In NYC this past weekend, I had the pleasure of hearing Nancie Atwell speak. Two things she spoke about especially stand out in my mind. First, she talked about her reading and writing workshops, and how these represent two activities that have never failed to engage students in her twenty years of teaching. She uses a specific example of a male student who initially hated reading and writing. He filled out a survey in the beginning of the year which truly revealed his lack of connections to ELA, stating that he had only read a minimal number of books and didn’t enjoy writing. However, over the course of the year in Atwell’s class, with her guidance, and also with his personal freedom to pursue projects that interested him, this student flourished and as Atwell stated, developed “fluency and craft.” And within his own interests, this student was still able to pursue “real life” projects. For example, he wrote a formal letter to McDonald’s from the perspective of an adult who had been forbidden to enter the play zone area. In return, he got a letter from the corporation and free coupons! It was hysterical to listen to Atwell reminisce about the “small victories” she observed with this student, who was obviously a creative, humorous and energetic student. Secondly, Atwell connected reading and writing workshop activities into how young adult novels are the “best invitation” to any student in ELA classrooms, in order to become readers and foster a deep love and appreciation for reading. The same male student mentioned above read more novels in Atwell’s class than he had previously read during his entire life! Much of this is due to the fact that she gives students very compelling and interesting book talks, which we know from reading her text.
Atwell also gave the audience the schedule of her daily classroom routine, which I found very interesting. She starts each day with the reading of a poem and then moves into reading and writing mini-lessons. Next, the entire class discusses the status of the class during a classroom conference. Then, students do individual writing, listen to book talks, and finally they finish class with independent reading. I really enjoyed seeing her schedule, and I am not sure why, but perhaps simply to refer back to it, knowing that it represents the routine of a highly successful teacher, who embraces her students’ wholly and unconditionally, by allowing them the freedom of self-expression, the ability to tell their stories, and by encouraging them to develop as lifelong readers and writers.
Check out her school’s website.