Tuesday, September 1, 2015

teach it

After eight years in a classroom full of first grade darlings, an opportunity presented itself that I simply couldn’t pass up.   I said good-bye to my classroom to move around the corner and became a “literacy coach/interventionist”.  I loved the idea of working with small groups of students and was eager to be a supportive resource for teachers when needed. 
Two weeks into the school year, the minutes from an administrators’ meeting landed on my desk.  To my surprise, the “/interventionist” title of my job was dropped, and I was now a full time literacy coach.  Huh. Full time coach.  What in the world does a full time literacy coach do?  Guess I’d find out.
As with most new jobs, I spent the first year fumbling around and learning furiously  from other coaches, books, blogs, and of course a large handful of my own mistakes.  Three years later, I absolutely adore the job.  I’m still devouring books and blogs and making mistakes on a daily basis, but this job has pushed me to define my teaching beliefs and fight for them.   I work with amazing teachers who eagerly engage in professional discussions and work tirelessly to make school a safe place where students will love to learn.   
This past month  (yes, month – we’ve been in school since August 3) I’ve had the totally awesome privilege of being in Mrs. Ary’s 6th grade class.  I intentionally say “totally awesome” because it pretty much sums up Mrs. Ary’s attitude toward life, teaching, and her 6th graders.   She (who, from now on I’ll just refer to as Christina) has been teaching at our school for 2 years, and I clearly remember my first visit into her room.  I wanted to plop myself down in a chair and be a 6th grader all over again.  Christina has willingly opened her chevron-covered classroom to me as I’ve transitioned out of first grade and explored literacy through the eyes of a twelve year old.  
We have been launching writing workshop by introducing each of the six traits of writing, beginning with the trait ideas.  By sixth grade, these writers have heard about each trait ad nauseum, and they have most certainly brainstormed a list of writing topics every year of their little schooling lives.  We wanted to do something different.  We wanted to start pushing them to find a story that really mattered.  

I gathered them on the carpet and posed the following question:
If you could tell your life in only seven stories, what would they be?

These could be life-altering days or seemingly insignificant moments that have somehow been permanently planted in your memory. What seven stories best reflect who you are today?
Twenty-eight sixth graders were dismissed back to their seats to brainstorm seven titles – titles only, no actual stories allowed (yet….). And just because she’s kinda awesome like that, Christina played One Direction’s Story of My Life in the background as the kids got started.  (Slightly embarrassing fact: I was singing along to all the words, arms fist pumping in the air.) Even though Christina and I knew this lesson was coming, we had resisted the urge to come up with our own seven titles ahead of time.
Instead, we sat down with our students and began our own lists. 

We wanted to think on the spot with our students.
We wanted to get stuck and struggle through it with our students.
We wanted our students to see us write, and not just some neat, tidy examples that make writing look easy.
We wanted them to see that real brainstorming is messy and often takes longer than twenty minutes of allotted independent writing time.

Christina wrote eight titles because she couldn’t narrow it down yet. I wrote five titles because I just got stuck. We both scratched a few options to attempt something better and even brainstormed more possibilities during our lunch break. 
I have not made any final decisions about my seven stories.  In fact, I imagine the thinking and revising will continue for days and weeks to come.  I find myself thinking about these seven stories as I lay in bed at night, walking through my life and pinpointing the moments and memories that can be pieced together to tell my story. 
And I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, at this very moment, there is a sixth grader at home doing the same.

I want to give full credit where credit is due.  The seven stories of my life prompt is not my original idea. Jennifer Allen described it in her book Becoming A Literacy Leader.  I took an online coarse with Jennifer this summer through Choice Literacy called Literacy Coach Jumpstart.  It is an excellent, thought-provoking book for literacy coaches – one I’ve highlighted, underlined, and dog-eared, and one I continue to open long after the course has ended.


  1. Now... Do you think I'll actually be able to focus on anything else until I figure out my seven titles?!

    Awesome prompt. Excited to see where that challenge takes you and a bunch of teeny bopping, One Direction loving 6th graders. 💙

    1. Let's play a game. See how many of my story titles you can guess, and I'll do the same for you! ;)

  2. Joy, what a promising example of what writers can do -- see the moments of our lives as stories and for the students to see that their lives are also full of stories to share. And isn't it fun when you connect with another teacher that teaching together is, well, a joy. :) So happy to have you part of the TWT community! It's a wonderful space to live the life of a writer.


  3. Wow, what a great idea to share with students. I can't wait to hear more about what the students wrote. I will be thinking all week about my seven stories!

    1. Any ideas yet?!?! :) It really is fun to brainstorm these stories. And once you get the story idea...try to find a captivating title! I'll be posting an update on this adventure soon.

  4. I've seen this seven stories idea before, but had kind of forgotten it. You make me want to think about it again. And I love that you are allowing the sixth graders to see inside the messiness of your writing process. One of the biggest gifts we can give to other writers, I think!

    1. Thanks, Carol! I'd love to hear if you give this a try! What grade do you teach?

  5. What a great idea! I am now wondering what my high school students would think if we'd use this to jump start our short story unit? Now I am thinking......Thank you for a thought provoking post!

    1. Thanks Jaana! I would love to hear how this goes with high school students!!!! I used a chapter from the book Ten Again, a fictional memoir, to introduce this idea of finding small moments that matter. I was blown away by some of the story titles the 6th graders wrote. I'll be posting about how this went soon! Keep me posted!