Margin Notes

WRITING, REDEFINED BY SHAWNA COPPOLA

Nov
03

I have been a Shawna Coppola fan for a while now. I found her on twitter a few years ago. Her tweets about teaching writing have really made me reflect on my own notions and biases of what “counts” as writing. I’ve also enjoyed reading her zines and seeing her watercolour paintings on Facebook.  Also, her dog is adorable.

Her new book is Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose (Stenhouse Publishers, 2020).

I feel all writing teachers should read this book!

Shawna brilliantly, and with a great deal of humour, shows us how our print-heavy writing workshop is damaging to our students’ writing lives and identities. She argues that we are missing out on some pretty amazing writing opportunities when we only “allow” pencil and paper as tools in our writer’s workshop. 

Shawna explains why other modes and forms of composition (visual, aural, etc.) should be part of our writer’s workshop. She equips us with the language to explain why we are teaching those forms and modes (to folks who might look at us quizzically) and the confidence that we are still teaching to the writing standards if we incorporate zines, podcasts, videos, picture books, infographics, etc. In Chapter 2, she lays out the “elements of inquiry” that we can use to introduce different forms and modes (no matter the age of the group).

Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose” by Shawna Coppola is a book that our students need us to read.

Learn more about Shawna Coppola here.

BUILDING BIGGER IDEAS: A PROCESS FOR TEACHING PURPOSEFUL TALK BY MARIA NICHOLS

Sep
24

“If learning, particularly that which takes place in a classroom, floats on a sea of talk, what kind of talk? And, what kind of learning?” ~ Simpson and Mercer

Bigger IdeasIn Building Bigger Ideas Maria Nichols defines talk as purposeful when it honors constructive intent, harnesses the power of varied perspectives, and engages participants over expanded time and space. Purposeful talk thrives in a dialogic space, “the shared dynamic space of meaning that opens up between or among participants in a dialogue. It forms as we immerse fully with thoughts that compel us, wrestle with the tug of varied perspectives, and construct unexpected new ideas with others.”

According to Nichols, two critical conditions for cultivating dialogic spaces are supporting children as they engage with each other and supporting children as they engage with ideas. In this context, “learning communities put talk to work, and the work of talk creates social bonds that continually strengthen the community.”

We can teach purposeful talk by teaching about talk as our students make meaning through talk. Building Bigger Ideas offers a responsive three-step framework:

  • focus children on aspects of purposeful talk behaviors,
  • facilitate as children engage with ideas and each other, and
  • offer feedback that links purposeful talk behaviors to the process of constructing meaning.

Using this framework, we can teach students to hear all voices, grow ideas, and negotiate meaning. The goal is to establish an environment where students use talk with independence to collaborate and build community. Purposeful talk, in the words of IDEO’s David Kelley, helps “you get to a place you just can’t get to in one mind.”

Building Bigger Ideas may be targeted to Kindergarten to Grade 5, but it will support teachers of all grades and levels in establishing purposeful talk in the classroom. This resource is a terrific complement to professional resource libraries that include Teaching Talk by Kara Pranikoff and Choice Words by Peter Johnston.

Book Recommendation: Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

May
14

Our literacy team recently finished a book study on Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This book is filled with strategies for creating and communicating ideas that will be “sticky” with an audience. Although not specifically directed toward educators, we found lots of applications to our work with teachers and students.

The Heath brothers define ideas that stick as those that are understood and remembered and that have a lasting impact on the audience by changing opinions or behavior. After studying countless examples of ideas that fit this definition, including everything from marketing campaigns to urban legends, they identified six principles of stickiness:

1. Simple

“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence (p 27).”

2. Unexpected

“Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprises make us pay attention and think. The extra attention and thinking sears unexpected events into our memories. Surprise gets our attention. Sometimes the attention is fleeting, but in other cases surprise can lead to enduring attention. Surprise can prompt us to hunt for underlying causes, to imagine other possibilities, to figure out how to avoid surprises in the future (p. 68).”

3. Concrete

“This is how concreteness helps us understand—it helps us construct higher, more abstract insights on the building blocks of our existing knowledge and perceptions. Abstraction demands some concrete foundation. Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air (p. 106).”

4. Credible

“We don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have ‘internal credibility (p. 106).”

5. Emotional

“How can we make people care about ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities—not only to the people they are right now but also the people they would like to be (p. 203).”

6. Stories

“Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and inspire. And most of the time we don’t even have to use much creativity to harness these powers—we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day. (p. 237).”

One of the ideas that stuck with me as I read and discussed this book (see what I did there?) was the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we can’t unlearn it. The more expertise we develop in an area, the more challenging it is to remember what it’s like not to know. Our knowledge and understanding make it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the learner, which is critical if we want our ideas to stick.

Made to Stick is an interesting and engaging read for anyone who wants their ideas to impact their audience, whether it is one person in a conversation, a class of students, or colleagues in a presentation. It offers practical and actionable wisdom that is illustrated by stories from many contexts where sticky ideas matter

Hacking The Writing Workshop

Mar
28

Angela Stockman defines future-ready writers as “courageous explorers who know how to sit with discomfort.  They’re other-centered and attuned to inequity and privilege.  They’re committed to learning more about those who are different from them and experiences they’ve never had, to create things that change the way people think and feel and live.  They consider the consequences of only writing about what they know.  They consider whose voices are missing, whose stories need to be told, and who is disenfranchised.  They write for the world, not for themselves or the small audiences they find inside of their classrooms, homes, and local communities.”  In Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesigning with Making in Mind, Angela Stockman outlines ten hacks for creating environments where these writers develop:

  • Hack 1: Designing a Future-Ready Workshop
  • Hack 2: Recognize and Engage the Maker in Your Midst
  • Hack 3: Renovate Your Space
  • Hack 4: Create a Writer-Centered Workshop
  • Hack 5: Build a Better Notebook
  • Hack 6: Co-Create a Just-Right Curriculum
  • Hack 7: Make Room for Serious Play
  • Hack 8: Tinker Through the Process
  • Hack 9: Uncover and Share Learning Stories
  • Hack 10: Frame Better Feedback

(more…)