Teaching with Heart

I agree with you, Casey! Saturday Reunions are always inspiring! James Howe’s message about “heart connections” resonated for me throughout my day. Howe reminded us that when we write from our hearts we write the truth. This takes courage. I think it also takes courage to teach from our hearts. It got me thinking about how important it is to be real people, real writers, real readers in our own classrooms; to learn alongside and from our students; and to engage our students in genuine conversation and meaningful learning activities. James Howe’s message reminded me of Paley’s The Girl with the Brown Crayon. Paley taught with heart. She had the courage to engage her children in real learning. She believed in her children and knew they came “to school knowing how to think about such matters.” And that as teachers, “we only need to give them the proper context in which to demonstrate and fine-tune their natural gifts” (86). The three workshops I attended echoed this message.

I attended Mary Ehrenworth’s Virtual Writer’s Notebook session. She suggested that if our writer’s workshop feels flat, it might because we are not living like writers in our own classrooms. She suggested creating a writer’s notebook in which you do the same kind of writing your students to do. She showed us ways to teach out of these entries during small group strategy lessons. Mary suggested using an over-sized sketchpad-type notebook, so students could gather around your notebook during strategy lessons and see your writing. For example, if you notice your students are writing summary-like entries like, “I went to the beach. We swam. It was fun” you could also write an entry like this. On the next page over you could use the space to show how you improve your entry using dialogue, action and internal thoughts. She suggested writing some of these ahead of time so we teach with our best work.

While Mary showed us how to be genuine writers in our own classrooms, Kathy Collins showed us how to engage children in genuine reading – through reading clubs. I love this idea! She defined a reading club as “a couple of kids reading sets of books related I some way.” I love the idea of a pair or group of kids reading books centered on a student-selected topic or theme of interest. I imagine a non-fiction reading club (say a reading club that decides they want to read about snakes or pyramids, etc.) would compliment a science, social studies or math inquiry unit. This connects to the idea of content area literacy Casey described.

My last session was Carl Anderson’s workshop on conferencing. Carl focused on the teaching portion of the conference. He reminded us to do real teaching in the conference. Instead of just saying, “Let’s add some dialogue here,” to actually show the writer how to go about doing this.

I think Saturday Reunions are a chance to reflect on our practices, envision new possibilities and give us the courage to continue to teach, write and learn with heart.


21st Century Literature- Using Film Clips Wisely and Quickly to Increase Engagement in Reading Workshop

So I was really excited to go to this session. It was one of the few that dealt with technology in reading and writing workshops. Before I talk about how it was different from what I expected, let me tell you what it was about. Mary Ehrenworth revealed that in classrooms she observed there was a discrepancy between the quality of parter talk when students discussed their favorite books and when they discussed their current books. Students in P.S. 6 said it was easier to talk about movies because they could see it. So, she looked at how she could use movie clips (in fantasy and historical fiction) to increase talk about these same genres in print. Based on my experience in her session, it certainly would increase my talk because it gave me a vocabulary and a visual in which to apply it.

For those of you who are teaching or want to units on fantasy and historical fiction here is the language (some qualities) that your students can look for.


  • When do you see a quest emerge?
  • What kind of place is this? medieval? futuristic?
  • What are the rules here? Who has power? Social classes? Who is honored/worshipped?
  • Are there any myths/legends? sacred objects?
  • archetypes?
  • Hero/anti-hero/reluctant hero
  • villian
  • consort(love interest)
  • mentor
  • companions
  • -time changes quickly

Historical Fiction:

  • What kind of place this is (technology, terrain, who has power, social classes and roles, daily life)
  • historical conflict
  • personal conflict
  • archetypes: fearless leader, wise sage, unseen hero, loyal companion, scapegoat, helpless victim, savior

Film clips for fantasy: Sinbad, Treasure Planet beginnings

Film clip for historical fiction: Mulan beginning

However, I really wanted to see a discussion of analyzing how we read films and how this is similar to and different from books. I wanted an exploration of this concept of “transduction.” How do these genres look different and how are they constructed in different ways for screen and print? How can we use what our students know about films to teach concepts and genres in print? This could make an interesting redesign of reading workshop.

Reflections on the Saturday Conference

Most of you will attend the Teachers College Reading/Writing Project on Saturday. This is a space to reflect on the conference, and use it as a springboard for talking (actually writing) about literacy teaching and learning. You may want to talk about…

  • what you learned
  • questions you are pondering
  • connections you made to the ideas we’ve been exploring in class
  • ideas for your focal student or your own classroom practice.

What did you take away from the conference?