TCRWP Saturday Reunion

At 5:40am this morning, I was out the door and headed towards school, where I would drop off my car, meet up with some friends, and head to the train station. By 6:35am I was on a northbound train headed to Penn Station. By 8:00am I was inside Riverside Church on Riverside Dr. in NYC. After years of trying to attend, I was finally at Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion.

When my colleagues and I arrived, we picked up our schedules and began scanning the multitude of workshops being offered. Within moments I announced I would be eating my brown bag lunch on the run and attending all four sessions. My colleagues quickly agreed. How could I possibly choose to give up a session for something as silly as lunch?! As I read the descriptions of the many sessions being offered, I was circling possibilities left and right. How on earth would I ever decide which workshops to attend?

Eventually, I made my choices. In the meantime, we made our way to the main chapel to hear the keynote speaker. Tomie dePaolo (author of over 200 books, including Strega Nona), renowned and award-winning author/illustrator gave a rousing talk entitled “No Teacher Left Behind”. He was a brilliant speaker and had the packed church in stitches. He shared many tales of his childhood and the importance that reading and writing held in it. He is also a strong supporter of teachers. He told us that his personal book sales have decreased 50% since the inception of No Child Left Behind. He and his agent attribute this to the huge number of teachers and school districts which can no longer purchase and use his books because they must focus on “the test”. It was a staggering statistic and I would be very interested in hearing if other authors have experienced a similar drop in sales.

After dePaolo’s speech, I made my way to my first session. I was very excited to finally hear Mary Ehrenworth (om/gp/product/0325006881?ie=UTF8&tag=thereazon-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0325006881″>The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language) speak, as she heads the middle school aspects of the Project. She gave a great presentation on working with stronger readers, the ones who are usually left on their own in workshop. She shared some great picture books to use in small groups that allow students to stretch their thinking above and beyond the literal. I ended up with a great list of picture books and plan to order one immediately, for our Holocaust unit.

More importantly, Ehrenworth told the group that we can not expect our students to be readers if we are not readers ourselves. We must share books with them, carry books around, even tell them, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even get to finish planning my lesson last night- I was reading this phenomenal book!” You will teach them more with that non-lesson that you would with any mini-lesson. She also shared a great analogy, courtesy of Lester Laminack. Ask any middle schooler what they can’t wait to do, and invariably you will hear “drive”. We don’t teach them this desire- there are no minilessons, no group discussions, no direct instruction on why driving is great. Instead, their experiences with cars and in cars have made this a natural desire. We need to make reading just as natural a desire. They should want to read, they should desire to read. I can’t wait to share that analogy with some of my colleagues!

My next session with with the famous Lucy Calkins (The Art of Teaching Reading, The Art of Teaching Writing). Her session was standing room only and it was like being in the presence of a celebrity. While she didn’t teach as much as motivate, she was extremely inspiring. She shared some sample writing with us and I still managed to learn a lot.

The third session was one I was looking forward to because it focused on grammar. A project leader (whose name escapes me right now) took us through a typical week of grammar instruction in the middle school she coaches. It was a great marriage of direct instruction and inquiry, and a model I think my district would be satisfied with me pursuing. She also told us that we shouldn’t spend more time planning our grammar lessons that we actually spend teaching grammar. So if we teach 20 minutes of direct instruction grammar during word study, then don’t plan for 3 hours. I took lots of notes in that session and walked out with a booklist of books I must buy! Already I am planning to get Constance Weaver’s The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching and Don Killgallon’s Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext. Has any used either of these? Or have a suggestion for where I could find them a little cheaper?

I was very excited for the last session. Georgia Heard shared her poetry unit of study with us and it was phenomenal! First of all, she was a lot younger than I expected (which surprised me, for some reason). It was so inspiring to hear her share her own experiences with poetry in the classroom. I also have a much better understanding of the doors to poetry that she discusses in Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I took copious notes in all the sessions, but especially hers, and can’t wait to go back and read them over to let them really sink in.

I swear, I was such a fangirl today. I could have stayed at TC all day, because I was finally in the presence of these men and women who have shaped so much of my teaching. They were practically celebrities to me. To hear my own beliefs and experiences in the classroom affirmed by the Project leaders and the other teachers attending the Reunion really strengthened my resolve to continue what I am doing. It was an invigorating, renewing, energizing day. I would go every month if they offered it! My next goal is to attend a summer institute at TC, as soon as I can afford it (our district doesn’t pay for it). If 5 hours taught me this much today, I can’t imagine what a week would do! I would just need a little more sleep. Getting up at 5am killed me today!!

Oh, and I finally experienced a document camera/ELMO for the first time today. How do I get one in my classroom?! It was amazing! I could already name a million ways I would use it in my classroom!!!

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9 Responses

  1. [...] Credit:TCRWP Saturday Reunion [...]

  2. thank you so much for this! at first i was insanely JEALOUS, but the more i read i was just happy for you and very grateful about the energy you put into writing this all down. i still wish for a copy of your Georgia Heard notes, and want to talk more about the grammar stuff. are you teaching sixth again next year?? i’ll have a straight sixth (the only one in our school). my best fifth grade teacher buddy is leaving so i’m really dreading the isolation. maybe we can virtual buddies–i think a lot of our teaching philosophies are similar. do you want to have a book club this summer—we could read some grammar books and maybe you can try to get your hands on the Nancie Atwell Lessons that Change Writers materials…..

  3. and i almost forgot: aren’t those ELMO things incredibly cool. can’t you think of hundreds of ways to use one? i want one SOOO bad. i even have a projector already.

  4. I would love to do a book club! Grammar is where I really want to focus this summer, because I feel like I don’t do it justice right now. I will definitely be teaching 6th again next year, so we will be virtual buddies. :) And as soon as I type up my notes I will send you a copy! Oh, and I have the Atwell binder, but not the book that comes with the set. Maybe we could work from there?

    Ohhh and to have an Elmo……I have a projector, too! It just needs an ELMO. :-D

  5. What an amazing day! My jaw dropped as I read on and on about the people I love most in teaching–especially Georgia Heard!!! I have used the Killgallon book with 7th and 8th graders and I LOVE it! It shows them how to imitate great writers and learn sophisticated sentence construction at the same time. You can email me if you’d like more info. I found my books on Amazon.

    Also, for the two of you…WHAT’S the ELMO? I’ve never heard of/seen one.

  6. An ELMO is a document camera. It’s like a high-tech overhead projector! Check out a picture here: http://www.pnc.edu/ms/images/doccam2.jpg

    I am definitely interested in hearing about your experiences with the Killgallon books!

  7. As a teacher, I try and find the best resources possible to help me be a better teacher .
    Recently I have found a fabulous book that I had to share, called Differentiating Reading Instruction by Laura Robb.
    I liked this book so much, I plan to get her entire collection.

  8. Any way you can share Georgia’s poetry unit with me via email?

  9. I have had a lot of luck with Killgallon’s Sentence Composing with my 7th graders. I had heard about the “workbook”, but I just use the original text. I will either project a few of them on my overhead and we will work the exercises together. Or sometimes I write sentences on sentence strips and mix the parts up and let the kids rearrange them in groups.

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