Horrible PD and Kelly Gallagher. In the same week but not in the same place.

Inservice Days.

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Do you dread them like I do?

RtI. Response to Intervention. Response to Instruction. Really Terrific Instruction. The acronym changes depending on who you ask. Either way, it is our new initiative. Even after a 5 hour session with a renowned psychologist on my last inservice day, I still can’t tell you what RtI is. Because he never told us. Sure, he regaled us with TED talks, fancy real-time surveys, and stories of his kids, but never once offered any true tips on what RtI is and how I can use it in my classroom.

That’s all I want.  I want someone to say “hey. I’ve been there. Here’s what I did and it worked, maybe you could try it too.”

Am I alone in this?

Sure, this nameless psychologist dropped several names of programs we could purchase (a quick google search showed that he gets royalties from most) and named several books we could buy (most were roughly $150 each!), but not once did he share any insight or wisdom into the day to day plight that is teaching. Finally someone asked him what grades he taught and guess what — he’s only ever taught graduate students. Well, there you go. No surprise there.

Thanks for wasting my time.

So, what’s a teacher to do?

Seek out our own answers.

Thankfully, there are some wonderful mentors out there for us to ask. Kelly Gallagher is one of mine. And I had the pleasure of hearing him present at an all day workshop. I drove 2 and a half hours (one way) on a Saturday and learned more in those 5 hours about teaching English then I did in my entire master’s program.

If you are an English teach and you don’t know who Kelly is, you need to find out. He’s amazing. Down to earth, sharp as a tack and oh so honest. What I cherish most about him is each time he speaks he shares dozens of tried and true tips for teaching real kids to read and write. All things he’s doing. Right now. In his own classroom.

I took notes like a madwoman and here’s is a small sampling of the pearls of wisdom Kelly shared with us about writing:

  • He calls a thesis a “claim”.
  • He calls quickwriting “sneezing”. Blast it out. Don’t hold back.
  • Grading does not make students better writers. Spending hours writing “frag” all over a batch of essays is not going to make anyone write better. Instead, conference with each kid at the midway point of an essay. Make them write down the verbal feedback you give them.
  • Students should be writing four times more than any teacher can grade. As the late Don Graves said, “if students don’t write at least three times a week, they are dead.”
  • Check out Writing Next. It’s a meta-analysis of over 200 studies about the teaching of writing. It gives 11 recommendations for help kids become better writers. One of those recommendations is that students need models – writers who know how to do it already. Kelly uses an example of learning to wait tables: when you first learn to be a server, you follow around a trainer (someone who knows how to do it) and you do everything they do. They model. Teachers should be doing that for students.
  • Read. Analyze. Emulate: What does it say? How does it say it? How can I say it?
  • The five paragraph essay is fake writing and should not be taught. It does not exist in the real world.
  • There is a difference between revision and editing. Revision is making it better. Editing is making it correct.
  • Assessments:  As teachers our philosophy should be Everyone Improves. This is very different from sorting winners from losers.

The Writing Process:

1. Read a professional mentor. Or several. (READ)

2. Analyze the craft. Break it down. (ANALYZE)

3. Teacher tries it. (EMULATE) Teacher is the bridge.

4. Students sneeze draft 1. Take home and make it better.

5. Teacher has students Question Flood teacher draft (modeling).

6. Students question flood each other. Take home and make it better.

7. Teacher models RADaR Marks (Kelly’s revisions).

8. Students try it. Take home and make it better.

9. Mid-process assessment. Teacher meets with each student for 2-3 minutes and has a short verbal conference with them about possible improvements. All students come to this “conversation” with 2 or 3 questions on their essay that they would like help with.

10. Keep going until the essay is ready to hand in. Essays are never done, they are just ready to hand in.

 

I wish I could take credit for the above ideas. Each and every one of them came from Kelly’s talk last Saturday. You can see further explanation of all of them in many of his books. I suggest Write Like This for tips on helping kids write better.

 

And no, I don’t get any royalties.

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