<img height="1" width="1" alt="" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=940171109376247&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Dedicated to Teachers


On the Podcast: Carl Anderson Interviews Ralph Fletcher

FocusLessons_BlogToday on the podcast we’re examining the relationship between photography and writing.

Ralph Fletcher, most recently the author of Focus Lessons, believes that the language of writing has a natural link with photography. He writes that “photography can illuminate the craft of writing and help us understand it in a whole new way.

Download the sample chapter from Focus Lessons!

In this episode, Heinemann author Carl Anderson sits down with Ralph to discuss Focus Lessons, and how educators might start to regard the camera as an integral part of the writing classroom…

 

Below is a full transcript of this episode!

Carl: Hi Ralph, how are you?

Ralph: I'm doing fine.

Carl: Very excited to be talking to you today about your new book Focus Lessons and I've been a fan of your work for 25 years now. It's an amazing thing and I first encountered your work with your book, What a Writer Needs, I think is one of the foundational books on the teaching of craft. And I read that in 1994 and I remember coming to a Heinemann workshop in the Chicago area where I was teaching where I met you for the first time and I still have the signed book. And that book was a followed by so many other books that have been so influential in my thinking and other people's thinking, like your craft lessons books that you do with JoAnn Portalupi, your colleague and wife. One of my all time favorites is Boy Writers, which there's not a day that goes by in my work with teachers that I don't mention that book.

And recently your book, Joy Write is just an amazing contribution in bringing joy and playfulness back into the writing workshop. And so you've had so many wonderful professional books and of course there's so many other books that are so important that you've done. I'm such a fan if your memoir, Marshfield Dreams and your recent memoir Marshfield Memories the sequel and I talk about those all over the world. Of course there's your books of poetry and your books of fiction for children, Fig Pudding, which is known far and wide and of course Spider Boy. And so you just have all these amazing books and you've had such an impact on me.

Ralph: Thank you Carl. Yeah, I just want to say that really means a lot to coming from you and I really appreciate your kind words. Thank you.

Carl: Yeah, well there are just so many of us that are Ralph Fletcher fans all over the world and we just so appreciate your work. But now you have this brand new book called Focus Lessons: How Photography Enhances the Teaching of Writing and I had the special privilege of getting to read a preview copy of it a couple of weeks ago and the book just entranced me. It just blew me away and I just think it's a really important contribution to our field. So I'm just really excited about the chance to talk to you about it today and I have a bunch of questions that I want to ask you. Let's start with this one, Ralph. Early in the book you write, "This book is rooted in my journey into photography, which has been an intensely personal one." I'd like you to describe this journey for us to give us the context for this book.

Ralph: I think that when you and I was speaking recently, you mentioned that you could see this become a priority for me and that is really true. You can't fake that urge to do something, whether it's to paint or to write or whatever it is, and it's something that drew me, came out of the blue. I became really excited about taking pictures and I will say that it was a stub your toe journey all the way. I had lots of mishaps, buying the wrong equipment and umpteen blurry pictures or overexposed and it hasn't always been a smooth journey, but it has been something that has been meaningful to me. I think also because I've had some success in writing and you alluded to some of the books that I've written, I felt that I didn't need to push and try to sell all these photos it's sort of something that I can do out of just pure love enjoyment.

Basically without getting into too much detail, the process has been, I seem to learn best by actually hanging out with people who are really skilled at whatever it is I'm trying to learn. So I've gone on a number of trips with other professional photographers who have imparted their knowledge and had a chance to work with them shoulder next to shoulder and so that's really what's happened. And I just want to say I just know I have a long way to go. There's no there, there, but I do think that there's something about, in any field that you can get, a certain amount of competence, you can get to the point you can enjoy doing it. And I feel like at that point now where I really enjoy doing it.

Carl: And we enjoy the work you've done too Ralph, you've been just so generous in sharing a lot of your photos on social media, on Facebook and Twitter. And you have quite a following people that just love your photos and your view of the world that you see through your eyes that you've shared with us, I think has been a real gift for so many people.

Ralph: Well, thank you. And you know I think I've always been really interested in the natural world and going way, way, way back to when I was a little boy when we lived in Marshfield, my mom would take us out for a walk she'd talk about signs of spring in March we'd look for like little aspects of a little bit of green here and there. And I think those are some of the early roots of it, being a chance to like do a lot of camping as a scout. So I think that photography it's allowed me to really delve into that love of nature.

Carl: And that's kind of how funny it is that JoAnn gave you a camera as a present some years ago and kind of surprised you and it's just taken you onto this incredible journey as a photographer that you share in the book so nicely. So, one of the things that as I got into the book, it was interesting for me to hear you talk about how as you immersed yourself into photography, you were surprised to find yourself making a lot of connections to writing. I'm curious about what some of those connections are?

Ralph: Well, it was really uncanny in a way to be working with all these photographers who had a lot of expertise and a lot of knowledge. And when they would start talking about the process, they would use a language that was very familiar to writing. They talk about angle, you're talking about point of view and detail and intention. And many, many times I would say to myself, my goodness, they could be talking about writing. So I think that's one thing. First of all, there's a real common language between the two.

And the other thing is that it's clear to me that both writing and photography are a way of composing, and I think it's important to remember that the word photography means literally writing with light. And again, it's like something I never really thought of myself, but I think that there's a lot of overlap. It sounds really funny, but I would say that in many cases, by learning more about photography, I think I began to understand some stuff about writing that I never understood before, or at least understand it in a deeper way.

Carl: There's some just of broad lessons about writing too. I think RD Morris was one of your photography teachers, right?

Ralph: Yes.

Carl: And he said, it's interesting you quoted him and said that. He said to you, "A lot of photography depends on just showing up." And that's so true in writing also.

Ralph: Yeah. And I would say that we have this joke in my family that like, I used to always say that I'm a morning person and my wife would say, "You want to be a morning person but you're not one." But now I really am. I get up early because that's when the best light is. And it might mean that you're at a certain beautiful spot in nature, but you may go five days in a row and not see that much, but then there's that one day or you'll be surprised at what you see. So yeah, I think that showing up is important and you'll show up if it really is meaningful to you and it grabs you as a writer or as a photographer or whatever, like investing that time.

Malcolm Gladwell famously talked about the 10000 hours but that seems kind of arbitrary, but there's no doubt that if you're going to be good at something, you need to invest the time at it. And when you say invest the time, it sounds like you're sort of digging a ditch. I just want to say that like for me, investing the time has been really a pleasurable thing. I do it because I enjoy it.

Carl: Yep. And you connect to I think what RD Morris said "To write early and write fast." And that's what you're doing with your camera when you get up really early and you're perched by a river bank taking pictures.

Ralph: Yeah. And I think that sometimes there's no doubt that things are happening all the time in the world, but I think that to try to be the kind of person who pays attention to it. So I think that one of the things about taking pictures is really it's honed by powers of observation. I don't know if you saw the picture that I posted. I just found this little monarch butterfly chrysalis and it was just so amazing to see it and I was just looking for it and there, I mean I was just was looking to see if and I looked closer, I'd never seen one before and then when it looked closely I could see the outline of the monarch. I think that it's kind of helped me to pay more attention to the world around me.

Carl: Yeah, we had a monarch butterfly. We had many in our garden this summer, but there was one out one day and I just followed around with my cell phone. I'm not a photographer like you are, but I just want it to capture this fleeting beauty of this amazing creature just floating from flower to flower. Yeah. I haven't seen the chrysalis photo yet, but I'll be looking for it. So one of the biggest ahas I had when I was reading the book was this amazing discussion that you had of how we can use digital cameras usually embedded in our cell phones as the kind of writer's notebook or photo book as you called it. I'd love for you to explain some of your thinking about this.

Ralph: Yes. I think it's an interesting concept and it's one of these ideas that I haven't fully cracked open yet. But I think it's almost like and I think I'm sort of describing something that's actually happening rather than sort of suggesting something that could happen. I really think that, many people, and not just children too. I think that the teachers I've talked to have said that they also find themselves using their cell phone cameras as writers notebooks.

When I say a writer's notebook, I think of it like I'm a collection point. Our friend Artie Voigt talks about a writer's notebook should be a high comfort, low risk place and I think that for many people their cell phones are something that they feel very comfortable with. It's almost an extension of who they are. And so when something happens their most natural thing is to react by pulling out the cell phone and then taking a picture. So I think that people are using it in that way.

Collecting, reacting, savoring the important stuff, but also kind of just the odd or peculiar or weird things about life that we just want to remember. We want to just preserve them because they somehow say something about our life. So I think that it's something that I see myself doing and it turns out that I think a lot of kids are doing also.

So it's making me think about the writer's notebook in a kind of a new way. It's not exactly like taking out a notebook and open it up and with a pen. It's more kind of reacting digitally to the world and visually to the world.

Carl: Right. So much of my son's life is digital now. He constantly takes pictures and shares them on Instagram. I think his whole life goes up there, whether it's you are waking up in the morning or being at the climate March on Friday, it's all there. As I was reading your book, it just struck me and of course cell phones in school we just signed five or six contracts, he's in 10th grade and all of them, like, "If you bring a cell phone into my class, terrible things will happen to you."

Of course, we don't want kids surfing the web or texting their friends during a class. But on the other hand it's just this incredible repository of the kids' lives are contained on those cell phones and just there's so many ways to bring that into a writing workshop. And I thought you did such a wonderful job thinking about that.

Ralph: Yeah. And I think that some of the questions about how to bring in the problems that teachers might run into in this regard, I think that some of this material is or some of these questions are evolving is what I'm trying to say. I think that like you say, some schools, I would say probably most schools or many schools, don't allow kids to have their phones in school for good reason, but there's iPads that are available. I think there's a lot of accessible camera material for kids to use in classrooms.

Carl: I was thinking of the work that Troy Hicks and his colleagues have done with digital technology with cell phone in classrooms, that when I've heard him speak at NCTE, and I'm just thinking of your work alongside some of that. So, it's powerful stuff to think about. There's a huge part of your book, I think one of the most wonderful parts of the book to me, is you detail this incredible series of craft lessons for writers. You suggest that we can begin these lessons with discussing an aspect of photography as a powerful way of introducing the writing craft lessons. I'm curious how you see teachers using these lessons in the writing workshop.

Ralph: Yeah, I think that I'm really struck by the idea that the craft of photography and the craft of writing are two roads that run parallel to each other. They really do, and I think that teachers who are trying to explain elements of writing to kids or craft moves that writers make can use the visual world of photography to make those things come alive. Many people have been doing this to some extent in the past. I've heard Barry Lane talk about zooming in or zooming out. So, it's not like I invented this idea, but I think that we can really look at the world of photography and the craft that's involved. That can be a way to explain the craft of writing.

A lot of the words that we use in terms of the craft of writing, I think that they're vague. They're amorphous, they're hard figures to grab onto. We talk about tone of voice, and I think that the world of photography may give us a more tangible language, and I think it's a language that kids are familiar with because they're taking pictures and they're thinking about these things themselves all the time.

Carl: It's interesting how the titles for your lessons, the terminology so much draws upon photography. One of your lessons is Beware of the Pretty Picture. Another is Consider the Point of View. Another is Play with Foreground and Background.

Ralph: Yeah, and I think that writing is not magical. You can get there from here, and I think that requires understanding some of the ways that language goes together to make sentences that work. I think that the same thing is true with taking pictures, that it's not just taking a snap and just getting a great picture. You've got to consider a lot of decisions. I always say to kids that writers are decision makers. You're making decisions all the time, and I think that's true in taking pictures, and I think if you really get kids to reflect, they're making decisions all the time when they're taking those pictures. Do I want to get in close, do I want to get back, do I want to angle it this way? Who's going to be in the picture? Kids are thinking about this stuff. They may not be aware that they're thinking about it, but they are thinking about it.

Carl: Yeah, and you start the book with this whole bit about making decisions. You tell that story very early in the book about how people respond to you when they see you taking pictures. "Wow, what kind of camera is making those pictures?" You're clear to say, "My eyes are taking these pictures. The camera is just a tool to help me make decisions, just like my laptop doesn't write stories, I have to make lots of decisions as a writer." I thought that's a great story and a great way of beginning the book. It's interesting, as I was reading through the lessons I was making a lot of connections to Marshfield Dreams because as you know and a many teachers know, I used stories from Marshfield Dreams extensively in writing workshops with kids.

There's two lessons that you have, Zoom in Close and Take a Wide Perspective, and immediately I thought if we're zoomed in close to your story's statue about when you were three or four years old. It's this beautiful small moment-y kind of story about you pretending you were a statue outside on the weekend morning and your parents coming outside and quote unquote, "Buying you," and you turn into a real boy. It's a beautiful, beautiful example of zooming in close. Then I thought also in that collection of stories, Taking a Wide Perspective. Well, there's Scuttlebutt, your story Scuttlebutt, which takes place over the course of a whole year or more where that little girl in your class kept telling you that your mom was expecting a baby before you knew it. That story takes a wide perspective of a lot of time, so I was immediately connecting some of these lessons to mentor text, stories that you've written. That interplay between photography and writing just kept going through my mind as I was reading through the lessons.

Ralph: Yeah, and I think that it's going to be interesting to see some teachers want to use all the lessons. Another teacher who maybe has a more preset writing curriculum, I think you still could salt in some of these lessons to change it up a little bit. I think that good teachers are always taking that reflective stance. So you try something, and then you step back to see if it works or not. I was thinking also, Carl, about the fact that when you teach writing, a lot of us when we teach writing, what we really do is we go into a parallel world, the world of literature. We say, "Okay, let's look at literature and let's see what these writers do." It's still textual, but it's a different world. Then we look at what the writers are doing, and then we go back to the writing and say, "You guys could try this in your own writing." In some ways, I think I'm doing the same thing as I'm saying, "Let's look at the world of photography. What are these photographers doing? How are they doing it?" Then identifying a craft move, and then segueing back into the kids' writing and suggesting that they might want to experiment with themselves when they write.

Carl: Right, and I think each of the lessons when you talk about photography at the beginning, they're wonderful metaphors. I've occasionally used camera metaphor in conferences. If I'm teaching focus I might pretend to hold a camera and I say, "I could zoom into your nose, or I could step back and take a picture of the whole class, and that's a choice we make in the story," but you take that so much further in this book. I just think the lessons are a real gift to everyone. I had a Bob Dylan thought as I was reading through them because there's some artists like Paul McCartney that basically play their songs for 30 years exactly the way it was in the album. Bob just keeps reinterpreting his songs, and I think often making them better when he plays them in concert.

Some of the lessons in this book, you have earlier versions of them in What a Writer Needs and they're wonderful. Here you're just doing what Bob Dylan does. You're saying, "Let me see if I can reimagine these in more powerful ways by using photography as a metaphor." So, I just was completely taken by these lessons and just really happy that you put them together like this for us in a way that, I think kids, especially as you say because they take pictures all the time. Ralph, did you have a camera as a kid?

Ralph: Yeah, I probably had a Brownie or something, yeah.

Carl: I had a little Kodak Instamatic. Film was expensive. I might have taken 10 or 15 pictures a year, and kids today are taking photos constantly. So, you're right, they are immersed in photography and I think they're going to have an understanding from these metaphors that are very different than perhaps you and I would have had a children. Simply because kids today take so many pictures, and it's such a part of their lives.

Ralph: Well one thing I was going to say, Carl, about that is that you and I work with teachers. So, I think that it's fair to say, I'm going to generalize, but teachers tend to be text people. In other words, we focus on words, metaphors and language, and so it's possible that maybe even, I'll speak for myself, at times I've been almost resistant to the visual world of imagery. I just want to say that I've been heartened by the fact that the initial response to this book from teachers that I've talked to about it, has been curiosity. It may require a shift of thinking for a lot of us who have been all in it for words and text, not to throw that stuff out. I'm always going to care about language. I mean, I just will, but I think that also bringing in some of the visuals and the photographic images is a way to enhance or strengthen what we're trying to do with kids.

Carl: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), I agree. A couple other things I wanted to ask you. After the craft lessons, you write a couple chapters and what you say is that photography is in and of itself important to discuss with children. You talked about teaching visual literacy and you also talked about this really interesting phrase, I thought. Photographing to learn. I found that really thought provoking, and I was wondering if you could talk about those a little bit and give us a little feel for what else you were talking about in the book.

Ralph: Well first of all, I always feel a little bit humbled when we mention visual literacy, because there are people who this is their field, they've been writing about it and thinking about it for many years. So, I don't purport to be some sort of a super expert on that field, but I would say that I think as the world become more visual, we want to help kids become better and more savvy consumers of the image that come in all the time. Partly that's just to make them alive to the world, but also at the same time we want kids to be able to be more thoughtful about the kind of pictures that they take, and see what's going on. Just like when we look at a poem with kids, we can help listen to what they have to say but also we can point out some of the things that the writer is doing. Thinking of the poem as a mentor text. I think that photos can also be mentor texts.

I think that teachers can also look at some of these images and help the kids become aware of some of the decisions that go into it. Then the other thing is that in terms of writing, I think I talked about the fact that people used to think of writing as just a way to regurgitate what you already know, and then there were people like James Moffett and Don Murray, and others, who said, "No, no, no. Writing is really an investigative tool. You really discover what you have to say in the act of writing it." I really think there's a strong and striking parallel there with photography because I have found that by taking pictures, I have learned so much about the world. I could give you many example of that and show you where I thought something, and then I took a picture, and then I looked closely at the picture and I had to revise my understanding about the world. I said, "Oh. What I thought was happening was not what was happening." I think it's a bunch of things there.

It first of all is the observation that goes on, because I'm actually paying very close attention right before the picture gets taken. So, I'm really focused in. Then taking the picture itself, but then also really later on when I go back and revision and really take a good look at the images, often that's the time when I make some discoveries. It's oftentimes not the discovery when I actually take the picture. It's later looking at the image when I realize that what I thought was happening was not exactly what was happening.

Carl: Yeah. The one about the, I don't remember the name of the bird, but-

Ralph: The Phoebe.

Carl: Yes. The one that was hitchhiking on her mom's back.

Ralph: Oh yeah, that was the pheobe. Yes. Yeah, and I think this is happening in many field by the way. There are many fields that have been revolutionized by photography. So, I think that one of the things to think about in the classroom is that when we get kids taking their own pictures, we want to really give them time to really look back, take a close look at what they've taken and see if they make any discoveries. I think that's important too. It's not just a matter of you've taken the picture and then you've got it. No, you have to go back and look at it and you've got to really look closely.

Carl: Yep. I think are the implications of your book too is how are you thinking the teachers could help students with digital cameras or photography in the classroom, and are you anticipating any obstacles they might be facing?

Ralph: I think that there's going to be a lot of steps forward and steps back. I think that sometimes we may feel, to get our feet wet, that will want to give the kids an assignment or a prompt. Teachers have had some good luck with sending the kids out in the playground with simple cameras and asked them to take pictures of the alphabet. Look for an a look for B, look for C and that's a good way to get the kids to be alive to what's right around them and they're looking closely. With older kids this ... There's a woman that I talk about in the book, Joan [Macquarie 00:01:03], she's got this, Self E project was she actually gets the kids taking pictures of themselves and also reflecting on what it says about them, what aspects of their personalities revealed in the pictures. I guess what I'm trying to say is I think that sometimes we will want to structure their activities a little bit and not make it too open ended.

But I also think that we can try to ask the kids ... find out what they're interested in. I make the point in the book that as much as we will want to show the kids images from either famous photographers, important photographers, contemporary artists, people right now that are taking pictures, those are all important. But I also think it's really important that we make time and space for students should be taking their own pictures. That's an important step. It may raise some issues. I know that sometimes whenever anybody talks about taking pictures, there's all kinds of permissions that have to be done and I understand that some things have to be worked through, but I think that the kids will be invested in the pictures that they're taking themselves in a way that will be just different than when you look at a picture from Ansel Adams or someone like that. Even if he's famous or she's famous.

Carl: Yep. I agree. There's something a lot of teachers do when they launch writer's notebooks. At the beginning of the year they take the kids outside and go on a walk. I guess they call them observation walks and the idea is that you go around and notice things and then write them at their notebook and just thinking about how if the kids had cameras in that kind of adventure, just how that would enhance that kind of exercise. Being wide awake to the world, it's fascinating.

Ralph: Didn't Don Graves say that poetry puts us in a constant state of composing, constantly composing.

Carl: Yep.

Ralph: And I think that once you start taking pictures ... well and kids are already taking pictures, they are composing all the time. You know? They are composing all the time.

Carl: Literally compose all the time. Watch my son it's hysterical.

Ralph: Yeah. Yeah.

Carl: So fascinating to watch the shift in their lives. One thing that I have to say that ... you had some advice in the book not to force the connection between photography and writing, which got me thinking about a story that you tell in one of your books about a classroom you're in and it was snowing out and the kids were whispering to each other, "Don't tell her she'll make us write about them." And there is a way that you don't want photography to become that next snowfall that the kids feel obligated to write about.

I'm wondering about the ways that you think writing can be sparked by photography and how it can be the invitation for kids to write, not a mandate.

Ralph: Yeah, that's a really good question. And I think that ... I post pictures on Instagram and I'm often struck by when people make a comment, they'll say to me, "Great picture and great caption." The caption is part of it. It's not just sort of this throwaway. The caption or the first sentence or the title, it angles the picture, it gives the reader away into it. So I think we're going to be looking at a lot of short texts that are accompanying photos. And I know that in the chapter I wrote about, for example, a simple example of that is the meme. Right? With a photograph and it's like one sentence or just a little couple of words that make a cryptic comment about the photo or use the photo to make a comment about life or something.

I think that as much as possible, we need to kind of create a space where we kind of invite kids to do it. But we also try to be a little bit patient. Let the kids find their own way. I'll just give you a quick example, Carl. I just came back from this trip to Africa as you know, and I took all these pictures of these elephants and looking at these pictures, I really want to write a picture book that's based on it. So I guess I would say the experience inspired me but also the images themselves inspired me. But it didn't happen right away. You know what I mean? It took a while for me to look at them and to put them together and say, "Gee, I do have a sort of a story here of these elephants coming into the waterhole at a certain time of the day."

It's that dance that teachers do. So there are times when we do nudge, but there's times we let kids discover themselves. And I think in my chapter I also made the example of I had this one picture where I, I wrote a poem about it. But I think that in some ways the poem was almost superfluous. Sometimes like you can over-explain something too. And when you over-explain it, you take the mystery and the magic out of the image. Which is really the exact thing that you don't want to do it when you take a picture. Right? I mean, yes, as teachers we want kids to be writing. If they're also just explaining what's apparent in the image, that's not right either.

Carl: Right, right, right. So how can a photograph spark just writing to think about something.

Ralph: And maybe as teachers we can show images and we can give the kids a range of possibility of the things that they could do. We can make some suggestions and they can also collaborate with us and maybe we we'll find ... For example, I've got all these pictures I've taken on this last trip and some of the pictures make me think that I'd like to some nonfiction too. Getting all these pictures it made me get that urge to write nonfiction, which I've never really published nonfiction for kids like that. So sometimes-

Carl: But please do.

Ralph: Yeah. I guess I'm trying to say is that the image, should inspire us to kind of want to do some writing about it, but not all the time. There are times I think that you take the picture and the picture stands on its own. What do they say? One pictures worth a thousand words.

Carl: Yep. Yep. Well I could see myself sometime this year. Invariably I'll be in the middle of school this year doing some conferring. A lot of teachers watching and someone will ask a kid to come in that kind of doesn't like to write very much. And this year I can imagine saying, "You know what bud, take out your cell phone a second and why don't you just scroll through Instagram and see if that might work for you to spark some ideas for things you could write about in your notebook." There's so many ways that I think we can imagine this and it's exciting.

Ralph: And then going back to your question earlier about the camera's writer's notebook. If you go back to scrolling through your pictures and you see certain themes or certain things that come back again and again and again that is probably telling you something that ... it's sort of showing you your obsessions or your fascinations.

Carl: Yep. Yep. One of the amazing features of your book is, I'm so pleased that we live when we do in a book like yours can be produced. It just includes how many of your gorgeous pictures and to me that's worth the price of admission right there. The pictures are stunning and they're throughout the book. But you definitely see themes in the pictures that you share. Definitely your love of the natural world and your love for your grandchildren comes through as well. Other themes come through as well. But I think for kids to, seeing those patterns. Interesting to have that as another strategy. Just a one way their cameras can be used. It's another strategy they could use to spark writing. It's exciting to think about. So I've got one more question for you Ralph.

So I'm imagining, your book is going to be out, everyone's going to have access to it very soon or when this podcast is out it will be accessible to everybody. And I know the teachers are going to read and love this book. And you alluded to this a little bit before, but I'd like you to expand on it. I think some are going to say, "But I already have a writing curriculum. It's pretty laid out." And I'm curious about what suggestions you could give teachers like that to begin to integrate what they've learned from your book into their writing curriculums.

Ralph: That's a big question. And I think that clearly what focus lessons presents is not a writing curriculum.

Carl: Right, right.

Ralph: I mean it's just not, it's meant to kind of enrich what teachers are doing. And I think that no matter what genre you're teaching, you're going to be looking at certain craft elements. And I really think a lot of those craft elements by the way are common. Our friend Tom Newkirk pointed out that story appears in almost every genre.

Carl: Right I was making a connection to that when I was reading again today. Your craft lesson on foreground and background and when you write history there's foreground and background.

Ralph: Exactly.

Carl: And all of these lessons apply. You create tension in nonfiction writing and I'm in that beautiful lesson on creating tension and showing photographs with tension could not just be about story in tension but in nonfiction or in argument writing as well.

Ralph: Yeah, that's right. Exactly right. So I think that even those teachers who have a somewhat comprehensive writing program and maybe sequential that it's laid out, I would like to think that there still could be some places where they could interject and intersperse some of these lessons into what they're already doing. I think that kids would like that variety of instead of like looking at text as the mentor texts to look at or looking at the words, or the poem, or the at the essay, that they could actually be looking at a visual.

The other thing that I was going to say, that I think that as much as we have things to say about these elements of craft with the photos, I think it's also important to leave time for kids to make their own connections to it. So yeah, I think that there may be small ways and larger ways that we can begin to bring in some of the imagery and but also like the language of the photography into the classroom. And one of the things that I have always believed is that when I go into a school, I do think there's some value in having a common language. Don't you?

Carl: Yep.

Ralph: You know, that everybody understands that when you say, "Editing," it doesn't mean revising. Or when you say "Revising," it's not about correcting the spelling. We could argue about what that language should be, but I think it's important that there's some sort of a common language that everybody, all the teachers understand it, they're on the same page. Parents understand it, the kids understand it. And I think that as we kind of negotiate what that language is, I think that we could include some of the terms from photography that are just clearly applicable to the teaching of writing.

Learn more about Focus Lessons at Heinemann.com

Download the sample chapter from Focus Lessons!


glyph-logo_May2016Follow us on Instagram @heinemannpub to stay up to date on the latest books, your favorite authors, and upcoming events!


ralphfletcher-1-218x300-5Ralph Fletcher has been a mentor to teachers and young writers everywhere. He has helped hundreds of thousands of teachers understand the importance of letting go and trusting their writers. Ralph's professional books are part of this tradition.

His newest book, Focus Lessons, helps teachers use the natural links between writing and photography to enhance their instruction. Another recent title, Joy Write, explores the value of giving students time and autonomy for the playful, low-stakes writing that leads to surprising, high-level growth.

Learn more about Ralph at his website RalphFletcher.com and follow him on Twitter @FletcherRalph.

carlanderson-1Carl Anderson is an internationally recognized expert in writing instruction for Grades K-8, working as a consultant in schools and districts around the world.  A long-time Staff Developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Carl is the author of numerous books on teaching writing, including the bestselling How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers.

His latest book, A Teacher's Guide to Writing Conferences, is part of the Classroom Essentials series. Full of classroom video, the book helps teachers understand the underlying principles and reasons for conferring with students, and how to make writing conferences a part of teachers' daily routines.

Follow Carl on Twitter @ConferringCarl

Posted by: Steph GeorgePublished:

Topics: Ralph Fletcher, Podcast, Writing, Carl Anderson, Heinemann Podcast, Focus Lessons

Comment on this post:

Related Posts

The Camera as a Writer's Notebook

Crows collect sparkly things; humans are similarly inclined. The writer’s notebook is a container to gath...
Steph George Oct 7, 2019 9:51:33 AM

Enhancing Writing through Photography

Photography is important in and of itself. We may tend to think of photography as a fringe subject, a cre...
Steph George Aug 30, 2019 7:06:00 AM

Summer Writing Camp Week Five Wrap-Up

Today wrapped up the fifth and final week of Jennifer Serravallo's Summer Writing Camp−how time flies! Th...
Steph George Jul 30, 2018 1:32:01 PM