Slice of Life: A Day at Teachers College


Four days of conferences in three different locations in one week sounds like too much, doesn’t it? But I did it, and survived! From a day at Teachers College with six colleagues for a day-long immersion into the Writing Units of Study to the Connecticut Reading Conference with Peter Johnston, Lester Laminack, Christine Hertz, Mary Howard, and Linda Hoyt, my brain felt like it was ready to explode as I drove home Friday afternoon. But in a good way!

Our day at Teachers College was a huge success. I spent the day with my two first grade colleagues learning more about writing workshop in K-2 from the amazing Shanna Schwartz, while four teachers from our school spent the day learning about 3-5 writing workshop with Lucy Calkins. Needless to say, we had plenty to talk about on the drive home.

3-5 teachers loved meeting Lucy Calkins.
3-5 teachers loved meeting Lucy Calkins.

I took nine (!) pages of notes, so I’m not going to attempt to distill them all into one post. Rather, here are a few of my key takeaways.

“Writing Workshop Bill of Writers”
“We apprentice children in the life of a writer”

All children have the right to…

Time to write
Units based in authentic genres
Knowledge of conventions
Skills and strategies for writing
Understanding of the writing process

In other words, our students deserve nothing less than to do “what real writers do in a writing life.”

Shanna stressed the importance of collaboration and feedback, and I love this idea: “Our best writing is the writing we work on on our own and with feedback from others. Feedback is a gift.”

On revision, Shanna had this to say: “Revision is a complement we give our best work.” Isn’t that a wonderful idea?

The importance of read alouds and mentor texts was also emphasized: “A writer can’t write what they haven’t heard or read.” and “Read alouds help readers/writers think about what writing can sound like.”

Shanna also talked about the importance of beginning the year with narrative writing. She explained that narrative is the “first way we exist in the world” and that “when we meet people, we tell them our story.” Shanna reminded us that “story is the first kind of reading we do.” Finally, she pointed out that “story is the building block of every other kind of writing…small stories are often included in informational and opinion writing.”

When conferring with children, Shanna suggested we begin by saying, “Tell me about what your working on in this story.” After listening to the writer’s response, “think about what will make this writer stronger and more independent.” She also urged us to “give compliments that are productive by noticing a behavior and tell them the effect that behavior” has on their writing. This type of praise will “encourage them to do it again,” and thus help them become more independent. Independence is the goal, after all.

If there was any common thread to all I learned last week, the idea of independent learners is it. As Lucy Calkins wrote in A Guide to the Reading Workshop: Primary Grades (Heinemann, 2015), “the goal…is not only to teach kids to read [and write], but to help them grow up to be people who value reading [and writing].

By the way, look who got a shout-out:


Pretty good company, don’t you think?

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

5 thoughts on “Slice of Life: A Day at Teachers College

  1. Wow, Catherine, it sounds awesome. I won’t comment on everything except independence is so important to me, empowering kids to write and to love the doing of it. And, love that revision quote!


  2. You have been busy. Your mind must be swimming with all the ideas. I love (and try to practice) so much of what you captured. I look forward to hearing more.


  3. Thanks for the quotes!
    Independence is critical. I’m enjoying watching an independent young man roll over by himself. How do we celebrate those moments of independence at school? In reading? In writing? AND with JOY?

    Looking forward to seeing you at NCTE!


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