Monday, June 30, 2008

Walter Mosely says...

...that if you're writing a novel, you should write at least ninety minutes a day. Natalie Goldberg says, if you're going to write, you should write at least ten minutes a day. Each give their reasons. Probably an equation could be created to complicate this into understanding. 90x/day divided by 10x/day equals why. Both say write every day seems the gist of it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Because Writing Matters - Chapter 5 - "Standards and Assessments for Writing"

On 6/19/08 the CSU Writing Project Summer Institute discussed Carl Nagin's Because Writing Matters. What follows is a brief overview of our discussions for chapter five, "Standards and Assessments for Writing."

We began by discussing how assessment in current educational discourse drives much of the focus on writing. Writing is a portal toward assessment accross the curriculum. Indeed, students are now writing in math (72-73). What's next? Coed dances?

From there, we explored the issue of standardized testing and its failure in providing an opportunity for students to write from a place best suited to their individual lives. Generally speaking, the writing prompts are too narrow on these standardized tests. But all hope was not lost.

Kentucky's standardized assessments take as its model the portfolio, which, our group agreed, provides a more authentic assessment of student writing. Kentucky uses a holistic scoring guide to assess portfolio writing and renames CSAPs qualifiers for success--"unsatisfactory," "partially proficient," "proficient," and "advanced"--to a more respectful "novice," "apprentice," "proficient," and "distinguished." Kentucky's language lends a degree of respect and dignity to students, which, we thought, was lacking in the aforementioned CSAP terminology. The point to which we returned is that under the Kentucky model students become stake holders in their own learning.

Under this model, students write from a variety of perspectives, thereby addressing the narrow prompts of the CSAPs. Moreover, students have a say in which of their writings they hope to include in their portfolios. Indeed, students also have a say in developing and contributing to the assessment criterea. At the end of grades 4, 7, and 12, schools host a community-wide exhibition of students' writing. The exhibition gathers parents, students, teachers, and community business leaders to review the writing. This allows for students to write to an authentic familial, social, collegial, and business audience, thereby infusing their writing with a relevance that is lacking in current CSAP models. Additionally, this holds the students to a certain degree of accountability that they would not otherwise have if writing to the anamolous CSAP audience. This model seems to be working, as 80% of Kentucky teachers recognized a significant improvement in their students' writing.

When compared to the CSAPs, Kentucky's portfolio model of assessment illuminates the former's artificiality, an artificuality that supports formulaic writing. How can it not? The rigidity of the setting of a CSAP test demands a formulaic approach to writing. For example, the group noted that the revision process during CSAPs is conducted in an unrealistic format.

Our group concluded by suggesting that the portfolio approach provides an assessor with a far better picture of the students' writing abilities, particularly when considering a multi-genre approach to writing portfolios.

We hope yoy find this review useful and welcome any additional comments or feedback.

Write on,

Stephen Hlawaty

Friday, June 20, 2008

Why Writing Matters: Chapter 3 Discussion

Chapter 3: Writing to Learn

This chapter starts with a common fear of teaching writing: “time spent writing [i]s a time lost for learning ‘science’” (52). To overcome this, though, the chapter talks about how writing can become a part of the daily practice of class (with reading logs, practice essays, expressive writing, etc.). As a result writing can be easily integrated across the curriculum, because “expressive, informal writing tasks can improve learning retention” (54).

But these writing assignments must be genuine with real audiences and authentic tasks because “higher level thinking takes place with the authentic writing across curriculums” (47). As a result “in assignments, it means asking the student to construct knowledge through analysis, synthesis, and interpretation” (49), therefore creating opportunities for students to engage in a conversation and transform the assignment so that they can make the assignments their own.

Scaffolding is a part assessing students’ writing, though, and most common deficiencies are due to weak scaffolding and weak guidelines. Therefore the smaller pieces of writing can lead to the larger product, and teachers must remember this when assigning writing assignments in order to assess students’ knowledge.

Specific strategies for scaffolding include teachers speaking with their students about the students’ writing, students spending time on the process of writing (specifically the brainstorming and editing pieces of the writing process), students reflecting on their writing (as well as other assignments and readings), and teachers/students saving students’ work in portfolios for students to discuss with others during conferences or discussions. Reflections are integral when using writing to learn, and this isn’t just true for the students. Teachers can also benefit from reflecting on their planning, strategies, lessons, and assessments as well.

Overall, for writing assignments/assessments to aid in learning, the authenticity and investment (from both students and teacher) are necessary in order to motivate students to write, create, and learn.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good Books

Good Books
CSU-WP Summer Institute 2008

Craig’s Dictionary
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Short Guide to Action Research by Andrew P. Johnson
Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing by Ted Kooser and Steve Cox
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
On Writing by Stephen King
I Ching for Writers: Finding the Page Inside You by Sarah Jane Sloane
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Content Area Reading and Learning: Reading and Learning by Diane Lapp, James Flood, and Nancy Farnan
The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Girls Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings From The Girls Zine Revolution by Tristan Taormino, Karen Green, and Ann Magnuson
Cloth-Paper-Scissors (Magazine)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Ernest Hemingway On Writing by Larry W. Phillips
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
I Read It, but I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers by Cris Tovani and Ellin Oliver Keene
Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood
Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing by Ted Kooser and Steve Cox
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian
Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines
The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by Freedom Writers and Zlata Filipovic
The Same River Twice: A Memoir by Chris Offutt
The Meadow by James Galvin

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New voices, different voices

So, after today's conversation... I thought "hmmmm, bloggining could be the answer for those voices that don't pipe up in the classroom"...but I did not speak.

Ah, blogging,,,, However, it is not immediate gratification, but for some of us, it is not necessary for the response, only to know that we have been heard (after two: a)glasses b)bottles c)casks
:> of wine)
...Get ye selves to the summer stash, post haste!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Apprentice Writers

Vicki was the second in line... for a demo that is.

Her amazing ideas of apprenticeship can be used in any classroom, regardless of content or age. Imagine allowing students to study the works and lives of accomplished authors, especially those of their choice. Getting to "know" these authors and having a different view of their styles, methods and inspiration allows students to get to know themselves as writers. Getting them to "apprentice" a writer pushes them to set high standards and goal set for themselves in their own work. Very cool...

As a science teacher, my kids could apprentice scientists and learn from the work they do. Art, Music, any class can use this idea to drive the creativity and motivation of our students. Thanks for an awesome concept Vicki.

Chili Eating Contest

This is for the people who were in the room Friday morning as I was reading this.
Here is the link:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Demo Numero Uno

Ah... the first demo... the proverbial trial by fire... the first one thrown to the wolves... and surprise, surprise, it was great.

Casey started of the intense part of the SI today by showing us how she helps kids explore their own power in creating change yet thinking critically about what the implications and consequences of their decisions could be. Awesome. As a teacher who is tired of students (and people in general) just jumping on one side of an issue and having no ability to see the other, no matter what side they initially choose, it's great to see a teacher having kids learn to justify and understand their own opinions and actions.

Thank You Casey... for volunteering to go first and for expecting more from all of our kids.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Technology Orientation

So this is for you Bud...

I know you are reading this... probable 7 minutes after I post it.

2nd Day of the 2008 SI and we are introducing everyone to the Technological side of CSUWP... the blog, the website (good work Will), NWP interactive, and of course the e-Anthology. Everyone is quiet right now which means that they are really into what they are working on or they are bored out of their minds and now looking at YouTube. I'm hoping for the former.

As always, the Blogging conversation has begun... How do we support student writing and achievement through the use of online forums and discussions... especially at the Elementary and Junior High School levels? The ideas are flying, the questions have begun but we already have a group of teachers interested in beginning the inquiry and maybe the fight... PSD, there are more of us now. So another group of teachers in our corner willing to push for technology use with kids.

At the same time, Cindy, Rick and Craig are discussing Teacher Research with the rest of the group... I'm sure they might even learn something from these three... at least the meaning of the word "psittaceous".

More coming soon...

example of deadline draft

Hi, all,
Last year during the Advanced Institute, we experimented with "deadline drafts." I'm posting my and Rebecca Garrett's below. It's a little different because we were reporting on a teacher research study, but I thought it might help you get an idea of how we organized ours. Incidentally, it actually was a "demo" in that Rebecca, Cameron, and I presented a slice or this research last year at the conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Hope this helps!

- Cindy

Cindy O’Donnell-Allen
Associate Professor
Colorado State University

Rebecca Garrett
English Teacher
Fort Collins High School

How can we use literature to help students engage in
civil discourse on culturally sensitive topics during book clubs?

How We Became Interested in This Topic
About three years ago, we began working with sophomore Pre-AP students in Rebecca Garrett’s World Literature class. We define book clubs as “small groups of readers that meet on a regular basis to systematically discuss books (or other texts) of the members’ choice” (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006, p. 1). Originally, we convened book clubs in Rebecca’s classroom because we believed in them as authentic contexts for reading. Both of us liked that they allowed students to exercise choice in what books they wanted to read and how they would interpret them. We liked book clubs for the curricular flexibility they provided for teaching sound response strategies, and we knew that students, like readers outside of school, typically enjoyed the social aspects of book clubs. Most of all, though, we appreciated book clubs’ potential for helping students become more independent and able readers of complex literature.
Each semester, though, when we determined which books to use, we focused increasingly on those with culturally sensitive topics because these books seemed more likely to prompt the deeply engaged conversations we were hoping for, and, for lack of a better way of putting it, they really seemed to “matter” to the kids beyond school. During discussions of these books, students would lean forward as they spoke and cock their ears toward the speaker in order to hear better. What was going on in these instances? Over the years, we’ve heard students discussing some of the most difficult issues of our times calmly, intently, with maturity far beyond their years. Exactly how were these kids able to do what many adults in our culture apparently cannot, that is, to engage in civil discourse about such culturally sensitive topics as race, class, religion, and war, especially among those with whom they may disagree? We are conducting this research to find out.

What Our Research Looks Like
The contexts for our research on civil discourse book clubs have been Rebecca’s pre-AP literature classrooms. Cindy is also conducting similar research in sixth-grade classrooms in a rural school and mixed-grade English classes in a diverse alternative high school. In each of these contexts, the research has looked an awful lot like regular teaching. That is, while we have discussed our research interests with students throughout the book club units, we’ve integrated it with the regular curriculum. In fact, Rebecca has conducted book clubs in her regular classes just as we are conducting them in the classes where we’re collecting data.
Furthermore, the much of the data we’ve collected consists of the same student work that Rebecca would collect in the normal course of teaching: students’ free-writes, their written responses to the reading, the book club discussion records each group keeps, and their final group projects. As we’ve browsed the room while students are participating in their book clubs, we’ve also written “fieldnotes” recording what we observed. Finally, we’ve taken notes during occasional whole-class discussions and final presentations.
We’ve analyzed the data we’ve collected so far through a process called “open coding.” During open coding, we’ve read the data numerous times with our research questions in mind in order to notice patterns that are emerging. We then developed code names for these patterns. Our next step in data analysis will be “focused coding,” where we will re-read the data and code it according to the patterns that emerged in the first round of open coding. Our inquiry group, consisting of ourselves, and other CSUWP teachers Renee Esposito, and Natalie Barnes (see also their research reports in this volume), has been an important sounding board during the entire research process.

What We’re Learning through Our Research
1. First and foremost, we have discovered that, “Yes, kids can really do this!” as our friend Louann Reid recently put it when Cindy was talking with her about this work. Furthermore, unlike more conventional dialectic models of communication familiar in our culture (e.g., debate, op-ed columns, etc.), civil discourse book clubs are dialogic. In other words, they are geared toward connection and negotiation as opposed to argument, conversation as opposed to debate, and empathy for others’ perspectives rather than conquest.

2. Book clubs allow students to use literacy practices for civic consequences—that is, to surf, read, write, talk, listen, draw—in order to engage in civil discourse about culturally sensitive issues. Civil discourse book clubs are rooted in social justice principles, but unlike much of the other work done in this area, they place within the classroom and are thus immediately consequential.

3. Collaborative conversation is central to civil discourse because “all of us know more than any one of us.” The literacy tools students use in civil discourse book clubs, like Dailies, discussion records, and visual interpretations of literature make this collaboration visible and function as springboards into new understanding.

4. Engaging in civil discourse about culturally sensitive topics is difficult and doesn’t occur by magic, which may be why we see so little of it happening among adults. Rather, a process we call “perpetual scaffolding” is essential for this kind of work to take place. Scaffolding is usually thought of as instructional support teachers provide for students in the beginning stages of a learning process, but we have discovered that students need varying kinds of graduated support throughout civil discourse book clubs. Therefore we provide more explicit scaffolding in early stages of book clubs through the project introduction, gradual application of response strategies, norming, and “meta-talk” (i.e., “talk about the talk” students have been engaging in thus far. As book clubs progress, we gradually embed more implicit scaffolding through tools like sticky notes bookmarks, individual responses called “Dailies,” prompts on discussion records, drop-in visits during book clubs, and our and peers’ questions during book club presentations.

5. The multimodal tools students use throughout book clubs allow them to synthesize complex ideas, develop sophisticated interpretations of book club texts, and reflect on their civil discourse strategies they are learning. What do we mean by “multimodal tools”? We ask students to learn and demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways (or modes), such as internet research, reading, writing, listening, discussion, and visual interpretation. Furthermore, as Rebecca and I discovered when creating a visual map of our preliminary findings to share with the students, projects requiring multimodal responses challenge one to make sense of what one knows in different ways than writing alone.

How This Research Continues To Be Important in Our (and Others’) Classrooms
After several rounds of civil discourse book clubs in Rebecca’s classrooms, we feel as if we have the general drill down, but we learn something new with every group of students. As a result, we continue to refine the process and try out new strategies and approaches to help students be successful with the difficult process of engaging in civil discourse. We believe this is important because ours is a cultural moment dominated by trash-talking celebrities and professional athletes, politically partisan sound bites, spin-doctored news, and “reality” television shows that make it appear “difficult to deal, except in a ridiculing way, with issues of any complexity” (Gardner, 1995, p. 60). Our world may not be more fraught with personal, social, and political conflict than at any other time in history. The erosion of general civility and the popular tendency toward polarization, however, make these conflicts more emotionally charged and less easily negotiated than ever before.
We believe that many in our culture are longing to figure out a way to bore through the complexity of very difficult issues without clamming up or coming to blows. Yet when young people look to adults, they see few models for communicating in ways that aren’t agenda-driven. If we don’t do something to intervene, the result may be a new generation of chair-flinging, shout-‘em-down bullies who actually see verbal, emotional, and physical violence as viable alternatives for resolving conflict once and for all.
Our teacher research on civil discourse book clubs, however, has convinced us that English teachers can intervene by teaching students how to exercise literacy as a means toward socially just ends. By reading and discussing literature focused on culturally sensitive issues in book clubs, students can learn to grapple with questions such as these Rebecca’s students posed: “Is peace possible? What does it mean to make a difference? If you can’t change big things in our world, do small changes matter?” They can do so even when we are not in charge of the conversations. And in the service of learning to listen and respond empathically, our students can become more critical and strategic readers, writers, and thinkers in the process.

Suggested Resources
Dyson, A.H., and Genishi, C. (2005). On the case: Approaches to language and literacy research. New York: Teachers College Press. This book describes useful methods for conducting case study research, including how to design a study and collect and analyze data.

Friedrich, L., Tateishi, C., Malarkey, T., Simons, E.R., & Williams, M., Eds. (2006). Working toward equity: Resources and writings from the Teacher Research Collaborative. This book is the result of a three-year collaboration among educators who believe that the power of inquiry can be focused on vital educational goals such as equity. Included are teacher research studies, chapters on teacher inquiry groups, an annotated bibliography on teacher research, and multiple tools for individual teacher researchers as well as protocols for teacher research groups.

Maclean, M., & Mohr, M. (1999). Teacher researchers at work. Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project. This book might be considered the teacher researcher’s bible. Maclean and Mohr provide suggestions for framing teacher research questions, conducting secondary research, collecting and analyzing data, and sharing teacher research with wider audiences. In addition to discussing the ethics of teacher research, they also provide multiple examples of teacher studies conducted by teachers across grade levels and disciplines.

O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2006). The book club companion: Fostering strategic readers in the secondary classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. In this book, Cindy provides a step-by-step process for implementing book clubs with secondary students. She reviews recent research on adolescent literacy, describes her own teaching experiences with book clubs, and provides curriculum planning guidelines, teacher research tools, response strategies, book lists, scoring guides, and ideas for final projects. Reproducible masters and handouts are included in the book’s Appendices.

Contact Information
We welcome your inquiries about our teacher research on civil discourse book clubs and invite you to e-mail us at the following addresses:

Cindy -

Monday, June 09, 2008

We're Back... and Off and Running...

As usual, we disappear for awhile, especially as the tidal wave of school crashes down on us at the end of the year. But... The CSUWP Summer Institute has begun this year... that of summer 2008.

We have an incredible group once again... 18 High School, Middle School, and Elementary teachers representing everything from Language Arts to Humanities to Sciences. As always the experience and expertise that exists in this small cramped room in the corner of the Engineering Building is incredible. Now in my 5th year, I'm just as excited to learn from these individuals as I was from my group of fellows.

So here we are, the first day, participating in a "Demo Demo" from Jason Tyler (2007 Fellow). His use of improvisation in the classroom to engage students and inform their writing is an incredible way to start the summer... getting our new fellows out of their seats and interacting on Day 1. Thank you Jason for demonstrating an amazing demo for our new fellows.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Hey, somehow I've dropped off the email list.

Could someone put me back on?


Jack Martin

Saturday, March 08, 2008

CLAS Conference


I've just returned from the Colorado Language Arts Society's regional conference. This year, the organizers moved it from The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs to The Inverness Hotel in south Denver. I appreciated the shorter drive, and the more reasonable hotel price. What's more, the layout of the conference rooms was less labyrinthian and the food was better (I did miss the black swans, though.)

This was my third time attending the conference, and the first time I haven't presented a session. I enjoyed just being there with no pressure to perform, and I attended several great workshops, including one by Denver Writing Project alum Jonathan Wright on differences between male and female brains. Another great session was offered by Metro State professor and poet, Renee Ruderman. I always enjoy her workshops, and was delighted to see my '05 SI comrade, Rhys Roberts, there too. What's more, I wrote a poem draft about meeting My New Boyfriend on (Yeah, I got divorced and turned forty last year. You think doing a teaching demo is stressful? Try entering the dating world after having been married fifteen (ulp) years. I discovered, however, that dating online is a lot like catalog shopping. You place your order and then wait to see it if looks good on you. When Bud was teaching us all about the fabulous applications of the internet, I had no idea it would end up bringing love back into my life!) In any event, with a little tweaking, this new piece might become a poem. Tune in to my blog if you want to see what happens with it.

As always, the highlights of the conference were the keynote addresses. I absolutely love being in the presence of such brilliant speakers and writers. It rejuvenates my hope for humanity and inspires me to be a better member of our species. This year, we were lucky enough to hear Ralph Fletcher talk about boys and writing, Dan and Dawn Kirby talk about memoir, Nikki Giovanni talk about her relationships with Toni Morrison and Rosa Parks, Katie Wood Ray talk about her work with "co-teachers" (writers whose work she uses as mentor texts in her classrooms), and Leonard Pitts talk about the craft of commentary and the writer's life. I left each of their presentations motivated to get back into my classroom and inspired to get out my own writer's notebook.

If enough people attended, it would be great to do some sort of CSUWP social event at next year's conference. I certainly love getting the literary jolt in the arm that the conference always provides, and I think combining it with some sort of summer institute reunion could be fun. Any interest out there?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation

You are invited to attend the Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation Conference.

What is Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation?
Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation is a one day conference/meetup for teachers, administrators, students, school board members, parents and anyone who is interested in education. It will be held on Saturday, February 23rd, 2008, from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, USA. We assume most folks will be from Colorado, but everyone is welcome to attend, and we are working on some ideas for virtual participation.
Education is conversation.

Conversation creates change.
The future of education does not exist in the isolated world of theory and abstract conference sessions. Instead, it exists in conversations. It exists in creating a robust learning network that is ever-expanding and just-in-time. Learning 2.0 is not the beginning of this conversation. It is merely a stopping point, a time to talk about the visible difference that we all seek.

We read. We reflect. We write. We share. We learn. Come join us for a day of conversation about learning and technology.

You can learn much more about the conference on the wiki, including information about registering. Here are some highlights:

Tentative Schedule
We're still working on the details so this will be updated before the conference. Also, this may expand if we have more folks register than we are anticipating. (To quote Bud Hunt, "This conference stuff is hard!")

You must register so that we know how many folks to expect and so that we can have enough lunches available. (Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?)

Free, baby. And lunch is included, thanks to the generous support of Littleton Public Schools, St. Vrain Valley Public Schools, and Arapahoe High School.

BYOL (that would be Bring Your Own Laptop) - we'll have wireless access to the Internet (filtered) - we may test our capacity to handle density of machines, but hopefully things will go swimmingly. If not, we have wired machines in various places you can access.

Questions for Students
We're having a student panel discussion during lunch. Here's your chance to submit some questions for them to consider.

Invite Others
We strongly encourage you to invite other folks from your school, district, neighborhood, or learning network to attend as well. It would be great if everyone could bring at least one person with them that is perhaps new to this conversation.

Feel free to leave a comment on this post or on the FAQ page on the wiki.
Oh, also feel free to download and print the flyer. Or add this post to your blog.