be successful.

Reflection is an important part of the lesson and writing workshop. By providing a focus question (How did you build setting into your narrative? What strategies did you choose to help you create an effective introduction? When do you plan to use this strategy again?), students will be better prepared to discuss their reflections at the close of writing workshop.

In order to be part of your writing community, you must be a writer, too. Writing with and for your students will help you learn how to problem solve and try out the strategies and craft you want your students to embed in their writing across the day. To paraphrase Michael Garofalo, learning to think as a writer is inseparable from the acts of writing: brainstorming, drafting, revising, reflecting.  Learning how to write is learning how to slow down and savor the moment. Writers must dance with feedback, play with results, and grow as they learn.

Rose Cappelli is a fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project and serves the Project as a teacher consultant. Lynne Dorfman is a co-Director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project at West Chester University. Lynne and Rose are the authors of Stenhouse’s Mentor Texts (2007), Nonfiction Mentor Texts (2009), and Poetry Mentor Texts (2012).

Lynne and Rose are presenting several featured workshops at this year’s Literacy for All Conference in Providence, R.I., November 3–5, 2013.

Pre-Conference Workshop, Sunday, November 3,2013 (4 hours):

Mentor Poetry: Making Reading and Writing Connections (Grades K–5)

Monday, November 4, 2013 (90-minute sessions)

  • Creating Successful Writers With Mentor Texts (Grades K–2)
  • Creating Successful Writers With Mentor Texts (Grades 3–6)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 (90-minute sessions)

  • Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Crafting Content (Grades K–2)
  • Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Crafting Effective Introductions and Conclusions (Grades 3–6)

2 thoughts on “Effective Lessons For Everyone

  1. Please help me to understand…have procedures in RR changed? I was told today that there should be no introductions to books, nor give the child the title. Nor give the child language or words he may need to read a level b book in first grade. Please help, Fran

    Sent from my iPad



    • Dear Fran, Reading Recovery procedures have not changed. We follow Clay’s procedures in section 9 on “Reading books” in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals. In Reading Recovery we do not give an introduction before we take a running record on yesterday’s new book but this does not apply to introducing a new book. Our Reading Recovery trainer suggests talking with your teacher leader for further explanation. We hope that helps to clarify!


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