#NCTE18: Digging Deeper #1

Two Saturday sessions have left me with a lot of thinking points. Thinking, processing, writing, and thinking some more. Here’s the first one!

Capacity – Based Writing: Instruction Empowers Students –  Deconstructing the Struggling Writer Label while Championing Inclusive Practices

Presenters:  Kass Minor, Colleen Cruz, and Cornelius Minor

Not one to leave seating to chance, I had a two-pronged plan. A)  I asked a friend to save seats and B) I mapped out the plan to access the room and literally ran to the session. So three of us had front row seats. It was packed. People on the aisles. People on the sides. People on the floor. Everywhere.

And then the audience. Carl Anderson in row two. Kelly Gallagher in row two. Dorothy Barnhouse on the floor.  Katie Wood Ray in the back. And a whole room full of people I didn’t even see!

Screenshot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.05 PM

Writing:  It’s complicated!

What’s in a label?

Kass had us thinking about language right off the bat. If we begin with describing our own behaviors, needs and characteristics, what’s the range of descriptors that we use?  She modelled some and then put us to work with a partner doing the same work. Pay attention to the language you use.  Too often schools (and the people inside the school) see what the person cannot do.  This pushes a student to one extreme or the other.  Then we have to spend time repairing those ideas.  If we are aware of our language, we can be less dehumanizing.

Positive Descriptor Behaviors, Needs and Characteristics Negative Descriptors
Can tap out multiple recognizable cadences – beyond beginning drummer! Fidgets – finger tapping ADHD – Disturbs others, Noisy

How do we make sure that students can and are accessing the core curriculum?

Colleen batted this section literally out of the ball park.  Her knowledge of kids, instruction, and the law make her a powerful connection for helping students who are experiencing difficulty in writing.

Disabled?  People still don’t talk about it. Both of her last books have some sections on access:  The Unstoppable Writing Teacher and Writers Read Better. Colleen began by reminding us that, Where you are positioned is affected by your ability.  It changes from place to place. Kids are only special education students at school. We are the power brokers for our kids. Not coming up with nicer synonyms for a label.  Being authentic. Removing instructional obstacles.  

“Do students need to sit still for writing?

Do students have to use a pencil?

Do students have to write quietly?”

These were just a few of the questions that Colleen posed.  And quickly answered with my favorite, “Burn the pencils for students who are struggling with them!”

And what about the student who is using a wobble chair with a chromebook that has Dragon that does not understand his/her speech?

Better questions:

“Where did you do the most work? 

What part do you like?

What are you working on in your writing?

Who is your audience?

What kind of writer are you?” ( with a response in a letter format)

Amplifying students’ strengths and approximations – and complying with ESSA – help students be more successful. They sit a bit taller when we call them “authors” and “writers”. What language and actions set students up for success?  What language and actions set students up to advocate for themselves?

Supporting claims with well-reasoned writing

Cornelius put us to work instantly with a 30 second search on our phones for a photo to talk about. We had an oral rehearsal with our partners to tell the story of a picture. And then we practiced messing around with claims, first to support a claim of his:  A – protagonist is super resilient or B – protagonist is super clumsy and silly.  We examined a video text for evidence, watched the video clip twice and then stated our claim and evidence to our partner.  

What did this feel like/ look like?

Quite comfortable.  Skill isolation.  Just like in sports.  Beginning with the skill in isolation before chaining any other actions.  Building the context.

Beginning with popular media, a video clip and then talking with friends.  Then moving to a different text.  Could be a poem.  Could be a short story.

Cornelius labelled this: Standards Bearing Writing – meeting you where you are.

No annotation. Beginning with viewing and talking.  Beginning where all students can experience success.

Then planning instruction based on students readiness for the next step and then the next.  This does not have to consume tons of time.  We practiced two different arguments in less than 10 minutes.

Talk. A plan. Setting the stage. Building context. Legitimatizing “effort” with many possible answers.


I teach people – not a curriculum.

Love in a classroom is attention to people.

The first attempt is messy. Handwriting is not a concern.

Spelling is not a concern. Writing is a process.” Cornelius Minor, NCTE18, 11/18/18.

Improvement begins with US!

How are you improving your language?

How are you providing real choices so students will be successful? 

How are you beginning your instruction so that kids are first successful, with a lot of talk, on the initial isolated skills? 

How are you building your own capacity?

Colleen:  @colleen_cruz and colleencruz.com  

Screenshot 2018-11-21 at 9.22.30 AM


Kassandra Minor @MsMinor1  kassandcorn.com

Cornelius Minor @MisterMinor

Screenshot 2018-11-21 at 9.27.18 AM




Screenshot 2018-11-05 at 11.27.25 PM




4 responses

  1. Fran, thank you so much for your thoughtful NCTE session summaries!

    1. You are welcome, Sara. There are some sessions that just linger in your heart and brain. This was one of those! ❤

  2. […] #NCTE18:  Digging Deeper #1 – Kass Minor, Colleen Cruz & Cornelius […]

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