Assuring a Standardized Comprehension Conversation with the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor

irene_fountas_2.JPGAs you use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, do you and your colleagues have common understandings so you will have accurate information on your students? Think about how you are providing a standardized comprehension conversation and scoring it in a standardized way. The following suggestions may be helpful:

Before the Assessment:
* Be sure you have read and thought about the information in the book. When you know the text well, it will be easier to facilitate the conversation.

* Read the key understandings and prompts prior to the assessment so you are familiar with them.

* Explain to children beforehand that you are going to meet with each of them to listen to them read so you will be able to help them as readers. Explain that you will ask them to read a short book and then you will ask them to share their thinking about what they read.

During the Assessment
* Use an encouraging tone when inviting the student to talk more.

* Avoid repeating what the student says.

* Give wait time instead of jumping in to ask the question again.

* Be concise in the language of your prompts.

* Don’t ask leading questions.

* When the student has indicated some knowledge of an answer but uses only one or two words in a superficial way, you must respond with “Say more about that.” or “Talk more about that.”

* If a student is simply pasting sentences from the text together, or reading them, it shows the student knows where to find evidence; however, the student needs to be able to articulate, understanding independently. You might say, “Can you say that in your own words?”

* Try not to repeat a question or prompt unless it is necessary. Repeating a question several times can make a child confused or become “a lead” to an answer.

* Paraphrase a prompt only once. Doing so multiple times may lead the student to an answer.

* Avoid asking a question in a way that “gives” the answer. A leading question might be, “And how do these adaptations help this animal?”

* Be careful not to change the intentions of a prompt or question. For example, “What is the writer’s message?” is different from “What is the writer’s message about extinction?”

* Do not direct the student to a particular part of the book unless the prompt requires it.

* Allow the student to look back in the book if they initiate it. If the student starts to read from the book, you should say “Can you say that in your own words?”

As you become very well versed with the books and the prompts, your comprehension conversation at the lower levels will only take about 2-3 minutes and the upper levels about 4-5 minutes. Remember, an assessment conference is the time for you to gather good information, so resist the urge to teach! Discuss these points with your colleagues so your team can assure that each student is engaged in a standardized comprehension conversation that gives good data to inform teaching and document profiles through time.

Learning Places: Shifting from School Change to Fostering a Culture of Growth

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor

As we contemplate the improvement of our craft to benefit the children we teach, it can be useful to reflect on the language we use to describe the journey. Recently, I began to notice how often I read the term or use the term “school change” and began to think about a needed shift in language.

irene_fountas_2In a culture where all professionals are committed to the learning of their students, every teacher uses the knowledge they have to provide the most effective teaching they can. Every teacher is doing what he understands. So I began to think, the goal is not to change, but to grow. Nothing we do as teachers is wrong. Our teaching actions represent our best understandings at a particular point in time. Instead of spending time feeling badly, we need to focus our efforts on growing and supporting the growth of all members of the school community.

In their book Learning Places, Fullan and St. Germain describe schools as “learning places” or places where learning thrives.

  • Educators recognize that school improvement is complex.
  • Teachers are supported to engage in ongoing critical inquiry.
  • Educators have a shared purpose, a common base of knowledge and develop a common language.
  • Working as a team to recognize problems and plan actions, educators engage in a variety of collaborative activities.
  • Educators take shared responsibility for student learning.
  • All members seek to expand their knowledge through professional reading, study groups, conferences, research, affiliation with universities, professional organizations, coaching sessions and professional development sessions.
  • All members of the school community are invited to pool their knowledge and experiences to make informed decisions that best serve the school.

These critical elements should resonate with you as you think about your schools’ journey of growth.  As you think about the culture of your particular school, contemplate the factors that will support a culture of teacher growth – one that honors everyone’s efforts, but also brings energy and passion to the goal of continued learning. In the words of Fullan and St. Germain, think about whether your school is a “learning place.”

Fullan, Michael and St. Germain, Clif. (2006). Learning Places: A Field Guide for Improving the Context of Schooling. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Why Literacy Educators Need to be Advocates for Science and Social Studies Education

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by Guest Blogger Nell Duke, Professor at the University of Michigan, Author, and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Keynote Speaker

Time devoted to science and social studies in elementary schools has been on the decline for some time (e.g., Blank, 2013; Center on Education Policy, 2008; Heafner & Fitchett, 2012). As citizens, there is little doubt that we should be concerned about this, but in this post, I argue that we should also be concerned about it as literacy educators.

Consider the following passage (Tierney & Pearson, 1981):

The batsmen were merciless against the bowlers. The bowlers placed their men in slips and covers. But to no avail. The batsmen hit one four after another with an occasional six. Not once did a ball look like it would hit their stumps or be caught.

Many readers, including myself, find this passage difficult to comprehend. But if you know the game of cricket, I’m told it is quite easy to understand. This example illustrates the important role that knowledge plays in reading comprehension. In a classic study, Recht and Leslie (1988) studied seventh and eighth graders who were either good or poor readers as determined by a standardized test of comprehension achievement. Some of the students in each group were knowledgeable about the game of baseball; others were not. All students were asked to read a passage that described a half inning of a baseball game and then to reenact and describe what they read. The researchers found that poor readers with high knowledge of baseball actually displayed better comprehension than good readers with low knowledge of baseball—such was the power of relevant prior knowledge.

Having knowledge related to a text seems to support text comprehension in a number of ways, such as through facilitating recognition of words, processing of known vocabulary, handling of existing vocabulary, and generation of inferences (e.g., Elleman, Lindo, Morphy, & Compton, 2009; Fincher-Kiefer, 1992; Kaefer, Neuman, & Pinkham, 2015; Priebe, Keenan, & Miller, 2011). As probably does not surprise you, general knowledge is a strong predictor of later comprehension achievement (e.g., Grissmer, Grimm, Aiyer, Murrah, & Steele, 2010). One study even found that students learned a new comprehension strategy better when it was taught in the context of texts for which they had a lot of relevant content knowledge (Gaultney, 1995).

As literacy educators, one of our major goals is to support comprehension development—and content knowledge supports comprehension development. Therefore, we should be advocates for considerable attention to content area education. We should resist the temptation to think that more time on literacy is always better. That may be true in the short term, but in the long term it could backfire. Students’ comprehension may suffer from a lack of content knowledge relevant to the texts they are reading. The problem may be particularly acute for students who rely heavily on school to develop content knowledge relevant to the texts they encounter in school.

Fortunately, we do not have to choose between attention to literacy and attention to content area education. Through content-rich approaches to literacy education and integrating literacy in science and social studies, we can support development of literacy both directly and through content knowledge-building (e.g., Guthrie, McRae, & Klauda, 2007; Strachan, 2015). In other words, by advocating for science and social studies, we can have our cake and eat it too. Let’s eat up!


Nell Duke is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference on:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.- Emphasizing Engagement: Why Literacy Engagement is More Important Than Ever and What We Can Do About It (Grades K-8)

10:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.- Projects for the Primary Grades (Grades K-2)


References

Blank, R. K. (2013), Science instructional time is declining in elementary schools: What are the implications for student achievement and closing the gap? Science Education, 97, 830–847. doi:10.1002/sce.21078

Center on Education Policy. (2008). Instructional time in elementary schools: A closer look at changes for specific subjects. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cep-dc.org/publications/index.cfm?selectedYear=2008.

Elleman, A. M., Lindo, E. J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D. L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1–44. http://doi.org/10.1080/19345740802539200

Fincher-Kiefer, R. (1992). The role of prior knowledge in inferential processing. Journal of Research in Reading, 15(1), 12–27. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9817.1992.tb00018.x

Gaultney, J. F. (1995). The effect of prior knowledge and metacognition on the acquisition of a reading comprehension strategy. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 59, 142–163. http://doi.org/10.1006/jecp.1995.1006

Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., & Klauda, S. L. (2007). Contributions of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction to knowledge about interventions for motivations in reading. Educational Psychologist, 42, 237–250.

Grissmer, D., Grimm, K. J., Aiyer, S. M., Murrah, W. M., & Steele, J. S. (2010). Fine motor skills and early comprehension of the world: Two new school readiness indicators. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1008–1017. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0020104

Heafner, T. L., & Fitchett, P. G. (2012). Tipping the scales: National trends of declining social studies instructional time in elementary schools. Journal of Social Studies Research, 36(2), 190-215.

Kaefer, T., Neuman, S. B., & Pinkham, A. M. (2015). Pre-existing background knowledge influences socioeconomic differences in preschoolers’ word learning and comprehension. Reading Psychology, 36, 203–231.

Priebe, S. J., Keenan, J. M., & Miller, A. C. (2012). How prior knowledge affects word identification and comprehension. Reading and Writing, 25, 131-149. doi:10.1007/s11145-010-9260-0

Recht, D. R., & Leslie, L. (1988). Effect of prior knowledge on good and poor readers’ memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 16–20. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.80.1.16

Strachan, S. L. (2015). Kindergarten students’ social studies and content literacy learning from interactive read-alouds. The Journal of Social Studies Research, 39, 207–223.

Tierney, R. J., & Pearson, P. D. (1981). Learning to learn from text: A framework for improving classroom practice (No. 30). In E. K. Dishner, J. Readance, & T. Bean (Eds.), Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom practice (pp. 1–38). Dubuque IA: Kendall Hunt.

For a number of additional resources related to advocating for science, social studies, and arts education, see http://knowledgematterscampaign.org/.

Nobody Panic: There’s A Teacher On Board

Collen Cruz

by Guest Blogger Colleen Cruz– Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker 

Recently NPR had an interview with a teacher, Sophie Murphy. But it wasn’t about curriculum or classrooms or standards. It was about this teacher’s actions outside of the classroom. A plane was making a short flight in Australia and it needed to land and was running low on fuel but one of the passengers, a 14 year old boy with down syndrome, was feeling sick and didn’t want to return to his seat (preventing the plane from landing). The pilot needed to make sure the boy was in a safe place before he could land, but his family and the flight attendants were unable to convince him to return to his seat.

I have, unfortunately been on more than one flight where the call went out over the intercom, “Is there a doctor on this plane?” but on this flight, the call instead went, “Is there a teacher on board this flight? Is there a special needs teacher on board?”

Sophie Murphy answered that call. As a teacher with twenty years of experience she was uniquely prepared to help this boy, and therefore the flight, to safety. When she was later interviewed by NPR, Sophie said something that encapsulated what I too have believed for years about the teaching profession, “This is what teachers do. This is what they do in their classrooms every day. They problem-solve, and they connect with children on a daily basis. And any one of my colleagues and friends who are teachers would have done exactly the same.”

This is what teachers do every day. We problem solve and we connect with students. When we do that, we are able to help them in ways other people might not have been able to imagine.

I have long argued that teachers are first responders. Fire fighters and emergency room doctors are the first ones to help people when their lives or livelihoods are in danger. They sign up for their jobs knowing that their jobs exist because people need help. Teachers do the same. We sign up for our jobs because we know students need to learn things, and we want to be there to teach them. And we are very well aware that in many cases, our students’ lives and future livelihoods could very well hang in the balance of their education.

Teachers have that same incredible compulsion that all first responders have: we chose a job that means we will not be sitting back and relaxing, but rather actively facing challenges and surprises every day.

And, to me, just like the circulatory and cardiac systems are the systems first responders tend to focus on first, because life cannot be sustained without them, reading and writing are the first focus for many teachers. This makes perfect sense. Literacy is very often the life-sustaining force from which so much learning streams through.

One of the biggest ways we do this is exactly what Sophie Murphy said: through connecting with students. We do this in many different ways. We share our favorite books with students and listen raptly as they tell us about theirs. We share our learning struggles and foibles and commiserate when they stumble. We demonstrate writing technique by sharing stories from our own lives and ooh and aah when students trust us with their stories. We connect with them on a human level and see them both as they are and as they wish to be seen.

And teachers do problem solve on the regular. In just the past week of spending time with educators in their own buildings and classrooms I have witnessed the following:

  • A group of middle school teachers writing mini-grants to get pop culture biographies their students want to read so the students can have stacks of books to read over summer vacation
  • A kindergarten teacher who took her students on a writing picnic and playtime at the local park when the sunshine and spring weather was too tempting to allow for four-walls concentration
  • A fifth grade teacher who hates fantasy books dragging home a bag overflowing with them in order to catch up on the books her students most like to read
  • A third grade team who contacted embassies to set up interview for their students writing informational books about countries when there wasn’t enough available information the students could read independently

I know if you took a break to reflect on one twenty-four hour block from the school year, you would have a list several bullet-points long, of a variety of problems you faced and solved. A small skirmish over the drinking fountain, the missing book order money, a student embarrassed about her writing piece, a parent unsure how to challenge a student who is a sophisticated thinker… and that’s just before you finished you first cup of coffee on a Wednesday.

Teachers do it so regularly that sometimes we forget that not everyone responds to trouble the same way we do. We run to it. We study it. We connect. We use what we know and what our instincts tell us to do.

So it is really no surprise that Sophie Murphy answered that call. Whether it’s in the classroom, a grocery store line, a crowded amusement park or even an airplane, teachers are problem-solvers.


Colleen Cruz is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, RI.

Colleen’s sessions at the conference include:

Monday, October 24, 2016

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm- “Pop Goes the Workshop: Using Pop Culture to Teach Craft, Structure and Meaning in Writing (Grades 3-8)”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

10:15 am –11:45 am- “Name Your Monster: A Problem-Solving Protocol for Writing Instruction Challenges (Grades 4-8)”

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm- “Name Your Monster: A Problem-Solving Protocol for Writing Instruction Challenges (Grades 4-8)” (repeat session)

A First Timer’s Guide to Registering for Literacy for All

We’re excited to announce we’ve opened registration for the 27th Annual Literacy for All Conference, co-hosted with The University of Maine and the University of Connecticut. This year the conference will be held October 23–25, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. While we know many of you are veteran LFA attendees, each year we have more and more new faces joining us in Providence. Welcome to all first-timers!

We have made it even easier to register for the Literacy for All Conference! Simply visit our registration website and enter your email address to begin your registration process. We’ve put together a little guide to our online registration system to help make the process as quick and painless as possible.

An Important Note

We have created an online registration process that seamlessly guides you through the steps of registration. Please do not use your Internet browser’s “back” button if you want to go back and make a change, as it will cause errors and you will not be able to complete your registration. Instead, if you need to change something, complete your registration and then email us at literacy@lesley.edu and we will make the changes for you.

Before You Register

First, you should make a list of all the sessions you want to attend. You can find the full list on our website. Each time block is listed with a letter, i.e.: LCA, LCB, etc. Then, each session within that time block is numbered. So the full session code will read something like LCA-1 or LCC-4. You can only choose one session per time block, so you should have one LCA, one LCB, and so on.

The only variation is in the In-Depth sessions, which occur either in the C or F blocks. In-Depth sessions are three hours long, not the normal 90 minutes, so if you choose an In- Depth session for your C or F, you will not be able to choose a D or G, respectively, as the In -Depth session will run through that time.

If a session doesn’t appear on the drop-down menu that means it is sold out and you will have to choose another session. Sessions do sell out, so we recommend registering as early as possible to ensure you get all your first choices.

Second, know your method of payment. If your district will be paying for you with a purchase order, you don’t need to know the purchase order number to register. If your district will be paying for you with a credit card, you can still register yourself. When you get to the checkout screen, simply choose “Pay with Purchase Order” and then have your district call us with the credit card number, or fax or email us the PO within ten business days of registering.  Please note, if you are paying with a purchase order (PO), we require that you submit a copy of your PO to secure your registration.  If your PO has not been received by the opening of the institute, you will be required to provide a credit card in order to attend the institute.

We recommend that all attendees register themselves. The process begins with an email validation– you’ll receive an email with a secure link, which you’ll need to click on in order to continue your registration. Forwarding these emails can sometimes be tricky, so we recommend you register yourself to avoid confusion.

If someone else has to register for you, we recommend that you choose your sessions ahead of time and give the list to the person registering you. If someone else chooses your sessions and you have to change more than 75% of them after September 7, 2016, it will be considered a paper registration and a $15 charge will be applied to your account for processing.

When entering in your personal information, please note that there are separate spaces to enter your school district and your school name. When entering your district, please don’t use abbreviations like RSD or UFSD– if the district has a separate name (ie: Oxford Hills School District) please use that; alternately, please spell out the words Regional School District. This will help us keep uniformity in printing name badges, and help match up registrants to purchase orders when we receive them. 

Confirmation

When you’re done registering, you will see a screen with a green box confirming that your registration is complete. If you don’t get the green box, you haven’t finished registering yet! Once you get to that screen, be sure to read it thoroughly, as it contains details about which sessions have required readings and materials, a list of conference policies, your own detailed agenda based on the sessions you selected, and other helpful links.

In addition to the confirmation page, a confirmation email will be automatically sent to the email address you provided. If it doesn’t appear within an hour of you registering, check your spam and junk folders, as some email providers mark emails from RegOnline as spam by mistake. In the past, many were not able to receive RegOnline emails, because many schools block emails from RegOnline, so if you have a personal email address, we encourage you to use it, instead of your school email, when registering.  If you don’t receive your confirmation email at all, please email literacy@lesley.edu and we will re-send it to you.

Please help us be environmentally conscious! Do not print out your confirmation message to mail in with your check or PO. Instead, just make sure your full name and district are written on the PO or in the item line of the check. That’s all we need to match up your payment with your record in the system.

Conference Events, Exhibit Fair, and Other Information

The conference registration desk hours are as follows:

Sunday, October 23, 2016: 10:00 am–6:00 pm

Monday, October 24, 2016: 7:00 am–5:00 pm

Tuesday, October 25, 2016: 7:30 am–9:00 am

The conference help desk will be open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm each day.

Literacy for All also includes an exhibit fair with booths showcasing classroom services and products for all grade levels and subjects. Exhibit hours are 4:00-6:00 on Sunday, 10:00–6:00 on Monday, with the Exhibit Fair from 5:00–6:00; and 7:30–2:30 on Tuesday. During the Exhibit Fair on Monday, you can enter to win something from our prize raffle, and get books signed by some of our featured and keynote speakers.

Please visit the conference website for information on hotels, parking, attendance policy and certificates of attendance, and sessions with required readings/handouts/materials.

Have questions? You can contact us anytime at literacy@lesley.edu or by phone at 617.349.8402.

Looking forward to seeing you all in October!

Science Writing for Children Made Simple

steve author pic2_crop

by Guest Blogger Steve Jenkins who is presenting a session at our upcoming 2016 Summer Institute entitled, “Writing About Science for Children: How Content Dictates Structure”

Writing, of course, is not simple. Writing about science is not simple, and writing about science for children is perhaps even less simple. So my title is just a questionable journalistic device to attract readers. But I have managed to come up with a few guidelines that I try to apply to my own non-fiction writing.

Since my own professional background is originally in graphic design and illustration, it feels a bit presumptuous to write about writing for an audience of literacy experts. When I began making books for children, I was inspired in part by my lifelong love of science — especially the science of the natural world. But I mainly wanted to explore the visual possibilities of the picture book. I’m still not completely comfortable with thinking of myself as a writer, though I’m getting there.

This story begins almost 30 years ago. I was reading piles of books to my baby daughter — my wife and I took turns reading to her every night, starting when she was too young to even sit up. Reading and looking at all those children’s books got me thinking that making a book might be fun. I say “making” rather than “writing,” because my first books were really about the illustrations. From the beginning, I was drawn to nonfiction about the natural world, and I quickly realized that words would be necessary if I wanted a book to convey much actual information. Or get published. I did make one wordless picture book, but most of the subjects I wanted to explore required some annotation.

Today, having published more than 30 titles, I find that writing has become my central preoccupation when I’m working on a book. I love the visual part of the process, and I’m always confident that — one way or another — a book’s visual challenges can be solved. Creating the illustrations is my reward for figuring out the structure and voice the subject demands. But the writing doesn’t get any easier. Just the opposite, in fact. In my early books I was blissfully naive about the writing process. I just wrote down what I thought would explain the image on the page. I didn’t rewrite as much. I didn’t spend all day on a sentence.

As I gradually recognized that getting the words right was as important (more?) as perfecting the images, writing became more and more of a focus. I remember being surprised and a little bemused that teachers and librarians I encountered at schools and conferences were reading my books and analyzing the way they were written, often recognizing patterns that had never occurred to me.

This may be more background than is really necessary, but I want to create some context for sharing a few of the informal writing “rules” I’ve developed for myself. These are rules that apply to my own writing — I’m not suggesting that anyone else should follow them (OK, maybe one or two of them):

Don’t underestimate the ability of young children to understand complex relationships and abstract concepts if they are properly explained.

New facts and information should be presented in a context that makes sense to children. Use metaphors or comparisons with familiar things. Even most adults can’t readily grasp large sizes, quantities, or spans of time.

Don’t mix different units of measurement or meaning in the same comparison. This is an unfortunately common practice in writing for adults: “There are only about 5,000 snow leopards left in the wild, and the population of Amur leopards has decreased by 80%.”

Clarify terms that seem simple but have multiple interpretations. This is a common problem with scale-related information: “Animal A is twice as big as Animal B”. What does ‘big’ mean? If it’s based on linear dimension, and if the animals are similarly proportioned, then animal A weighs eight times as much as animal B.

Introduce a few terms and vocabulary words that are probably unfamiliar, but not too many for the reading level of the audience. If possible, use new terms without formal definition in a context that makes their meaning clear. It’s more fun for kids to figure out for themselves what a word means.

Don’t anthropomorphize. Remember that these rules are for me. There are lots of good science books that use the first-person voice of animals, natural forces, even the universe. But these books make it clear from the beginning that there is poetic license involved, and that the reader is being invited to use their imagination to see the world from the perspective of some other entity. I’m more concerned about casual references to how animals “feel,” or what they “want,” in what is presented as an objective examination of their behavior.

If possible, anticipate the questions suggested by the facts being presented and answer them. This can be a never-ending sequence, one answer suggesting another question, so at some point one has to move on, but if we point out that an animal living in the jungle is brightly colored, it’s great to be able to say how color helps the animal (as it must, in some way, or it would have been selected out). Does its color warn off predators, attract a mate, or — counter-intuitively — help it hide? A colorful animal that lives among colorful flowers may be hard to spot.

Try to avoid the standard narrative. For many subjects, a typical story line seems to have developed. Often the same creatures or phenomena are used to illustrate a particular concept. Symbiosis: the clown fish and anemone. Metamorphosis: butterfly, frog. Endangered animals: rhinoceros, panda.

Don’t oversell science as entertaining, or make it goofy or wacky. Science is not primarily about making things smell bad or explode. There is thinking involved, and work. The fun and satisfaction come from understanding new things and seeing new connections.

Don’t confuse the presentation of facts with the explanation of concepts.

Finally, don’t follow lists of rules.


Summer Literacy Institute:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 through Friday, July 15, 2016

8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Making the Writer’s Craft Visible: Teaching Purposeful Decision- Making in a Writers’ Workshop (Grades K–8)

Teach your students how to learn to write from Carl Anderson, Steve Jenkins, Nikki Grimes, and Jack Gantos!

Location: Lesley University – University Hall, 1815 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

 

 

 

 

Reaching the Resistant Writer

By Mark Overmeyer, author of Let’s Talk: One on One, Small Group, and Peer Conferences, Stenhouse

Mark Overmeyer (1)

Mark Overmeyer will be speaking at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference at the following sessions. 

  • Sunday, October 23rd 11:00AM-4:00PM “Let’s Talk: Developing Writers Through Intentional Talk (GradesK-5)”.
  • Monday, October 24th 10:30AM-12:00PM “Scaffolding Instruction for All Learners in the Writing Workshop (Grades K-5)”  (This session will be repeated Monday, October 24th 1:30PM-3:00PM)

Reaching the Resistant Writer

One truth I have learned about resistant writers has helped me more than any other:

Resistant writers are better at resisting than they are at writing. They resist because they have practiced resisting.

I need to figure out how to nudge them toward practicing writing more than they practice resisting. And if I have a resister sitting in front of me, I am already behind because they have become very good at avoiding.

These kind of negative thoughts about resisters don’t help: “They just won’t write! They hate writing. It’s making me crazy. I’ve tried everything. If they won’t write, I can’t do anything about it.”

This kind of thinking is more helpful: “I wonder why this writer resists so much… I notice some days are better for him than others. What do I need to know about this writer to help him write more?”

When I think about my resisters as opportunities to learn – when I “love” the resistance – then I am more likely to provide meaningful support.

I do not claim to be an expert on working with resistant writers, but I have certainly had a lot of practice. I have become better at figuring out what to say and what not to say when working with resisters.

One resistant writer who taught me a lot was in my fifth grade class a few years ago. Jonathan was a passive resister. He didn’t say much at all during writing time, and he preferred to be left alone. Some days, Jonathan wrote nothing. Other days, he would write a few lines of text during writing workshop. I made the mistake of being overly enthusiastic about his progress one day, and he shut down for the next few workshops.

As I continued to observe Jonathan, he taught me that some resisters respond to an invitation to talk. Instead of being too enthusiastic – “That’s awesome, Jonathan! You got so much done

today! I knew you could do it!” – I started to talk to him more like this:

“Jonathan, I noticed you wrote more today than yesterday. What do you think made the difference for you?”

Allowing Jonathan into the conversation is what I was missing at first. When I started asking him what he thought, he engaged more willingly. I began respecting Jonathan as a writer who could articulate something about his own process. Our talks allowed him to learn strategies that he could replicate later. Peter Johnson, in his book Choice Words, would say that I am helping Jonathan build his identity as a writer here: I am no longer telling Jonathan what to do. I am including him in the conversation so that we can figure things out together and to build his agency.

One strategy I use now to help all writers, but particularly resisters, is to name specifically what seems to work. For example, if a conference reveals that choice makes a difference, I might say: “So today, it seems like choice helped you. I gave you some choices, but you also made a good choice about what to write. So one strategy that works for you as a writer is to choose topics you care about.”

On another day, we might come to the conclusion that talking with a partner supports writing: “Do you see how talking out your idea for even a few minutes helped you? You seemed more excited to start writing today because your partner liked your story.”

Slowly, over time, resisters like Jonathan who practice writing more than resisting start to change. As the months go by, writing replaces resistance.

Instead of being frustrated by resisters, try loving the resistance. Embrace the challenge. See resisters as opportunities to learn, as writers full of possibility.