Tag Archives: national day on writing

National Day on Writing: A Seed of Extravagant Potential

This post is written by member Caroline Brewer.

I was thinking a National Day on Writing project would be a fun and highly effective way for students to improve as readers and writers and identify as capable learners. I was thinking the day would give our school the opportunity to sow a seed of extravagant potential for each student.

In the fall of 2016, I was the Reading Resource Teacher for Concord Elementary, a PreK—sixth grade school of 400 students in District Heights, MD, just across the DC border. I proposed we recognize the National Day on Writing with thank-yous—to President and Mrs. Obama.

I would instruct my 250 once-a-week reading class students and asked the other teachers to work with students I didn’t teach to contribute letters. I assembled YouTube videos on the Obamas, handouts listing their accomplishments and facts about the presidency, large news photos of the First Couple, and two children’s books about the president.

Teachers were enthusiastic. Students exhaled happiness. “Will he really read our letters?” “Will they write us back?” “Ooooh, I want them to come to our school!”

I distributed an outline of a thank-you letter to students and shared my sample letter, which included the fact that I celebrated the night Obama won by partying in the streets. Some of the kids appropriated that story for their letters—temporarily, of course! Other students were not so ambitious. They stopped cold. Complained. Talked out of turn. Threw paper wads. When the classes were over, I had mostly bits and pieces of correspondence from the upper grades. The lower grades finished their brilliant class letters in one session.

Second and third drafts dribbled in over the next month.

WHAT was I thinking?

We lost time, momentum, and organization to heretofore precious weekday breaks. I misplaced some drafts. I had never handled that many student papers at once. And why paper? Some computers were in a lab not yet operational. Others were on a cart shared by as many as three classrooms. And when we tried computers, I discovered most students had never used one to write. Microsoft Word became a black hole.

WHAT was I thinking?

The winter break was near. The Obamas would be leaving office soon. Students inquired daily whether their heartfelt messages were en route to the First Family. I felt like I was walking in quicksand. Classroom teachers, beautiful as they all were, came to the rescue.

January 9, I mailed the Obamas a school-wide batch of thoughtful, silly, and sentimental expressions.

“I want to thank you for making speeches telling people to be brothers and sisters, to be friends and help each other.”

“Can you stop the bad people from hurting people?”

“I hope you eat spaghetti.”

I prayed students would receive a reply.

Meantime, it dawned on me that since the National Day on Writing, students who had refused to write—including those designated for SPED services—were making their pencils, pens, and words move with authority and poignancy. They volunteered to read works aloud. They crawled out of Word’s black hole and learned to compose with the darn thing. By January, every student I taught was much more comfortable writing. Not one rejected it.

“Thank you for all of the justice and hope.”

 “I loved the wonderful days of you being president.”

 “When you move, I want to see your new house. If you invite me, can I bring my mother and my family with me? I want to come. I really want to come.”

“Thank you for my toys… Thank you for my teachers.”

 “Can you buy me a puppy?”

WHAT was I thinking now?

I’d promised the students we could make a book out of their charming expressions of gratitude. We’d need $8,000 to cover design and printing costs so all students could receive free copies. Since we were a Title I school, we couldn’t ask the parents for help, and the PTA had recently lost its president.

Adjoa Burrowes, illustrator of twelve children’s books and author of three, and a phenomenal literacy and art teacher and graphic designer, answered our book designer prayer. Alicia Lazaris, the sixth-grade language arts teacher, graciously said yes to our need for a school-based coordinator.

By mid-May, Adjoa was ready for me to proof the book we titled, For the Obamas: A Big Book of Thank Yous. About ten pages in, it occurred to me that I had never proofed a book with 200-some letters. School would be out in three weeks and we needed at least ten days for our printer to print and deliver the copies. Doubts started crawling over me like an army of red ants.

We worked six to eight hours a night. We knew the book could be that seed of infinite potential that would inspire students to accomplish what we couldn’t imagine. We had to keep going. So we took deep breaths, said our prayers, and worked.

We delivered the precious Big Book of Thank Yous to Concord the day before the last day of school.

We learned just weeks ago that President Obama had written the students, thanking them for their letters. His letter is in the latest edition of our big book of gratitude. And so is our deepest appreciation to him and Concord’s new principal, Dr. Dana Doggett, for being on the planting team of the National Day on Writing, that precious seed of both extravagant and infinite potential.

The National Day on Writing bore delicious fruit. It was my joy to have labored with our teachers and students to help sow it. How can you use the National Day on Writing to sow seeds of success?

Believe in your teachers and students—and magic.

Applaud every little progressive step students take.

Ask for help.

Use computers.

Bend, shake, rattle, and roll.

Laugh, and keep going.

Caroline Brewer is an author, teacher, literacy consultant, and communications professional. Follow her on Twitter @BrewerCaroline and Facebook at www.facebook.com/happyteachertraining

Why We Write

This post is written by members Amy Miller and Meghan Jones.

“Writing can be my best friend.”

“Writing to me is the tool for creating a world that otherwise could not exist.”

“I want to be a writer who can write about things that are important not just in school. But world things.”

“Writing can bring life back to you when life is the worst it could possibly be.”

“Writing reminds me that the best is yet to come.”

After navigating our first year of heterogeneously grouped classes, the English 100H team, a group of teachers responsible for the ninth-grade classes, realized the need for a dramatic change for our first unit—we had to start the year off with a stronger push to rope all kids into what really matters in English class.

We wanted to cultivate in students the skills necessary to be successful learners and begin to instill in them the importance of being active, engaged readers and thoughtful writers. We worked backward with the idea of a summative assignment for which students reflected on who they are as writers, and we built a unit that provided students multiple opportunities to reflect on their own writing, engage with mentor texts, learn from their peers’ writing, and make choices about their learning along the way.

Here’s an overview of the two-to-three week process:

As a culture builder, a lesson in active listening, and a brainstorming activity, we began with peer interviews. Students asked each other questions about their memories of learning to write and the role of writing in their lives today. They recorded key words or phrases from their peers’ responses. Students then used the interview content to flash-draft responses to the question, Who I am as a writer?

Students explored mentor texts of published writers reflecting on why they write or read and identified strategies to then apply to their own writing. The idea of “reading like a writer” came from Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti of Moving Writers in their book Writing with Mentors. In a mini-lesson, we modeled the process of noticing and then naming strategies in our own words with a class model from short, accessible reflections by well-known authors. Students then explored other mentors in small groups, adding to our growing class list of strategies.

Students then personalized their learning by independently exploring an amassed list of mentors, including writers’ reflections, podcasts, TED Talks, and interviews with well-known writers and musicians. We continued to expand and refine our strategy list. After each successive round of exploring mentor texts, students returned to their own writing and tried a mentor strategy to revise what they had written. To ensure that students were meeting learning targets, we utilized exit passes as formative checks for understanding.

As the drafts took shape, teachers shared their own “Why I Write” drafts and had students locate strategies and offer feedback. Students then offered each other peer feedback on which strategies were working and which needed further attention.

Eventually, we turned to writing conferences during which students identified areas of revision and generated questions for the conference using a writer’s checklist. During the conferences, students took their own notes. Literacy specialists pushed into classes to help confer with students and ensure that each student received meaningful formative feedback.

On the day their writing was due, we held a celebration of writing. NCTE’s #WhyIWrite site reminded us that collectively, telling why we write “gives voice to who you are and enables you to give voice to the things that matter to you.” So we decided to frame our celebration around “raising the volume”. In a gallery walk, students perused each other’s writing, located memorable lines, and quoted each other to build a collage of words on the whiteboard under #WhyIWrite. Placing the markers in students’ hands compelled them to appreciate each other’s words and to call out the student who uses writing to cope with reality, the friend whose journals capture everyday musings, and the peer whose written words create rich, imaginative worlds.

The written products were genuine in their self-reflection, rich with strategies gleaned from the mentor texts, authentic in voice and expression. We read stories of academic triumphs, sacred family reading times, private chronicles of the intimacies of their daily lives, and beaming elementary teachers who inspired our students to see themselves as writers for the very first time. Most importantly, students expressed that their love of writing dramatically waned as they advanced through the grades. Their pieces echoed a resounding desire to regain the love of writing that they once had as younger students. This not only validated our work but reinforces the enormity of the task we face as English teachers. It is our responsibility to teach all students at all levels that writing matters. Our students are writers with stories to tell—stories that deserve to be heard. Hopefully, we have brought them one step closer to gaining the tools and confidence needed to believe in themselves once again as writers who can change the world.

Amy Miller (Twitter @FHSEnglishCT) is the English department leader and Meghan Jones (Twitter @FHSliteracy) is a literacy specialist and instructional coach at Farmington High School in Farmington, CT.

October 2017 #NCTEchat: The National Day on Writing

Join us tomorrow, Sunday, October 15, at 8 p.m. ET, on Twitter for an #NCTEchat all about the National Day on Writing®.

The National Day on Writing (October 20) was founded by our members on the premise that writing is critical to literacy but needs greater attention and celebration. Since 2008, we’ve watched thousands of people celebrate writing on October 20 through photos, events, and, of course, the written word, using #WhyIWrite. Join the #NCTEchat on Sunday to connect with other educators and get new ideas and inspiration for ways to celebrate the National Day on Writing on Friday!

Here are the questions for tomorrow’s Twitter chat:

1. Why do you write?

2. What is your go-to mentor text? How do you use it?

3. What is your go-to resource for teaching writing? Why is it important to you?

4. How will you celebrate the National Day on Writing?

5. What is one goal you have for writing/teaching writing?

We hope to see you there! Be sure to join us by using #NCTEchat and #WhyIWrite.

In Honor of This Year’s National Day on Writing, Write for Civic Action!

The following post was written by Nicole Mirra and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

In response to many of the recent controversies, injustices, and tragedies that have rocked our nation, folks are consistently turning to education in order to raise awareness and spark action. It seems that news organizations and nonprofit groups are offering resources weekly, whether in response to white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, NFL #TakeAKnee protests, or the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The reason for these outpouring of resources is simple—we know that young people turn to their teachers for guidance as they seek to make sense of what is happening in the country. As a society, we look to schools to process national events and to imbue the next generation with the knowledge, compassion, and values to do better than the ones that came before and make our nation better, kinder, wiser.

As a result, it is crucial that we teachers recognize ourselves as powerful civic agents, not only in the classroom but also in our daily lives. Ironically, at the same time that we ask teachers to help young people understand national events, we also often insist that they avoid wading into controversial waters and present a completely neutral, objective face to young people. As previous NCTE resources have explained, there is no apolitical classroom—everything we do in the classroom, from how we manage relationships with students to what texts we teach, transmits a political message to students about the nature of democratic life.

So let’s be conscious about kind of society we want for our students and ourselves. Let’s reflect not only on our classroom practices, but also on ways we can advocate for public education, our students, and our communities in our capacity as citizens.

In honor of the National Day on Writing, which is coming up on October 20, consider the various ways that you can write for civic action:

1. Make your practice public: Write a blog entry for NCTE! Contribute to the NCTE Village! Tell the world about how you are shaping the next generation of citizens in your classroom by sharing instructional strategies, curriculum resources, or examples of student work.

2. Write to your elected representatives: Tell the folks who represent you about the issues that matter most to you and your students! Here are some short webinars courtesy of the NCTE Studies in Literacy and Multimedia (SLAM) Assembly that can help you get started:

a. SLAM School: Letter-Writing;

b. SLAM School: Contacting Your Representatives.

3. Get involved in NCTE Advocacy: Take a look at the NCTE Resources for Taking Action and Action You Can Do At Home and commit to one small action in order to make your voice heard on the issues that affect your classroom

While teaching is the most crucial civic action that most of us engage in on a daily basis, there is much more that we can do to make our voices heard at the local and national level. Writing is a powerful way for us to share our expertise with a wider audience and insist that educators have a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our students, our schools, and our communities.

Celebrate Writing All Month Long!

In light of the significance of writing in our national life, to draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, and to help writers from all walks of life recognize how important writing is to their lives, NCTE established October 20 as the National Day on Writing. For the ninth year in a row, October 20 will be a day devoted to the importance of writing in our lives. To gear up to celebrate the National Day on Writing, NCTE plans to share resources on writing the entire month of October! Here are some ideas for you to celebrate writing all month long:

  • Encourage your students to uncover all of the different kinds of writing they do on a daily basis by asking them to keep a list of everything they write, from text messages to school assignments, e-mails to diary entries, in a single day.
  • After students make a list of everything they wrote in a day, help them see the variety in their writing, both individually and as a class. Post colorful chart paper with age-appropriate questions about purpose, audience, genre or type, and technology around the room.
  • Ask students to brainstorm different categories for each poster based on the writing they did. Write these categories on the posters and then have students contribute examples from their personal lists. Facilitate a gallery walk of the posters once students have contributed to all of them.
  • Encourage students to view and reflect on all kinds of writing – no matter the purpose, audience, type, or technology.

As you celebrate writing in October, share out with others using the hashtag #WhyIWrite!