Saturday, August 17, 2013

Our Pilgrimage to Columbia's Teacher College for a Week of Learning and Inspiration

So our mamas always taught us that it's not polite to brag, but we don't care because ... guess what?!? ... we got to spend a week at Columbia's Teacher College to attend their professional development on Writer's Workshop (all the cool kids are calling it Teacher Camp).

AND ... Lucy Calkins was there!!!


AND ... Ralph Fletcher AND Carl Anderson AND Pam Munoz-Ryan AND Sarah Weeks AND our new teaching crush Christine Holley ...


We'll just give you a moment to let all that sink in ... is your excitement on level with ours right now?!? We hope so :)

Now to make up for our earlier faux pas with the bragging - friendship! - we'd like to share with you the top 10 things we learned while paying our respects at teacher mecca:

1. If you want kids to do something well, you have to dedicate time everyday to it.

2. Mini-lessons need to be short, sweet, and explicit - everyone should be aware of the teaching point even if they are not yet ready to apply it.

3. Conferring does not have to be one-on-one to be powerful.

4. Your workshop should have a mid-workshop interruption where you recognize a behavior or reinforce a teaching point.

5. Mentor texts are all around us - use them!

6. Posing a question (inquiry) as a kickstart to your mini-lesson can be a powerful tool to co-create meaning and show, not tell, your teaching point.

7. A well-organized Writer's Workshop block can have 5 opportunities for explicit teaching: mini-lesson, small group instruction, conferring, mid-workshop interruption, and sharing.

8. Workshop, while it may have been pioneered in the 70s, is NOT an antiquated and outdated practice. It's a living, breathing, ever evolving vehicle for instruction that some of the best minds in education are devoting their professional careers to. It even addresses, as Carl Anderson pointed out to us, many of the components that we have now identified as the nuts and bolts of 21st century learning: initiative, passion, critical thinking, self-awareness, design, imagination, collaboration, and voice.

Ok, we're all going to need to hold hands and breathe for these last two. It's going to be okay ... we promise.

9. Writing should happen in pen to create a record of students' revisions and self-corrections. Teachers should be able to look at student work and see exactly where they made mistakes and where they noticed and corrected their own work.

10. First graders don't PUBLISH, they "publish". Their final product is not a clean, rewritten, perfect copy. It's full of their self-corrections, revisions, and edits. It reflects their entire work on the piece from the beginning through the end of the writing process and celebrates the journey of the piece over a perfected final product. Rewritten, mistake-free final drafts need not be the published piece until third grade.

See, everything is okay; we made it. You may be having a visceral reaction to those last two. We get it; we did, too. In fact, the whole teacher's college was positively buzzing with it. But just breathe, consider it, let it marinate a little, you might surprise yourself.

We want to leave you with one final thought. For us, teaching is more than a career, it's a calling. It's part of who we are and how we see the world. We know that many teachers feel the same way. It can be difficult to hold onto that passion and commitment in the face of all the challenges that we face with our job; you can start to feel lost or alone or defeated. We've certainly felt that way before. But Lucy Calkins (that's right, we know Lucy Calkins) told us, in Riverside Church no less, that people find happiness engaging with others in meaningful work that is larger than themselves. Teaching is that kind of work and we feel so lucky that we were able to have this unique opportunity to remember that.

From the limb,


  1. #9 and #10? THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

    When my oldest son attended the Lycee' Fran├žais through 2nd grade, all the children wrote in pen and they did their writing in their notebooks. The teachers would correct their written work. The notebooks would come home and you could see their progress. It was amazing to watch from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. I'll have to see if I can dig up some old notebooks stored away, to refresh my memory!

    1. Those two tips kind of caught us by surprise. It was hard to swallow because we have grown so accustom to seeing published work (best handwriting, near perfect spelling and illustrations, etc.) hanging on walls. In a lot of ways those last two tips were freeing because it took the pressure off and refocused our attention on what's most important - the process