When I walked into ABYDOS (f.k.a. New Jersey Writing Project) training today, I, like all the other participants, was greeted with the sign above, posing the invitation, “We’re Writing. Won’t you join us?” What an excellent way to kick off a 12 day professional development session on writing!

As a practitioner of Nanci Atwell’s In the Middle writing/reading workshop approach to teaching writing, I expect this course to knock my socks off, taking me in farther down the rabbit hole when it comes to learning how to facilitate writing. Yet, that said, the work of writing advocates like Dr. Liz Stephens and Troy Hicks make it impossible to imagine that the approach I learned and practiced so many years ago should remain the same. So, while I want a deeper grasp of teaching writing, I want it with a decidedly technology-friendly twist.

I began the day writing, which is exactly the way I like to start my day. Although I promise to post my scratch-pad writings from activities during the day, I left my notebook on the table when I came home. So, those will probably appear as a separate blog post.

The structure of the day began with the writing invite and then progressed to a question and answer session….

  1. How do you think your students feel? Do they see writing going on in their lives?
  2. Do you write with your students–how and why?
  3. Not only should your students write, but you should write with them!
These ideas were shared and I was overjoyed to answer all of them in the affirmative. Yes, I have thought about how my students feel in class. Yes, I do ask them about the writing in their lives, and yes, I do write with my students. Yet, one of my “conflict” moments came when one teacher characterized “texting” as NOT writing. The idea wasn’t challenged and I suspect it was because of the desire to create a non-threatening environment. Yet, I do believe it needs to be challenged without hurting the person who expressed it.
One of the neat tools used was something called an Anchor Chart. It is a visual in the room that can be referred to…words or concepts around a particular idea expressed. Anchor Charts refer to points in the reading/conversation that strike us as we explore a topic. 
For example, the anchorchart for the morning centered on writing and…
  • Relevance
  • Statistics
  • Engaging story
  • Media format
  • Original idea
  • Personal connections
  • Similes/metaphors
  • Sensuous Metaphors
  • Help students come up with better leads and endings
The idea of reading like writers was also expressed.
There was some time spent where the facilitators read to us from the Acts of Teaching book, the equivalent of a writer’s bible for great ideas. Then, reflections were grouped as being SELF or OTHERS. The distinction was made between SELF being reflexive, while OTHERS as extensive.
Another fun activity was the Writing Journey, where you take a strip of paper and then map out your journey as a writer…what ideas influenced, who affirmed you, etc. The consensus of the group was that few of us had anyone to nurture us as young writers, and in some cases, writers were discouraged. I’ll have to include a picture of the assembled Writing Journeys.
Literacy, or a literate person, was defined as “an educated person who can read and write.” I found this definition from Dictionary.com to be a bit bare bones, inadequate to the needs of folks in technology-enhanced times that we live in…in fact, completely out of line with the Introduction in The Acts of Teaching book. Yet, this disconnect highlights how difficult it is for folks to make the transition from traditional approaches to writing facilitation (even Abydos) to different ones like those exemplified by Liz Stephens in Digital Makeovers.
In mid-stream I had a thought or image, and will share it here. It may be wrong, inaccurate, or it may be spot on. Nevertheless, I’m going to share it with no intent at causing offense.
For many years, I wanted to participate in New Jersey Writing Project. It’s a dream come true to be in the Abydos training now. Yet, I had a major pushback moment in the morning, and it made me realize that I was like a child who had dreamed of a toy, but when grown, found the toy to fall short of his dream.
Once I wrote that reflection down, I was able to lay aside my expectations and accept the training as it was…and that turned out to be a good thing!
My major push back moment? When I read the definition of Publishing: “The Journey ends when the writing goes public.” You can imagine my frustration with this statement that was accepted so easily by the assembled teachers. I immediately had Emily Dickinson quote in my head in retaliation:

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.” 

  —  Emily Dickinson 

I immediately dug out my blog entries on Dr. Liz Stephens’ frame–inside writing, responsive writing, purposeful writing, and social writing–and girded myself as if for war. Then, I took a deep breath and relaxed…and wrote my reflecton.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring pre-writing, including techniques such as free writing, wet-ink, free association, trigger words, and sentence stubs. You can see what sentence stubs include:

The facilitators skillfully moved us through a lot of content and strategies, giving us time to jigsaw portions of the Act of Teaching book. I commend them for their hard work and effort.

I found several ideas worth considering for use later, but rather than go into those now, I will share a poem that serves as a chapter quote in The Act of Teaching. The quote is by Richard Rhodes and applies to blogging, as well as “traditional writing:”

If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter.

If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page.

If writing a page is impossible, write a sentence.

If writing a sentence is impossible, write a word

and teach yourself everything there is to know about that word

and then write another, connected word and see

where the connection leads.

Where does the connection lead for you?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure