Mrs. D Taught Us!

This week the “For the Love of Reading” conference is celebrating National Library Week.  And who loves guylibrarianreading more than librarians?  Librarians are no longer just keepers of books, but a valuable instructional resource — a co-partner in teaching students skills in information-gathering, critical thinking, and evaluation.

Last week a friend came over to my house for some help with her research.  I got her into one of the university’s databases and had to leave to answer the door.  When I returned there was my 13-year-old daughter explaining boolean logic to her like it was her native language!  “The more terms you enter, the more narrow your search will be,” she said…and on and on.  I secretly wished that having a librarian mom was the reason she was so well versed in research lingo, but unfortunately it was not.  “Where in the world did you learn all that?” librarianHELPSI asked.  “Mrs. D taught us,” she said as she zipped out of the room.

Mrs. D., her librarian from elementary school, was a “partner in crime” with the teachers for school projects and papers.  She didn’t just sit behind a desk and check out books.  She was a librarian on the move, working alongside teachers to educate students in information literacy, literature and loving to read. LBlibraries

How can we as parents and educators support libraries and librarians’ efforts to instill a love of reading in our children?  The American Library Association offers these tips:

  1. Get to know your school librarian. Ask what the needs are and how you can help. Donations of books and equipment such as computers and video players may be welcome. Offer to volunteer your time.
  2. Join the Friends of the Library, a support group of volunteers who provide fundraising and other assistance. If there is no group, offer to start one.
  3. Help your child be school ready. Enroll your preschool child in story-hours and other programs at the public library. childCOMPlibraryMake sure your child has a library card and knows how to use it. Read together with your child. Research shows that children who are read to in the home do better in school.
  4. Be a role model. Let your child see you reading at home. Help your child explore new technology. Many school and public libraries make computers available for public use. Feel free to ask for assistance. DCC-library1
  5. Support legislators who support libraries and education. Let them know you think the two go together and should be a high priority.

See “The School Library: What Parents Should Know”

Posted by Kim Rollins. Kim has a Masters of Library and Information Science degree from Brigham Young University and is a librarian at Utah Valley University.

Jumping on the POETRY bandwagon…

I’m not really one for jumping on the bandwagon of national-this-or-that days, weeks or months. I promise…  I don’t even do much celebrating of less-than-national days, such as my grown kids’ birthdays (I live in shame for this), my own anniversary national-poetry-month(I go to therapy for this), or  National Day of Prayer (I go to church for this). However, there is one month-long celebration that I’m all in favor of. I go to great lengths to celebrate this one: National Poetry Month. As a passionate proponent of “doing” poetry with children in order to convince them that words are their friends (and very playful ones, at that), and as a “Ralph Fletcher convert” to poetry writing that every child can do (love, LOVE his book, Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out), poetry mattersI simply cannot resist building my own “bandwagon” and inviting my students, my family, my friends, and you, Dear Reader, to jump onboard!

Here are three elementary-teachers-should” truths that I know about …poetry cover1.   Elementary teachers should  have favorites – favorite poems and favorite poets.

2.     Elementary teachers should collect brief, clever, and delightful examples of poetry with which they can delight and entertain their students.

3.     Elementary teachers should nurture the natural poets children are, rather than assigning poetry.

Here are three elementary-teachers-shouldn’t” truths (I know these truths, thanks to Mike Tunnell & Jim Jacobs):

1.     Elementary teachers shouldn’t force and over-do poetry memorization & recitation.

2.     Elementary teachers shouldn’t force/assign all students to write poetry (particularly with rigid parameters, no matter how many lines or syllables called for).

3.     Elementary teachers shouldn’t force/assign heavy-duty analyzing of poems for their structures and meanings.

And finally, here are three elementary-teachers-can” truths that I know about poetry:

1.     Elementary teachers can  entice children with contemporary poems with humor and some sort of rhythm and rhyme.

2.     Elementary teachers can  empower children with writing poems when they demand fewer conventions and permit “poetic license.”

3.     Elementary teachers can inspire children as poets when they show them that (Ralph Fletcher’s idea here) writing a poem for someone is like giving blood.  It goes from the heart of the giver to the heart of the receiver. (I know, isn’t that brilliantly poignant?)

Are you ready to put your own poetic license“Poetic Teaching License” to work? Needing ideas for some fresh poetry to delight, entice and empower your students?  mooseThe scope of this blog post cannot include everything I wish teachers could know, understand, and do about poetry.  But I cannot resist an opportunity to unload a few things from my bandwagon, and leave them with you for yours:

Check out the Classroom Bookshelf Blog  and scroll through everything you will need, including book reviews, teaching ideas, and supporting resources.  Be sure to “search” the archives for the many new and wonderful poetry books they have included on their site!  Then…  well, in the words of Beatrice Schenk de Regniers,

“Keep a poem in your pocket and a picture in your head and you’ll never feel lonely…”PocketFULofPOEMS

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Ed.D., Professor of Elementary Education at Utah Valley University, and Co-Chair of “For the Love of Reading” conference. 

what-is-a-hero

Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?

This week we are kicking off new ways to share information that we hope will fill your classrooms, your children, or you with a love of reading. 

Our first topic, in celebration of the wonderful biographies that have been published recently, and over the past few years, is “personal heroes.” 

heroINhandA hero is what we call someone who displays courage or excellence, and/or self-sacrifice for some greater good, often in the face of danger and adversity, or from an original position of weakness. There are, of course, fictional heroes, mythological heroes, superheroes…  and then there are Real Heroes … real, as in reality. hero canThese are what great biographies for young people are all about. And the great thing about today’s biographies for young people is that readers can make their own minds up about what constitutes a hero, and about how heros inspires them.

Everyone loves heroes, especially as their understandings about the human experience grow and mature. Heroes come in many shapes and sizes, EleanorRooseveltand children’s literature is filled with fantastic examples. WrightBrosWe recommend having a class discussion or Socratic Seminar about heroes – what makes them, what happens to them, and what they accomplish during their lives. These discussions, when they include real examples from real lives, can be motivations for young people to read biographies and find some answers for themselves.

  • See Kristin Wright’s middle grades unit on Heroes.  KristinWright-Heroes_Unit  (Kristin Wright is an instructor in the School of Education at Utah Valley University).
  • See middle grade “4-Square” unit on Heroes through Biographies: Hero Essay & Instructional Unit Outline. For a list of selected biographies to accompany this unit, email the author: nancy.peterson@uvu.edu

Questions to inspire meaningful discussions about heros:

  • What makes someone a hero? 
  • What kinds of things happen to heroes?
  • What kinds of things have heroes accomplished?
  • What strengths and virtues have heroes exhibited?
  • What challenges and obstacles have heroes overcome?
  • Who helped the hero you read about?
  • How was your hero transformed?
  • What strengths of character do you share with individual heroes you’ve read about?

Included in this blog are links to some great websites to help facilitate discussions, as well as a couple of instructional units that can be adapted for older or younger students as they investigate the concept of heroism, or personal heroes.YOUaREhero

Who is your favorite hero?  Who have your read about?  Who would you like to read about next?

BIOGRAPHY BOOK

Looking for a book to love…

Valentine’s Day is past, and I’m feeling guilty that we didn’t re-post our guest blogger’s great Valentine’s Day tradition from last year, so here it is (just a couple of weeks late). It looks like spring may have sprung early (around here, anyway!) and I’m fearing that my leisurely reading hoursBook_Lovers_Day will be prematurely replaced by garden-planning and yard work.  I left my last “lost-in-the-book” experience behind when I drove home from our inspiring conference (UVU Forum on Engaged Reading) at the Chateaux in September.

 

I just haven’t lost myself in a good book, for way too long. Oh, I’ve enjoyed reading some new picture books, and some that are new to me even though they have been around for a while, and I’ve enjoyed classroom and office discussions of the books that my students and colleagues have been losing themselves in.  But I’m feeling pretty melancholy about this, BLANAand I’m starting to worry.  Maybe this is more than a midterm crisis for me – I’m thinking this is serious!  I can’t hear any of my night-stand stacks of “read-me-next” books calling to me.  I look through the Scholastic Book Order leaflets and notice some recent additions, but nothing is reaching out to me. I don’t feel drawn into  bookstores at the moment – not even my favorite ones.  I am stressing over feelings of  guilt about co-chairing a conference that fights the 21st Centure problem of “a-literacy,” while I am exhibiting symptoms of it myself. I don’t want to read a book to “get current” in my field, and I don’t want to read a book just because it received some recent (albeit prestigious) award. I just want to feel lost in a book again.  medalion book-loverI’m longing for a book that holds my heart in between my reading sessions, and that I can hold to my heart as I tell someone about it.

 

I recently came across a delightful poem written by Tom Robert Shields and published (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004) in Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and Illustrated by Karen Barbour. wonderful-wordsThe poem is “I Am the Book” and it promised to be my friend, stay by my side… bring dreams I’ll “forever keep,” to warm me, and to plant in me a “spring seedling…” while I am reading.  It promises,

 

“… I am the book

You are needing.”

 So, I decided to ask you…  any reader who may have stumbled onto this blog, in spite of the fact that it hasn’t been updated for some time – until now.  What do you suggest?  Is there a book that has been your friend…  brought dreams bklvr1you have “forever [kept],” and planted in you a “spring seedling – some book that you were needing and found — that you can share with me?  Please write soon., because you may know the book I am needing.  Yours truly, An Engaged Reader in Crisis

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Elementary Education at Utah Valley University, and Co-Chair of UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading

If I were desperate, I might even look into what Heidi and Jo March were doing.

Guest Blog Post by Mike Freeman

When I was young, I lived on a farm in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri, and literally went to school in a two-room country schoolhouse.  one_room_school_houseWe were the real Waltons with eight children in a smTOWNmainSTfive-room house.  Even going to town was a rarity, and I didn’t care to go anyway because standing around watching my sisters shop was not that thrilling.  My brothers liked to hunt and fish but I didn’t.  We didn’t have a television and videos didn’t exist.

One thing we did have was a set of the Great Illustrated Classics and I liked to read.  Over and over again I journeyed down the Mississippi with Huck and Jim, sought treasure with longJsJim Hawkins and Long John Silver, fought duels with d’Artagnan, answered the call of the wild with Buck, and discovered those grim Grimm’s tales.  If I were desperate, I might even look into what Heidi and Jo March were doing.  All of these books fed the imagination of distant times, worlds and sites, and saved my childhood from utter boredom.

Once a month the bookmobile from the county library would appear at our school, and our teacher would select a single representative from each grade to select the Bkmbooks for the month.  Though the student was instructed to select for everyone, a marked bias always seemed to surface.  I just couldn’t believe the kinds of books those girls would choose.

Nonetheless, I was hooked and now years later, with English and History and Library Science degrees under my belt, I still musketeerscan’t find enough time for the endless lists to read.  Now that I am older, I sometimes revisit those old classics and marvel even now how well they still capture my attention.  Reading is the opportunity to look into the minds and souls of people across the ages, and to ponder all the struggles that have created our modern world.  Reading connects our common humanity, and makes us consider other points of view and ways of life.  Mark Twain said that a man who won’t read is no better than a man who can’t read.  I couldn’t say it better.

mike2Mike Freeman is the Library Director at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT. He holds a bachelors and MLS from University of Missouri, and his MA in History from the University of Utah.  Prior to coming to UVU in 1993, Mike worked at the University of South Carolina and the Orem Public Library in Utah.  He is an ardent Mark Twain fan.

I need to read like a boy.

I need to read like a boy…

That’s right – I said read like a boy.  I’m a girl, all grown up, having raised a boy who is now all grown up, and I still do not know what it is in a book that will capture a boy’s heart and soul boys1girl lovingBOOKSand help him become a reader for life.  I do know that all three of my girls loved being read to from the first moment I did it.  All I had to do was hold them close, let them see the book, and let them feel my love for them and the words and the illustrations. Once they grew out of my lap for story time, all I had to do was lie down on the living room floor, or the bed beside them, and read. Reading “like a girl” was easy, and I loved it!

My son, however, was a different story.  ”On-the- lap” story time for the two of us was short-lived because boyENGINEERI mother_reading_to_baby_boycouldn’t get him to stay there long enough for a story!  He was one of those kids who love taking things apart and playing with all of those parts.  Maybe some of your daughters do that, too, but this was my experience only with my son. I will love Eric Hill Eric_Hillforever.  My discovery of his lift-the-flap books about a puppy called “Spot,” finally did reward me with a daily story in the lap, and together we discovered many other delightful, engineered books. We had just a few weeks of “in the lap” story time. Before long, I passed him off to some wheres-spotwonderful, book-loving teachers who introduced him, Where's SpotINSIDEthrough a journey unknown to me, to fantasy and science fiction, which he continues to read … and write!

Once I passed my son to those teacher-guides, I went back to my own choices for reading, and I never figured out the key to getting real_men_read_sweatshirtguys to read.  I know that guys reading Young_boy_readingis a cause that has been taken up by many authors out there, and I’m willing to take a look at what they have to say, and to learn from them.  But in the end, I really would like to read like a boy.

I found someone to emulate!  In her blog entry on July 15, 2011, Ruth got my attention! (I just love the blog’s title). In this blog entry on “Teaching With Joy and Purpose” I find good company, and an example for my quest to “reading like a boy.” Here are Ruth’s own words:

“What I have realized is that even if I’m familiar with titles and authors and summaries and reviews, truly connecting with readers is hard when you don’t ever read the same kinds of things they do. Besides, my selections for read alouds, book clubs, reading groups and even independent reading suggestions may make it hard for student readers who are not drawn to the same type of reading I am. The other problem is that I end up with very limited experience to draw upon when supporting these readers. I may not understand as a reader how these texts are set up, how the plots tend to work, or what strategies may really help readers navigate and understand and enjoy and share with others what they are reading.”

Ruth is so right!  And she confirms my belief in her as a model to follow by sharing her personal list of books for readingBoys_Reading that summer.  Since at least 1,000 new books for boys have been published since Ruth’s list, I would love to hear about recentBD1234-001.jpg “boy books” that you, readers of this blog, have discovered since 2011.  Please share!

The Toilet Paper Tigers (G. Korman)

Oggie Cooder (S. Weeks)
A Whole Nother Story (Dr. C. Soup)
The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1 (H. Black, T. DiTerlizzi)
100 Cupboards (N.D. Wilson)

Fablehaven, Book 1 (B. Mull)                  childrens-books

The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow (T. Kehoe)

Powerless (M. Cody)
Stink-o-pedia (M. McDonald)
NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society (M. Buckley)

And, if you happen to be in the market for a good, recent list yourselves, consider coming to UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading this coming September 19th  and 20th in Park City, Utah.  GuyREADINGsteveLAYNESbkJoining us to inspire a love of reading are “boy book” authors and fans, GuysREADatOURconfalong with other great authors and fans, all who desire, as I do, to discover many paths to life-long loving of reading.

Meet Steve Sheinkin… next year!

Because we want to give this year’s audience attending UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading, a preview of next year’s program, I want to introduce you to Steve Sheinkin, SteveSheinkinone of the Keynote Presenters for UVU’s 2014 Forum on Engaged Reading.  I “found” Steve on Ink Think Tank itt-logo — a great website that is a true “think tank” of nonfiction authors.  In Steve’s bio, he confesses to being a recovering textbook author… whose mission is to simply prove to kids that his­tory is actu­ally cool.”  You’ll probably recognize a couple of his books:  The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story About Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery (Square Fish Publications, 2013) and Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War (Roaring Brook Press, 2008).

Notorious Benedict2MiserablePres

Whether or not you recognize those books, you’re sure to be interested in his most recent one, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2013), and the one just before that (a Newbery Honor Book), Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon BombBook(Flashpoint Publications, 2012). These books aren’t “your mother’s nonfiction” — these are “thrillers and adventure stories first” so that Sheinkin’s readers will want to read them!

 lincolns-grave-robbers

Since the Common Core State Standards have shifted the focus of teaching comprehension and writing of complex nonfiction, it’s refreshing to find authors like Steve, who lure kids (and their teachers) in to the wonderful world of facts and details that make history come alive.

If you join us (UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading) in October of 2014, you’re sure to become a Steve Sheinkin fan, as I have. SteveSgiving.talk In preparing for this blog post, I read a blog post by Sheinkin, himself, where he refers to his writing as detective work.  “… a nerdy kind of detective work,” he says, “but still… My job is to find stories, and I read books to look for clues, follow leads, gather evidence.” Wow, what an example for our students!

I’ll end this blog with just a bit of serendipity: at the end of Sheinkin’s blog post, author Jim Murphy makes a comment…  and guess what?  Jim Murphy is Keynoting this year’s Forum on Engaged Reading (Sept. 19 & 20, 2013).  So, Dear Reader, I hope you have become a believer: our conference — “For the Love of Reading” — is just a gift that will keep on giving, to you and to your students!  See you there!

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Teacher Education at Utah Valley University, and Co-Chair of UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading

Pennypacker and Frazee to Keynote at “For the Love of Reading” Conference…

It’s time!  I’ve been holding back, saving it up…  but I can’t hold back any longer.  I must write about my new friend, Clementine!  (In reality, my new friends are Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee, because they created my new, little friend, Clementine, in their delightful books all about her:  Clementine, The Talented Clementine, Clementine’s Letter, Clementine: Friend of the Week, Clementine and the Family Meeting (the one I’m currently reading), and the newest installment, Clementine and the Spring Trip, which I have just ordered.

I would love to find a child reader of these Clementine books to write or collaborate on a guest blog about these books from a child’s perspective.  I can only report what has been reported to me by my college students who have read the books to their elementary students…  children at any elementary grade level love having any of these books (especially the first book) read to them, and then they are hooked!  The children want to read them all!  In this blog post, however, I can only tell you about these books from my perspective as a children’s literature professor, an elementary language arts professor, and as a parent and grandparent.

The author, Sara Pennypacker, will be a keynote speaker along with the illustrator Marla Frazee, at our upcoming (in just three months!) UVU Forum on Engaged Reading (see www.uvuengagedreading.org). I really consider Pennypacker and Frazee “co-creators” of my little friend, Clementine.  Although I would certainly enjoy Pennypacker’s fresh prose, characterization, and clever voice of these books on their own merit, without illustration, I cannot separate the total package we get with Frazee’s precious illustrations which complete the characterization and voice of Clementine – a precocious, bright, and innocently mischievous nine-year-old, who, with the help of a slightly older best friend, two loving parents, a teacher or two, and a very patient elementary school principal, is trying to make sense of her happy world.

What do I love so much about this book?  Well, as a children’s literature professor, I love how the text and the illustrations so magically create the setting and characters, and even the plot! I’m not going into examples here… you’ll find them for yourself in just the first few pages of any of the books.  As an elementary language arts professor, I love how the author plays with language as she allows Clementine, the protagonist, to play with language – with just the right words to give the reader all the dimensions of a precocious little girl.  (One of hundreds of examples is how Clementine wants “bracelets” on her teeth once she sees Margaret’s colored and sparkling braces. Additionally, Clementine keeps a “writer’s notebook,” of sorts, as well as a sketchpad, and as I read this book aloud to my college students, they get great ideas about using those in their future classrooms. (My students learn a lot about the kind of teachers they want to be, even while they are rolling on the floor with laughter over what I read to them).  Which leads me to the other thing I love about these books – they are written with such clever word choice and dialogue that they actually feed me with a read-aloud voice that my students swear is the true Clementine!  They tell me two and three years later that every time they read Clementine books to their students, they hear me reading to them.

And finally, what I love about these books as a parent (and new grandparent), is how much I admire Clementine’s parents… for their unconditional love for their daughter, and how they honor her unique view of life and the world… how they support her in her hopes and dreams, and how they seem to quickly overcome their consternation with her because they know her and know her heart.  Good heavens, I sound like I’m talking about real people!  Well, that’s how good these books are!

Please join us at the Chateaux Resort in Park City, Utah, as we celebrate with this author and this illustrator (along with several others) the power of children’s literature to create a life-long love for reading.

I was attracted to the book because of its title: Creative Power: The Nurture of Children’s Writing, by Ronald L. Cramer. That title makes me wish had written that book!  I bought it and read it, and I keep going back to it… Would you believe, Cramer actually tells his readers that if we are unable to “hear” his voice in this book, to lay it aside and pursue some other enlightening activity!  I’m telling you, his book renews my courage for making bold statements such as…

Thinking is part of writing, and writing is thinking.

Children come wired for writing.  

Our job is not so much teaching writing as it is discovering children’s writing ability.

Cramer isn’t afraid to say it, and does so right up front, in the beginning of his first chapter:     “Writing emerges from the crib with the first thought, the first sound uttered, the first mark scribbled.”

             Cramer goes on to make a wonderful case about the fact that “writing facilitates thinking,” and as such, it is “the supreme intellectual achievement of humankind” (p. 2). And then he presents five characteristics of writing that influence thinking:

1.    Writing is visible.  This means it can be manipulated to help us discover relationships among ideas we might have missed if thought depended only on verbal expression.

2.    Writing is permanent. While oral language un-captured is soon forgotten, writing “leaps the bonds of time and space.”  Cramer says writing gives “eternal life” to our words and ideas.  He says “Writing is the repository of humanity’s accumulated knowledge.

3.    Writing is active. Cramer says it is a “search for meaning” requiring the fullest possible use of mental capacity.  It requires physical action, including “handwriting, spelling, punctuation, depressing keys on a typewriter or computer, erasing, crossing out, rereading, rewriting.” 

4.    Writing is precise. While it is not inherently precise because of how it is subject to the actions and understandings of the sender and the receiver, it does “discipline the mind into precise formulation of its thoughts.”

5.    Writing focuses thinking.  Cramer says that the writing process “enables us to summon thoughts out of darkness and into light.” 

 

“Language is a miracle…” says Cramer (p. 5) and as a pivotal event in a child’s life, the acquisition of it cannot help but make us want to know how it happens. And, he spends the rest of his first chapter briefly reviewing how the major theorists of child development and learning back this up.

I was so enamored by these lofty ideas that I had to find out more about this author, Ronald L. Cramer.  I googled him.  (Yes, really! And I found a photo, plus a long and distinguished list of his credits).  He is impressive, as the documentation of his career shows, but I found the best indication of his “teacher-heartedness” and proof that we are kindred spirits when I went back to the preface of the book I have discussed in this blog.  I may be in trouble for quoting so much of his preface, but I’m telling you, my heart just sings when I read his words:

I believe children are creative; I believe that creativity is as natural to children as breathing. I also believe that its manifestations are often kept under lock and key, that children are reluctant to exhibit their creative instincts if they suspect their gifts will not be well received, it they sense hostility, if they sense indifference.  Good teachers strive to unlock children’s creative potential; they understand that the mind and spirit of a child is as fragile as it is malleable. Children are artists of language, not language scholars. They use language not to impress but to express. Given a little fall of rain from a fine teacher, children can make the flowers grow (p. xiv).

Doesn’t that just make you want to be a “fine teacher”… one that can offer a “little fall of rain”?  Here’s more:  All children possess creative potential; it is resident in them from the beginning, but too often it is creative power unrealized. Someone has to tell them; someone has to apprise them of their ‘wonderful ideas.’ Someone has to entice talent out of the closets of children’s minds (p. xiii)

 Well, he had me back at “the mind and spirit of a child is as fragile as it is malleable.” But here’s where I leave him with you:

And who might that someone be? Teachers, parents, peers, but especially teachers. It is our mission; it is our sacred duty (p. xiii).  Amen!

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Teacher Education at Utah Valley University.

This is the classroom I’m dreaming of…

Imagine writing at the heart of classroom life… teacher and students valuing themselves and each other on paper… Can you imagine it!  Imagine how books and reading are second nature to these children, instead of a “subject” that has to be scheduled, grouped and graded. Authors in this classroom are friends and mentors, and in this place, children seek them out, write letters to them, get to know them and emulate them. This is the classroom I dream of. This is the classroom I would give up my office, my Ph.D. diploma, and my rank and tenured position for. If I thought I could find it, create it, observe it, support it, and help it thrive… I’d be there.  I mean it! Why is this so hard to find? Does anyone out there know a classroom like the one I have described?

 Oh, I know that by the time kids roll into high school, writing has become, for some of them, a measure of prowess. Not for all of them, though, because I still read more than a fair share of college papers that wouldn’t pass 9th grade English comp. The fact is, many intelligent, articulate people (including adults!) seem to enjoy preserving much of themselves on paper. Some types of writing may have increased because of texting, blogging, and every other technological form of literacy we have witnessed over the past 20 years, but since most classrooms around here still rely heavily on papers and pencils, I still lament this sad state of writelessness.  

I’m going to go out on a limb here.  I’m going to be bold.  I’m going to stick my neck out on this issue.  Here goes: elementary teachers (even kindergarten teachers) who neglect or underestimate what kind of writing and how much writing children are capable of and, elementary teachers who are quietly or secretly holding out for when technology takes over and makes writing instruction an extinct practice and a non-issue for them, really ought to get out of the classroom.  Really, I wish they would! Get with it or get out of it.

Here’s the saddest truth, and the biggest waste of classroom time I know: children can think. What they think, they can say. What they can say, they can draw, and what they can draw, they can write. When they do a lot of this thinking, talking, drawing, writing and sharing in an environment where they consistently feel inspired, validated and empowered, they quickly become good at thinking and writing, or thinking and drawing and writing. I am not talking about children sitting in a classroom and being coerced, pushed, drilled or required to fill in the blanks or to copy mundane gibberish that is composed and produced by grown ups. I am talking about watching and listening as their teachers and their friends, who are their own size (or slightly taller in the classrooms down the hall), talk and draw and write, and share what they’ve written. I’m talking about where books are read and celebrated, and where book authors become as real to the children as their own friends and neighbors are, and where the books discussed and analyzed copied in ways that would very much flatter the authors, were they there to witness the work. I’m talking about classrooms where children are, as I said before, validated, inspired, and empowered as writers, and then very clearly celebrated as such. Yes!  Imagine writing at the heart of the classroom.

Posted by Nancy Peterson, Professor of Teacher Education, Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah & Co-Chair of UVU’s Forum on Engaged Reading