June 24: Day 1 of #TCRWP Writing Institute

ImageTuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 


In the old days, some folks working with movies would say that Day 1 is in the can, but I don’t know the correct terminology for digital videography.  I do know that Day 1 of the 2014 June Writing Institute is complete – as far as sessions go.  Is the homework complete?  I doubt it.  Many tasks are facing me:  organizing my materials for tomorrow, assignment for the morning session with Mary, choosing closing sessions tomorrow, assignment for the small group session with Emily.  HOLY COW, that’s a lot of work!  (Not to be confused with this morning’s mention of  a chicken in a post here.)

 In the beginning . . .  Chapter 1

Today began with a one hour keynote by Lucy Calkins in Riverside Church.  Articulate, passionate, and enthusiastic about the role of writing in thousands of years dating back to the cavemen, Lucy’s speech was titled “Achieving a Re-set”.  If you are on Twitter, you can scroll through the tweets from #TCRWP for any that mention “Lucy, LC, or LCalkins” to see the quotes that were most often retweeted!  In typical Lucy fashion, she exhorted the 1200 strong participants  from 34 countries and 44 states to remember their own life themes as they shape the future of schools across the world.  Student writing and conversation dominated the keynote as both written words and video from student conferences were shared.  Writing, Students, Instruction – Who should have a voice?  A speech that began with ” I am blown away by the sheer miracle of your presence.  You are willing to give your life to it!” provided much to think about!  What a wonderful world it is!

Chapter 2 . . .

My Advanced session with Mary Ehrenworth is entitled “Reports, Nonfiction Books, Journals, Feature Articles, Information Writing and ELA Across The Day” and has already exceeded my expectations for the week.  We will be crafting our own progression in information writing this week.

Why do we write informational text?

  • Makes meaning of the world and deepens your own knowledge – really learn stuff & hold on to it forever!
  • Being a producer/creator/co-creator of text
  • Making a topic clear, and being able to make it understandable and authentic/engaging
  • Being able to teach something you know to others!
  • Being able to explain research / content
  • You might discover you’re good at it!

And then in the spirit of inquiry, Mary read openings from the following books so we could consider how they began.  What are moves that writers make, that we’d love to try? was the question that we were trying to answer.

Text Set

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and turbulent Future of Water – Charles Fishman
The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes and Why – Amanda Ripley
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – Laurence Gonzales
Outliers : The Story of Success– Malcolm Gladwell
Smartest Kids in the World and How they Got that Way – Amanda Ripley

What would you say those texts have in common?  How are they different?

Chapter 3 . . . 

Social Butterfly Media Cafe 

Rebecca Cronin hosted an optional lunchtime workshop for Tweeters and Bloggers.  Meeting face to face is always a pleasure and showing “columned” tweeting aids like “Tweetdeck” were useful to the crowd gathered to eat lunch and tweet a bit.

Chapter 4 . . .

My small group session session with Emily Smith is “Seeing Patterns in Student Work, Then Teaching Small Groups (and More) to Build New Habits and Skills.”  We have already begun to improve our coaching skills as we use a “Research, Decide, Teach” model to respond to our partner’s writing from our writing sessions.

Not only should we be noticing patterns in writing, but we should also be looking for disruptions in writing.  Where does the writing fall apart?  Being able to generate questions and possibilities will help our students make growth!

Two key questions for conferencing are:

What are you doing?
What are you going to do next?

 Chapter 5 . . .

And then the choices for closing sessions were daunting.  Limiting oneself to one presentation was difficult but I ended up going to Katie Clements’ “Don’t Teach Empty Handed:  Toolkits that Can Help You Teach Explicitly, to Scaffold and to Keep Track.”  Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, organized and so talented, Katie led us through a discussion of WHY we needed a toolkit, HOW to create one, and how BEST to use one.  Citing a personal favorite of mine, Brian Cambourne, Katie shared that often in writing, demonstrations live in mini-lessons, so  students only see them on on one level.  Many writers would benefit from demonstations on their own level. The solution is to create a writing toolkit to help students!

What are some predictable writing problems or needs for students?

Information Writing often seems:

  • Disorganized
  • Only a tiny bit about each part
  • Jumps right in without setting up expectations

What are some other common writing difficulties for your students?  What conference is repeated the most?  Having your toolkit ready now (not waiting for it to be PERFECT is the key according to Katie!) will help you get the year off to a good start!  Practical, doable, and so engaging for working on writing revision for students!


What were your “Take Aways” from Day 1 of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Writing Institute?


P.S. (And is your homework all done?)


24 responses

  1. Thanks for the gift of you, Fran. You lived Lucy’s word to “give your life to it,” to this work that is enriched by shared practices. Thanks for offering gems to those of us not in attendance this week. Look forward to more tweets and insights from you. Enjoy your learning and bits of down time.

    1. You are welcome, Stephanie.

      Beginning my homework (ahem . . . kinda . . . sorta) by reflecting on the day!

      It’s truly a privilege to be in attendance for two weeks of Institutes!

  2. Oh my Fran! You have provided so much here to study and think about. I feel like you got a week’s worth of learning in one day! Thank you so much for sharing.
    (You should get extra credit for this post!)

    1. Well, Julieanne, it’s a bit early but I had to write this before I could think about my homework! My brain is full for today!

  3. Your post shared insightful and inciting thoughts! The highlights of your take-aways, illuminate areas for improving my own coaching & teaching. Love to be reminded to look for patterns in writing: patterns of weakness or error that needs improvement and patterns of strength to use as springboards to greater success. Thanks for sharing so freely!

    1. Thanks, Dea!
      I tried to provide evidence of why the sessions were so powerful, but yet not so much that someone would say they didn’t need to go as they had already heard it all!

      Just a “teaser”!

      Safe travels to you!

  4. I can understand why your brain is full. Are you sure it’s only been one day? I look forward to reading more of your take-aways.

    1. Elsie,
      That’s what I was thinking about noon – that it was time to pour something out! Love the energy and intensity of these days! But, oh man, does it ever stretch my poor Iowa brain!

  5. It was so great meeting you today! Thanks for sharing your reflection, Fran. Wonderful insights. See you tomorrow!

    1. Christina,
      It was also nice to meet you as well! I look forward to learning with you!

  6. Fran, Your post brought me right back to that church last year. I was lucky enough to attend the reading institute last summer. I love that you reflected on your first day in this post. Will you continue to post throughout your two weeks?!?! Fingers crossed that your answer is yes. Soak up everything you can, while you’re there! Seems you’re off to an amazing start! 🙂

    1. Michelle,
      Of course the answer is “yes” but I don’t know if I will be posting every day. Such a great learning adventure with many, many friends. I dearly love meeting other “slicers” in person as well!

  7. I stumbled across your blog while following #TCRWP !! Great entry that allowed me to act like I was there. Wishing I was there after being there the last three years!! Please keep up the post! I would love to know more about the toolkits!

    1. Thanks, Adrienne!
      I am so glad that you are on Twitter and are following along! I kept hearing Advanced Participants last year talk about Toolkits and I had no clue. I am seeing all sorts of possibilities! More to come for sure!

  8. Right now I am pondering about the toolkit I need to create this summer! My mind is working. Thanks for sharing many wonderful thoughts and ideas here and on twitter!

    1. Jaana,
      There is so much information to absorb in every session! I’m still considering writing toolkit and informational reading toolkit needs. Not yet ready to commit to which one needs a higher priority!

      Thanks – sharing is so critical to me!!!

      1. Let me know if you hear/see/find any great examples. I would be interested in seeing some before starting from the beginning.

  9. What an amazing recap of your day! I love how you are soaking it all in. Thank you so much for sharing for those of us who have to follow along at home. Have fun!!

    1. It’s amazing to be surrounded by such brilliance in the 1200 teachers, coaches and administrators who are here at Teachers College. Their dedication and commitment to improving student writing is so important in meeting the vision of ALL students as writers!

  10. Hey! I am immersed in “research, decide, teach” as well! Conferring Carl in Indianapolis! Have fun!

    1. Jennifer,
      So love that the message is the same! Have a great week with Conferring Carl!

  11. […] (PS. Information writing predictable patterns were included in Monday’s post here. ) […]

  12. […] Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. In the old days, some folks working with movies would say that Day…  […]

  13. […] #TCRWP Writing here, here, here, here, and […]

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