Saturday, March 23, 2013

Slice 24 - Jeff Anderson

Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are challenging ourselves to write a Slice A Day.

At dinner on Friday night I was sharing with my friend what sessions I had attended at Illinois Reading Council’s annual conference and then I realized I had never written about it on my blog. An oversight that must be corrected! 

Let me begin explaining IRC – it is held in Springfield each year and spans three days. I was only able to attend on Thursday due to scheduling, but even one day was worthwhile. The thing I love about attending conferences like IRC is that you have many presenters to choose from and can tailor your PD to meet your needs. As it so happens, I was in need of some laughs and a shot of energy into my writing workshop. I met both needs by attending two sessions from the wonderful Jeff Anderson.

I have pages and pages of notes on my iPad from attending Jeff’s sessions and debated how to share the wonderful things I learned. After reading them over I realized something – I don’t think I can. To try and summarize two sessions with Jeff is nearly impossible. He’s so damn funny that you are wiping away tears as you howl with laughter and then you straighten up and realized the thing he just said was brilliant, you rush to type it out and then find yourself bent over laughing again.

The best I can do is tell you six things I loved that Jeff shared. (And I’m limiting myself to six!)

In his session on Informational and Explanatory writing:

àAll explanatory writing is informational but not all informational writing is explanatory. Reminded me of squares and rectangles – which he then used as an example.

àPointed out that a lot of the non-fiction writing we read is narrative – even though some that talk about the Common Core State Standards seem to believe we need to limit/ eliminate narrative writing. One example he shared was from the book Flesh and Blood So Cheap – the sample he read was a narrative. He also showed how you could use the narrative (here talking about the lack of fire drills which lead to a disaster in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory) and then move your students to writing argumentative papers.

In his afternoon session on Grammar and Conventions:
àSaid something along these lines: Just because it makes kids miserable, just because it isn’t fun, doesn’t mean it’s rigorous. Can I say AMEN?

à Kids are afraid of being wrong. We want them to make decisions as writers. Hard to do when they are scared.

à On Daily Oral Language worksheets – Would we put up a poster that said Thomas Jefferson was the president on the five-dollar bill and then teach them the correct answer later? Why are we showing them what’s wrong? Why not give them mentor sentences that show them what is right?

àWhen working with students: honor what they say. Name what they’ve said. Extend their thinking.  

Finally, and I didn’t want to bury this above, Jeff did talk about the scary idea that computers will be scoring the writing on the CCSS tests. If that doesn’t give you nightmares, it should. To learn more about this, read this link from NCTE:

I want to point out that the Gettysburg Address would score a 2 on a scale of 1 to 6. Considering that Lincoln's famous speech was the focus of my senior paper in college – 25 pages written on that beauty – I know it pretty well. What the heck are we doing? This is scary, folks. Thanks to Donalyn Miller for that link.

And, if you are as freaked out by this idea as I am, head on over to this link:

There you can sign a petition to state that you’d prefer humans to score our students’ writing – not a machine. They only have a bit over 1,300 signatures so far. We all need to sign this. Thanks to Jeff for that link.

I could go on and on. We could talk writing, grammar, Jeff’s presentations, the need for people to score writing, etc. all day long. Let’s just end with this - if you don’t own Jeff’s books – fix that. They all are amazing. And if you are anywhere he is speaking, make sure you go see him. He is one of the best professional development speakers I’ve ever seen - and has been every time I've seen him. I only wish every teacher in my district had been there.