Frustration with flash drafts – A symptom of the disease

So, I opened an email from an 8th grade teacher this morning with the subject line, “I hate the flashdraft!” Then, the body:

“First of all, the amount of whining is obnoxious.  Secondly, most kids have one crappy paragraph.  I just feel like it’s a waste of time.  Ugh. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow with assessing and setting goals…”

(The assignment: to compare two dystopian books they’ve read in the reading unit)

Clearly, this teacher is frustrated and rightly so. My first reaction is that our middle schoolers don’t do enough on-demand writing. This year, I’ve introduced writing warm-ups, and Linda Rief’s Quick Writes to MS teachers in an attempt to increase student motivation, engagement, stamina, and volume. These practices are working – but not when it comes to the subject of this Slice.

My second realization is that the writing instruction we do at the MS level is very structured – not enough time spent collecting ideas and drafting. We collect for a bit and then it’s on to minilessons taught on essay (or whatever genre) structure which then turns into a lot of time conferring (a good thing) and rinse and repeat. Our MS teachers are doing great with creating effective and purposeful mentor texts and modeling, but the “sitting with the writing” time that “real” writers do is very limited. How do you do it all in 52 minutes? And this is why there is an over emphasis on teaching and re-teaching structure as core instructional practice in writing units. (I’m exposing vulnerability here because I feel like a more effective coach would have focused on this previously. But, honestly, this morning’s email and writing this Slice have brought it all bubbling to the surface.)

This concentration has led our students to hate the “drafting a whole piece process” because they are uncomfortable with it. They whine. They complain that they don’t know what to write. They are afraid of “doing it wrong.” Of getting a bad grade (which they don’t even receive on a draft!!). Jeez. Writing this out is making me think that we are unsuccessful in creating 21st century risk-takers, students who are able to persevere and keep going through the muck – things that our district espouses.

As a coach, I need to figure this out. As a coach, I need to help my teachers feel more successful with the process. As a coach, I need to look at our curriculum and instruction to see where we can devote more time to the beginning stages of the writing process – collecting ideas, developing, planning, and drafting. But, as a coach, I’m not sure where to go next because our students at this level need to learn the foundations of essay writing (isn’t this the “right” way to teach – hook, reasons, evidence, analysis, thesis, body paragraphs, topic sentences, conclusions, etc.??) before we jump into Marchetti and O’Dell’s Beyond Literary Analysis – or do they????

Feedback and advice is generously appreciated.


Spring…in Atlanta at least

Yellow-white green buds
Against a vivid blue sky
My shoulders relax
An abstract painting
Pastel green and pink palette
Swirl against azure
They fought their way through
Bursting and victorious
Hope springs eternal

My dear sister-in-law sent these pictures from Atlanta this morning. I am impatiently awaiting the same here in CT. My response to her was “Ahhh…deep breath…vicarious moments.” Hope does spring eternal.

Inspiring kids to write

I purchased two wonderful books at the beginning of this school year and am sharing the titles with you – whether you like it or not :): Bourque’s book (image)and Linda Rief’s Quick Writes Handbook. As a coach, I am using Rief’s book with 7th and 8th grade teachers and it’s been a gamechanger in terms of student motivation, investment, engagement, and variety. They love it! The title is apropos since the students are given about 2-3 minutes to write – just enough time to spark their writing brains. Pieces can be added on to later, revised, and/or used for word work and editing later – or never to be returned to again. Choice.

Bourque’s book does the same thing for the elementary student and is just as brilliant. You can spend as short or as long on one of the suggestions as you’d like. Every day in writer’s ws or a couple times a week. Whatever floats your boat.

For example, our 4th graders are in the midst of a NF/persuasive unit and they are struggling to paraphrase. Well, just turn to page 65 and, voila! Kids can practice paraphrasing with a series of short quick writes:

One of this year’s coaching foci for me has been helping teachers to increase their students’ writing volume, stamina, and engagement. These resources have been invaluable.


A long week and happy it’s Friday. I couldn’t wait to get home and change into my pj’s. Yes, that’s my Friday night. Catching some Netflix or Amazone Prime or binge worthy shoes on the couch with my hubby. Speaking of these, here are some of my faves: Ozark, Safe, No Second Chances, Bordertown, The Break, Trapped, Deadwind, Broadchurch, Borderliner – too name a few. I love the dark thrillers, Scandi-noir, British or French.

What do you watch?

It’s Day 21!!…Seriously?!

I can’t believe it’s already Day 21 of this amazing Slicing Challenge. As a first timer, this experience is extraordinary. My husband, Jack, asked me the other day, “How do you feel about your blog?” Not, “How’s it going?” Nor did he ask, “Have you run out of ideas?” But how do I feel about it. This was very purposeful.

I replied that it’s almost better than therapy. It makes me think. It makes me learn. It makes me empathize. It makes me laugh out loud. It makes me cry. It makes me smile. It makes me inspired. It makes me a student again. It makes me vulnerable. It makes me public. It makes me take risks. It makes be understand the importance of feedback. And it makes my FEEL.

Jack asked me using the verb feel precisely because he’s a songwriter. He gets it. Writing songs does all these things for him, too. Hence, probably the reason I ended up in therapy and he didn’t. LOL.

But now I get it too. Thanks, slicers and thanks for asking, Jack.

Jim Knight Webinar

I had the pleasure of attending a Jim Knight – Instructional Coaching author and expert -webinar recently and he reminded me of the most important characteristics of being a successful LA coach and teacher leader:

  1. Follow-up on PD; it should be an instructional focus – not a one and done
  2. Foster equality, collaboration, collegiality, and reciprocity
  3. Developing TRUST is of utmost importance
  4. If “you insist, people will resist.” Love this one – so true.
  5. It isn’t important to BE right, but to DO right.
  6. Model, model, model. With teachers and your kids
  7. Be engaged in an emotionally positive and passionate way
  9. Keep lines of communication open and effective
  10. Be ambitious for change and respectful to teachers and students
  11. Ensure that students have CHOICE and VOICE!! Research suggests that kids are seven times more likely to SUCCEED when they have a voice. I also encourage teachers to give opportunities for student to reflect verbally and in writing on their own work and teacher instruction and curriculum. FEEDBACK is powerful and necessary, but we have to USE it.

I hope this is helpful!

Foods and Fragrances

Two slicers inspired my post today. One wrote about how certain foods conjured up fond childhood memories and another used a list as her slice format. My slice today is influenced by both:

  1. Dove soap = memories of spending countless weekends at my best friend’s houses in the 70’s
  2. Infinity perfume = my mom who passed away too young at age 67 from stomach cancer
  3. Leather and Old Spice aftershave = visits to my beloved grandfather and our chats in his office
  4. Hermit cookies = deelish! A baker’s truck would come by our house in my early youth and deliver them. They were soft, and chewy bursting with clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg flavor accented with plump raisins.
  5. Frosted Orange Revlon lipstick toned down with white lipstick = believe it or not it looked great on my mom
  6. Mac and Cheese = made with a roux, of course. Oh, the aroma from the oven, always topped with bread crumbs and melted butter! I loved to eat it cold the next day and scoop it out with a spoon so the macaroni would end up in a perfect curve in my bowl.
  7. The smell of cedar = my parents built a cedar closet in our old house to avoid moth-eaten items of clothing
  8. Certain cars = My dad always had leather interiors that smelled better with time. Now I have one and I feel like my dad’s in the passenger seat every morning 🙂

Balance in Workshop

As a district, we went all in six years ago with Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. Best thing we did. That said – and it’s difficult to admit – we somewhat neglected the grammar/conventions work in LA. Fast forward and their are major gaps. This year we are spending time thoughtfully integrating this best and necessary, no-brainer practice back into our curriculum. Don’t get me wrong – grammar and conventions were taught but we were not as effective giving the time to student practice and assessment/accountability. As you know, time is of the essence when teaching and learning to keep minilessons mini, conferring, independent work, peer work, choice – all terrific – but when we as teachers are learning something new, other important instruction and curricular necessities can fall by the wayside. Cough Cough.

We are back on track and using Jeff Anderson’s Patterns of Power (AWESOME!) and Words their Way. We are contemplating purchasing Fountas and Pinnell’s Word Study. Does anyone use anything K-4, 5-8 that they love? I would really appreciate any feedback on approaches and wisdom on how to prioritize and fitting in what’s important with limited time. Thank you!

Having hard conversations is…hard

Hemming and hawing. Should I say something? I don’t want to offend her, but I’m concerned.

Oh, it’s not that bad, maybe I won’t.

Wake up this morning still thinking about it, so I know it’s worthwhile to have the conversation. My heart starts beating a bit faster. My armpits prickle. My breathing becomes more rapid. I take a couple of deep breaths. Off I go.

I know. I know! she’s trying not to yell.

I want to have a healthy discussion, I say. It’s not a lecture.

Back and forth. Like a seesaw. Walking through the steps of a serious discussion. Tensions rise then fall, finally. Talk is met with understanding and comprehension and compassion. Hug exchanged. I leave with a smile and feeling of catharsis. Then, of course, I think, did it work? We shall see.