13 Nov It’s Monday! A Professional Book That Will Take Your Breath Away #IMWAYR
When you read something written from the heart, it takes your breath away. The stories the writer shares draw you in and lines from the text replay in your head long after you finished reading. We often get this feeling when we read a memoir, a story, or a poem, but a professional book? Yes, when we read Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers it took our breath away. In this book, Ruth weaves together three voices – her voice as a mother, her voice as a writer, and her voice as a writing teacher. These voices tug at your heart and fill your head with possibilities.
In the introduction, Ruth explains how she and her husband, Andy, adopted four children, 3 of which have had hard beginnings in life. To help us understand some essential teaching moves to entice hard-to-reach writers, she shares stories from their lives. These stories make you laugh, break your heart, and show you the power we all have to alter a child’s path.
In part one, Ruth shares the brain research explaining how trauma impacts children’s brains. Children who experience trauma, live in fear. “Fear of being hurt. Fear of being cold. Fear of being hungry”(16). In the classroom, these fears are often masked by anger, anxiety, or apathy and are easy to misinterpret. As she shares, “Environment and circumstance do influence a child. So do altered amygdalae, …it doesn’t matter whether there is a warm bed upstairs, the child will still feel fear first and most strongly. If we are going to help children rewrite their histories of hard into stories of hope, then we need to develop new thinking paths in the brain. The way to do this is to short-circuit fear” (17).
So how can we short-circuit fear in our classrooms? Ruth brings this point home with a typical classroom story – it’s writing time, and a student does not have a pencil. Rather than asking the typical question in this moment — “Where is your pencil?”– she suggests a different response, “If you ask some people around you and still can’t find a pencil, ask me. Writers need pencils, and I’ll always loan you one” (21). Such simple words, packed with a powerful message. Students cannot be creative when their basic needs haven’t been met. Our first job is to meet each student’s basic needs and build trust.
Ruth reminds us that behaviors cover students’ stories and it is our job to help students uncover them so they see their stories underneath. She believes that writing workshop is much more than a way to teach writing. Ruth shares, “Writing workshop is not just about getting the instruction right. It’s not about a canned program, or a great app, or a lockstep process. It’s about getting the heart right. Enticing writers is about touching hearts and taking leaps of faith to pull all students into the possibilities awaiting them when they learn to write well” (40). The research and Ruth’s stories help us understand the “why” behind students’ actions so that we can become better listeners and more attuned practitioners. Thank you, Ruth!
In the second section of her book, Ruth shares how she became a writer and how that transformed her teaching. Early in her career, she took a leap of faith, went to a PD session on writing workshop and started writing herself. Through this process she learned that “to entice writers, we must write and discover a process for ourselves.” She doesn’t expect all teachers to become published authors, but she urges us to write the same kinds of things we ask our students to write. As she says, “…create stories instead of assignments” (49). She also urges us “to write because it helps us teach well and find meaning in our work” (54). To bring this point to life, Ruth shares a story from a second-grade classroom and how a teacher turned one student’s moment of frustration into an opportunity to show this student, and the rest of the class, that we aren’t alone in the world. Ruth says, “This is the power of story. It changes lives by teaching us
- To connect with others and find we’re more alike than different
- To own the story we are living, and
- To believe we can keep rewriting the next part of our story” (61).
She urges us to have “dogged resolve – to entice students to write, teachers must write first” (54).
Don’t miss the last section of this book. After reading part three, we had seven pages of notes – Why seven pages you ask? It’s Ruth’s language. Each time she shares a writing move and what she says to students – it resonated with us and we had to write it down. The way she speaks to students is clear, kind, and thought-provoking. In this section, Ruth also shares how she entices writers by having students work on writing projects instead of writing pieces. She encourages us to give our units of study an authentic purpose so students feel they are working on something important — something they can’t wait to work on and share. She urges us to make sure students have choice in writing and to vary the types of choices students have throughout the year:
- Who will read my writing? (Audience)
- What will I write about? (Topic)
- What will I make? (Genre)
- Why am I writing? (Purpose) (114)
These questions can help us think about how to give students choices during different units of study to make sure students are invested in their own writing.
Ruth teaches students to pay close attention to the writing voices in their heads and give those writing voices feedback. As she says, “we can help students understand the internal story they tell themselves about their deficits as writers and teach them to “fight the monsters in their heads.” She explains to students, “We also have Little Writers in our minds. This Little Writer reminds me all of the things I do well as a writer” (141). Giving students the tools to alter their negative self-talk is vital. This instruction helps students understand that writing is about the thinking process in your head not just the words on paper. It also helps students monitor their inner conversation, which can lead to a healthier and happier life.
We have always been big fans of using technology in the classroom and Ruth gives us new reasons to advocate for using technology during writing workshop. She explains, “For students from hard places, keeping work over time is usually impossible and Google Drive makes this possible. With Drive, no longer is keeping your history as a writer dependent on having a parent who will lovingly store all your sweet writing projects” (149). We have to be honest. We have never thought of this reason to use technology. Perhaps this reason is more important than any other.
The biggest message in Enticing Hard-to-Read Writers is that we have the power to change students’ lives. Through writing workshop, we can help students rewrite their stories and perhaps have a happier future. Ruth reminds us, “…these kids will almost get the best of you…Remember, you have the power to change the course of lives. All children deserve to know that they can write a different version of their stories” (154).
Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your stories as a mother, writer, and teacher. The vignettes, research, and videos in Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers helped us become better teachers. You have given us tools to better understand our students, to build trust, and to create writing environments that provide opportunities for students’ to uncover their voices as writers.
Thanks to Stenhouse, we are giving away TWO copies of Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers. To enter, please leave a comment about this post by November 17, 2017 at 11:59 pm ET. We will use a random number generator to select the winner. We will announce the winner in next Monday’s post!
This is only the first stop on the Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers blog tour. Don’t miss….
11/15 (W) Michelle Nero http://literacyzone.blogspot.com
11/17 (F) Leigh Anne Eck http://adayinthelifeof19b.blogspot.com
11/18 (Sat) STENHOUSE FB LIVE at 1:30pm Stenhouse FB Page********
11/20 (M) Mary Helen Gensch https://booksavors.wordpress.com
11/22 (W) Jen Vincent http://www.teachmentortexts.com/
(November Newsletter – Brad Wilson https://www.writeabout.com)
If you want to see Ruth’s children’s reactions when the books arrived at her house, you can read about that here.
Ruth is also offering free registration to her new course Enticing Writers Book Club if you purchase a copy by November 30th. Just forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org for a free registration. The course begins in January.