On Saturday morning I woke up early to see Katie Wood Ray. I have been a fan for years and seen her speak several times. Her session at NCTE did not disappoint. Katie spends most of her time teaching, observing and researching in a kindergarten classroom near her home in North Carolina. Through Katie’s past presentations and videos I feel like I’ve “met” her teaching partner, Lisa Cleaveland, but I had the honor of hearing her for the first time this year at NCTE. Wow! That girl can teach!
What I love about Katie, and connect to as an early childhood teacher, is her respect and responsiveness to what is developmentally appropriate for the young writer. On Saturday she opened by reminding the audience, “It’s not about the lessons. You must teach the writer first.” Amen. We must first know our students before we can plan how to guide them to the next step. In an age where the idea of personalized learning is gathering traction this must remain a belief that guides us.
Katie talked about some of her current research and how for years she has used Peter H. Johnston’s book Choice Words as a handbook and mentor text for the way she worked with children. I love this book and have copies stashed strategically throughout my life so that I can go back to it each school year! She celebrated the text and shared how some of her new research builds on Johnston’s ideas and expands the language and interactions teachers use to grow confident and competent writers, readers and thinkers. I cannot wait to hear more about this project as this idea of empowering, building confidence and agency are central to my instructional practice. While talking about students as authors, Katie reflected on the self-image of the students she worked with saying, “They are believers.”
Lisa Cleveland shared how she built independence and stamina in her writers from the first day of school. I lingered with her idea about “going slow” with writing. We’ve all heard the idea of slowing down in order to go fast in regards to classroom management and routines. But I had not really thought about what slowing down might look like in writer’s workshop. Hmmm….
Lisa advocated for giving kindergarteners an hour of uninterrupted writing time each day. Fabulous! She also modeled a brilliant lesson on revision as she shared with her students how she often thinks of something she wants to add to her writing as she gets ready for bed. Her message to her students: writers continue to think about their writing even after the workshop is over. Five days later I’m still thinking about writing and her closing remark:
“The writing process is the story you tell after you’ve written.”
–Lisa Cleveland, NCTE 2011.
Whoa. I know I’m going to be thinking about that this holiday weekend. What will you story be?