Hello from the Other Side…

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Connection is the product of investment: somethings only makes sense from the inside.

As teachers, when fostering a growth mindset, we can’t just look through the window at other peoples’ efforts. In this case, the “people” I am referring to are our students.

It’s different on the inside.

Consider this line of thinking:

  • Are you on the inside?
  • Do you think it is easier to teach from within?
  • Is identifying and then mentoring student writers in a conference more manageable from the inside?
  • Do teaching points come more naturally while navigating on the inside track, alongside your students?
  • Is pedagogical dialogue more effective to have with colleagues who are on the inside?

If you answered yes…consider why this is true?

Understanding what goes on, on the inside…as a learner, as a reader, and as a writer is critical to the growth and success of both the teacher and the student.

Contemplate this. You are trying to lose 15, maybe 20 pounds and your best friend tries to give you advice. The only problem is, she doesn’t have any weight to lose…nor has she ever even had to think about how many calories she consumes in a day! Do you even listen to her? Her advice may make sense, but you are annoyed by it…by her. She says she’s seen every Dr. Oz show on weight loss and she knows how it works…but does she really? What personal experience does she have with trying to lose weight? The answer is -none.

The same holds true with what we teach. Does our knowledge of writing far exceed our experience of it? Do we “teach” kids how to write without ever picking up the pencil and writing ourselves? Now I’m not just talking about modeling a conclusion, a hook, or a detailed sentence or two that we magically craft in front of our students. No, I’m talking about the nitty-gritty, down and dirty of process writing alongside our students, step by messy step.

Writing in perfect form in front of or out of view from our students and then utilizing our work as an exemplar sends a false message of what writing is really like. It isn’t neat, pretty, or wrapped in colorful paper, topped with a bow. Writing is raw, personal, unpolished, and a constant work in progress. Affording students the opportunity to see us struggle, to hear what we wrote last night in our writers notebook (what we really wrote), to watch as we turn page after heart-felt filled page of beautiful imperfection, to see us find a line we fiddled with from last month’s poetry unit and fit it perfectly into the narrative we’ve been working to craft is the good stuff! The real stuff. Raw, authentic and true to what the process actually looks like…warts and all.

This transparency of thought and vulnerability of intention demonstrates the elbow grease that earns us the right to teach in a conference. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, but we’re also still doing it! It gives students a sense of, “I can do this too!” And as a result, it consequently makes us better writers and better teachers of writing. Our rewards can be found in the empathetic ear we now possess as we listen and coach from “within” when conferencing with our writing cherubs! Teaching points will become clearer as we carefully reflect upon each unique student piece, and the next steps that will feed each writer forward will flow from the hands-on, experienced, knowledgeable mind of the writer within us…all of this because we’ve crossed over from the other side. Welcome to their side. Welcome to the inside.

Hello from the Other Side…

-Val Piccini

56 thoughts on “Hello from the Other Side…”

  1. As always, Val, you make me think about what I do and why I do it.
    I have not conferenced much this year. I need to. And I need to do it right. Thanks for making me think!

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    1. Carol,
      Conferencing is the easiest element of writing workshop to put on the back burner, but the most important and influencing factor in the growth of our writers. A great resource to look into is Carl Anderson. Thanks for sharing your thinking.

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  2. Dear Val,
    Thanks for the list of ways to push our thinking- thought prompts and the boxes and bullets idea. I think that these will work well in my first grade classroom. Jennifer States (Marion Center)

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  3. Thank you for your insight and for illuminating a new perspective on teaching writing. I agree that it is important for children to see our sample of writing in its “rawest” form. The cake and icing poster was very helpful. A copy handout would be great during your next presentation. Thanks again!

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    1. Hi Taking Down the Fence — Are you one of our awesome STINGER staff members? If so, can you let Mrs. D know who you are?

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  4. Thank you for all of the great ideas. Our first grade team is working collaboratively with our reading specialists to use the thought prompts and boxes/bullets into our writing lessons.
    Lori Hudzicki

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  5. Thank you for the “hands-on” presentation! I’m excited to implement close reading and boxes and bullets into my lessons. My partner and I really liked the thought prompts and were thinking of blowing them up for the kids to see on a daily basis.

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    1. Definitely utilize the Thought Prompts as an anchor in your classroom. Consider adding each way to push their thinking one at a time in conjunction with authentic application. This will solidify the learning and ensure future student use of the prompt.

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  6. I enjoyed your presentation at Marion Center on Monday. I’m excited to use some of your ideas and strategies in my first grade classroom, and you mentioned some interesting research that I plan on looking into more deeply. Thanks for your time!

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    1. Taking a fresh look at the teaching and learning in your classroom is exciting! Please let me know if you need any additional resources to enhance your professional inquiry of research.

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  7. Thank you for presenting and sharing your knowledge of close reading and TDA responses at my school. You have given me more confidence in teaching students how to tackle a TDA. I found that I was mainly focusing on finding the evidence (cake). Now I am including the reaction piece of thinking and explaining (icing). The Thought Prompts you gave us are helpful. Our TDA responses are more balanced thanks to you! My students enjoy being detectives while searching for evidence in their reading. They make a T-Chart and record the “cake” on the left and their “icing” on the right. We are also sharing our thoughts more with table talk and elbow partners. Plans for next week include “The Other Side”, creating individual cake posters, and utilizing GoMaps! Thank you for the spark you ignited in my classroom.

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    1. Val – You would be so impressed by Christie’s students, their writing samples, and everything she has already been able to use to motivate “our young authors!” It’s so exciting seeing our students grow as authors and “thinkers!”

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  8. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of close reading and TDA essays. I am now more confident in teaching students to tackle a TDA. Plans for next week include Go Maps, “The Other Side”, boxes & bullets, tweeting a theme, and creating icing and cake posters.

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  9. Val,
    Thank you for your wealth of knowledge!You are an awesome presenter. I fully enjoyed the day. I am positive that myself, and my co-workers all walked away with something valuable to incorporate in our classrooms. I know I will be working with my students to focus more on the “icing” , when writing. My students tend to focus on the “cake”‘. I am also looking forward to checking in on your blog to see how your writing workshops go. Thanks for sharing! Amy (MCASD)

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    1. Amy,
      Thanks for the feedback and for your participation in the workshop. Professional learning for teachers should be fully enjoyed… and you should walk away with something valuable as you stated. I’m happy to hear that that was the consensus yielded from our time together. Enjoy trying out all the new strategies we investigated.

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  10. After reflecting on your wonderful presentation, I am interested in your writing lab. I would like to know your schedule as a reading specialist and how you balance teaching classes with the writing lab in your district. Your presentation provided insight into the importance of story time at the primary level and modeling the thought prompts for students. If we all use the common language of thought prompts our students will internalize this language and be on their way to citing evidence.

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    1. It is so exciting to see how this common language is already taking hold in our schools! That’s what is exciting about a TEAM . . . the effort is multiplied exponentially so the growth explodes. Our students are writing and talking like never before!!

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  11. Your energy helped to communicate your message and we could all sense you were on the “inside” of the struggle to teach writing, alongside us. That follows the concept of this entry. Your message was both clear and well received because we could relate to your struggle and see from the same viewpoint! If nothing else, the idea that students learn well from peers is key. When the teacher is the peer, who carries expertise to the conversation, success will inevitably follow.

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  12. Thank you for a wonderful presentation! I really enjoyed listening to and learning from what you had to say. I’m looking forward to trying to use the strategies with my 3rd grade math class. I’m currently working on using the boxes and bullets as a type of summary activity for division! Thanks again for your time!

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  13. Thanks for helping me get back on track with my writers. I was all about this in the beginning of this school year, using all of the great ideas from the Calkins books that I bought, and from your workshop. Then, life got crazy, and I lost my momentum. I needed a little refresher, and I got it! I’m excited to go back to school tomorrow and get back into it! Thanks again! I’ll probably see you this summer!

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  14. Thanks so much for your presentation and energy on a Monday morning! Looking forward to collaborating with my co-workers to implementing close reading.

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  15. Val,
    As a team, we implemented the close reading strategies that you introduced to us, utilizing resources we have used in previous years, as well as Scholastic News and Pinterest (Have you seen the Oreo cookie idea?! It looks like a great way to introduce the concept of close reading). We are pleased with the immediate results. Students were accepting and interested in using these new techniques. Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas and helpful resources!

    Second Grade Teachers at McCreery

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  16. Val,
    Thank you for sharing so much valuable information. I am looking forward to making my students better writers, and the tools you graciously provided in your presentation (@ MC) will help me get on the right track.
    You have the perfect personality for a presenter!
    Thanks again,
    Alyssa Antalis

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  17. Thank you for your knowledge of close reading & TDA responses at my school. I’ve added some of your thought prompts to our class list. I really like the analogy of cake and icing and can’t wait to start using it after the PSSA and next year since I don’t want to confuse our system now.

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  18. Hello Val,
    Thank you for your concrete ideas on how to improve writing for both myself as well as my students. You are right, they need to see me struggle with the same process so they know that a polished piece doesn’t automatically happen. It takes work, editing, and many revisions. I also like your cake and icing idea focusing on the analysis and thought interpretation as opposed to finding facts. I think our students need to be able to interpret text along with their viewpoints as well as make inferences based on the facts given. It allows a more well-rounded analysis of the text at hand. Thanks again! – Julie B 🙂 (Marion Center)

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  19. Val,
    Thank you for presenting to us at MC. You did an outstanding job and even though I am a Math person I enjoyed the day listening to your wonderful ideas!! Thanks again and have a GREAT weekend!!!
    MAX

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  20. One of the best parts of our training at MCASD was the fact that for the day we experienced what our own students’ experiences. As a teacher (and counselor), I always reflected on my lessons and thought . . . what would it be like to be in my class that day? Would my “bumper” be hurting from sitting? Would I think anything really related to me? Was I allowed to use my own “gifts” to demonstrate my learning? How would I feel after the class? Would I have had a personal connection with the learning? Would I be excited about school and learning?
    As I was reflecting on your piece, I immediately thought of one of my favorite quotes “Don’t judge my journey until you have walked in my path!” by an unknown author. Whether you want to be known as an evaluator or not, evaluation is a crucial part of an administrator’s role. People feel judged, and if people don’t’ think you have any knowledge of what you’re judging… your feedback and thoughts fall on deaf ears.
    Within the past month, I have had the chance to reflect of the importance of “walking in someone else’s shoes!” I experienced the life of the student during your session, but I need to experience the life of the teacher in terms of Close Reading and TDAs in order to be an effective “coach” and motivator. TDAs and Close Reading are a new way of looking at our teaching and student learning. Since TDAs/Close Reading weren’t in the mix while I was a teacher, I haven’t taught in “this world!” This led me to think about Harper Lee in the book “To Kill A Mocking Bird who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. I want to be an administrator who is in touch with her students and her staff. Life is busy, but I am dedicated to “living” my staff’s point of view. I’ve scheduled some close reading lessons so my staff can see I’m not afraid “to climb into their skin.” I know it won’t be perfect, but I refuse to sit “On the Outside!”

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    1. Susan,
      It’s a rare species (principal) to roll up her sleeves and teach a class, while learning alongside her teachers. That personal and professional contribution in and of itself is genuine and both student and teacher driven. I’m sure you’ll find that digging your heels back into the teaching and learning process in an authentic environment will be invigorating, inspiring, engaging…and dare I say- fun! I can’t wait to hear how it goes! Thank you for all you do!
      ~ Val

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for sharing your strategies and ideas at the MCASD in-service day. What I found most helpful was the list of thinking prompts. I gave them to my ELA students this past week when we were working on a TDA essay. I had several students comment on how it made analyzing their evidence much easier, and how they really liked having them. Thanks again!

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  22. Val,
    Hello! Thank you for sharing the Shape Go story map. It was little preparation for me to use with my students as we summarized the story “Stone Soup”. They liked the organizer so we added the map to their ELA binders for students to use as personal anchor charts.
    Marion Center School District RT3rd

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  23. Thanks for your valuable insight into the world of writing. Your boxes and bullets strategy was awesome and the thought prompts you handed out have been especially helpful. I am also interested in learning more about your writing lab. Thank you for your energy while presenting! Your passion for writing really shows!

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  24. Val,
    Hello! I used the Shape Go Map graphic organizer in class to summarize the story “Stone Soup”. It was easy to use and the students have added it to their ELA binders for future reference. Thanks!
    Marion Center School District 3rd/RT

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  25. I have had a wonderful experience in my classroom incorporating the frosting. Moving the students to the analytical portion of writing has been a real growing experience for them and they get so much more out of the text. Thanks you for the logical presentation and for the chance to practice.

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  26. Thank you for the insight Val. I agree that modeling in front of our students is such a key element that often gets overlooked in the educational world. I realize that my students enjoy the thinking I do out loud with them as I am modeling writing together with them. One thing that I find very true in “The Other Side” is that entire writings need shared and modeled with students. This process of working your mind and thoughts with the students minds and thought processes make it not only a team effort, but also it teaches them what you as a teacher must do to complete the structures and processes of writing. I find it equally important that students see that it is okay for mistakes to be made, thoughts can and should be changed to create a masterpiece. The team effort that we are all in it together has also developed a community of willing writers in my classroom. Thank you Val for the Act 80 day presentation. I’ve been able to use some of the material and ideas in my classroom.
    Wendy

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  27. Val,
    Thanks for your presentation at MC. We really appreciated your sharing techniques that you have tried yourself with students at your school. It is always helpful to meet with someone who is really working with students.
    (Mrs. D.: I posted a comment before, but put it on the wrong blog.)

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  28. Enjoyed your presentation at MC! Excited to use boxes and bullets in my social studies class to make my students better writers!

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  29. Hi Val thank you for all of the information you provided to us during your presentation. At the Kindergarten Level we are always amazed at how much kids really can do when given opportunities to expand their thinking.

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  30. Thank you for the strategies you shared, and for relating them to younger students. I do not work with younger students, but my students are working at the lower levels. I do wish there was more suggestions/strategies for getting our lower readers to be better writers. I know we discussed this quickly, but the true difficulty, especially on state assessments, is the fact that many of my students cannot read the passages or prompts to respond.

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  31. Hi Val! Great inservice day! I loved the “Box and Bullets” strategy you use to start brainstorming a writing! This makes it very easy for my Read 180 students to get their big ideas down quickly!

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  32. Thank you for your presentation and information that was shared. Modeling writing for our students is such a key element…and I have to admit that while I continuously model writings that we are working on in class, I do not share enough of my own, personal writings and struggles that I experience. Our students enjoy and have a connection when we share our struggles and successes! Thank you for sharing the boxes and bullets. I work with my students to compose their writing (and organizers) in a similar way; but, in the future it may be beneficial as a building to be using a common language that we can build upon. Your enthusiasm was engaging!

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