This has been the month for state literacy conferences. WVCTE and NWP@WVU led off with WVELA19 which was showcased on WVCTE blog earlier this month. Not to be outdone, Marshall University and the Central West Virginia Writing Project (CWVWP) also hosted a 2 day event entitled Find Your Voice: Growing Student Writers.
Over 120 educators from across the state converged on Marshall University for a weekend of literacy immersion. Co-sponsored by the Central West Virginia Writing Project, I had the opportunity to not only present but also visit many sessions as part of my role as Project Co-Director.
Ruth Culham, author of The Writing Thief and Teach Writing Well, opened the conference with a plenary session entitled Teach Writing Well: Yes You Can! She introduced her latest perspective on the 6 traits and how to dissect then spiral them into a meaningful year-long study to improve student writing.
Ruth breaks the traits down into 4 key qualities giving us the opportunity to teach a trait 4 times with a slightly different nuance. By teaching the discrete qualities of traits, students can practice their writing in a more focused manner with continued practice on ALL traits vs. having a trait of the month practice. Her website www.culhamwriting.com offers many classroom ready graphics to explain her approach in a student friendly fashion.
Ruth then challenged session participants to develop Writing Wallets for students as a way to eliminate useless worksheets and differentiate instruction. She proposes that students keep 2-4 pieces of their own writing in the wallet for mini-lesson practice. Not only does this provide student choice but serves as a mode of differentiation as students are practicing on their own authentic text. Her book outlines the 9 benefits to using a Writing Wallet (Culham, 109):
- “Students work at their own levels.
- Students make choices and apply new skills on their own.
- Little to no management or grading is necessary.
- The teacher has a natural place to model writing skills—this is essential for all writing classrooms.
- Students make writing decisions that become more complex over time.
- The teacher helps by nudging students forward in brief, nonthreatening interaction.
- Collaboration among peers and with the teacher is encouraged.
- Revision and editing becomes manageable processes.
- Skills are transferred to independent writing through meaningful practice.”
I spent time with Ruth after her session discussing how to implement her spiral and wallet in my high school classroom. Using a 5 day a week mini-lesson at the start of each class, I can work through her list of qualities in roughly 20 weeks. This affords my students the opportunity to practice a different element of each of the traits at least 4 times. When assessing more finished writing products, I would then focus on the trait qualities that I’ve taught. This is doable, organized and simple! Score a win for the students!
The wallet is going to be a bit tougher for me as a hardcore Writing Notebook fanatic but Ruth swears you can have both. I’m still thinking through the logistics of managing writers’ notebook s and wallets at the same time. Is this doable? Seems like it…I can let you know in the fall how wallets go.
After this weekend conference, I must confess to having a new fan crush: Dr. Steve Criniti from West Liberty University. Dr. Criniti has partnered with John Marshall HS to coach their students and teachers on composition theory. He has been working specifically with AP Lang classes on rhetorical analyses and preparing students for what college professors actually want vs. what we think they want their students to do. In a nutshell to close the high school to college gap we should teach our students how to: have something to say; say it to an authentic audience; use textual evidence in arguments; and make it look like grammatically correct English. Based upon his lecture, I think it’s time to free the Holy Trinity of Thesis Statements, focus more on audience and give my kiddos more freedom!
The best part of the conference for me, besides attending so many robust sessions, was reconnecting with friends from across the state and sharing what is happening in our classes. Having that teacher tribe keeps us strong and growing as classroom leaders. This is my tribe! <3
(L to R) Cheryl Stahle, Co-Director CWVWP, Dr. Stephanie Burdette, Co-Director CWVWP, Susie Garrison, KCS Lead ELA teacher
Admittedly, I trudged to the conference in a state of teacher tired but left more energized to finish the year strong. Ruth and Dr. C gave me fodder for improving my classroom as part of my summer homework.
Cheryl Stahle is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. She teaches at Parkersburg High School and is the Co-Director of the Central West Virginia Writing Project based out of Marshall University. Cheryl is also the Vice President of the Marshall Reading Council. She is a not so regular tweeter @msstahleclass but is enamored with Instagram (@stahlecheryl). Besides teaching American Literature, her other classroom goal is to teach 1970s classic rock to her students.
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