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Incremental Steps to Becoming a Better Writing Teacher

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This week Carl Anderson and Matt Glover talk about their new book, How to Become a Better Writing Teacher.

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What is a book written for doing, not just reading? Matt Glover and Carl Anderson can answer this question. Their new book, How to Become a Better Writing Teacher is a book written for doing. It puts the power of day-to-day curriculum decision-making and fine-tuning into the hands of the teacher. In our conversation today, Matt and Carl dive deeper into some of the 50-plus high impact strategies from their book that you can easily find as you need throughout the year.

 

Below is a transcript of this episode.

Carl Anderson:

Well, this is Carl and I'm so excited to be part of this podcast today, and for those of you listening, thanks so much for being part of this.

Matt Glover:

Yeah, and this is Matt, and I've been looking forward to this as well. Carl and I have been thinking about this book for a long time, and we're so excited for it to finally be out. Just really nice to have a chance to be able to talk about it today. That just leads right into it, Carl. Why don't you just start off by talking a little bit about the origin of this book. How did this come to be?

Carl Anderson:

Well, Matt, I was thinking today that you and I have something in common with Taylor Swift, and I'm wondering if you have any idea what it is.

Matt Glover:

I have no idea what I could possibly have in common with Taylor Swift.

Carl Anderson:

Well, we actually do have something in common with Taylor Swift. During the pandemic, she wrote and released two albums, Folklore and Evermore, okay? A lot of musicians that put out CDs that they call pandemic CDs and our book is a pandemic book, so that's what we have in common with Taylor. I remember the summer of 2020, just a couple months into the pandemic, you called me and suggested we do a webinar on how to confer with students online since so many teachers would be teaching virtually that following school year. I remember you said, "You know, we might get 10 or 20 people, but it'll be fun."

I said, "Sure," and lo and behold, 500 people showed up. Do you remember that?

Matt Glover:

I do.

Carl Anderson:

That led to several more webinars over that fall on helping students be engaged, writers teaching with mentor text, and people kept coming and boy, did we have fun. We discovered we love working together, we have the same passion for writing, and we complement each other in so many great ways. It was great PD for me, and I know you've said the same thing about that. I remember that after a couple months we just started saying that, "We should turn all this stuff that we talk about in these webinars into a book." Well, there we go three years later.

Matt Glover:

Well, and it is such an interesting book in that way, in that it really comes out of how our thinking grew with each other during those couple of years. There's so many things that I think about differently now after having worked on this book. It's really just a culmination of us thinking together and kind of growing our thinking over the last couple of years.

Carl Anderson:

Yeah, and using the time that we had the last couple of years to really put our heads together and just really think about the question, how to become a better writing teacher?

Matt, I've got this question for you just to let me hear your thoughts about why you think this book is so important.

Matt Glover:

Yeah, there's a couple of reasons certainly. One is that there are a lot of books out there that are about curriculum and what to teach, and there's not as much about how to teach it well, and that's really what we're focusing on in this book is really teaching moves that help support young writers. That's why it's so crucial in this book that we have tons of video because we want to show what these moves look like, not just talking about these teaching moves, but also really thinking about let's show what this looks like and making that very visible. It's a book that helps teachers, whatever their experience level is, but it's really a book for if you have a writing workshop up and going, even if you're new to writing workshop, but you have a writing workshop in place, how to get better at this. It's really a book that wherever teachers are, gives them lots of possibilities. This book is filled with all these different actions, things that teachers can do to become better writing teachers and hopefully in very small increments, small little bits that are very manageable to take on one and then to take on another.

Carl Anderson:

We're, I think, in a really challenging moment in education right now, all across the country and in other parts of the world, the answer to serious problems seems to be to say, "Well, let's adopt a new curriculum." What I think this book is about is that curriculums don't teach children, teachers teach children, and whatever curriculum that someone might be using, things are going to go much differently depending on your skillset as a teacher and how you confer, how well you can teach a mini lesson, how well you can revise a unit of study in response to student needs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Our book addresses the teaching part of things, which to me is the single most important factor in the success of children.

Matt Glover:

It really puts teachers, and students by extension, but teachers right at the center of this, that's really what this book is about, supporting teachers, so I agree, that's the crucial role in the classroom are the decisions that teachers make day by day and how many decisions teachers make day by day and how those impact students. Yeah, I think this is very much a book that's designed to support teachers. Given that this book really focuses on teachers and teaching and supporting teacher decision-making, really is at the heart of this, Carl, just give a quick overview of how this book works?

Carl Anderson:

Well, I think at the heart of this book is we've written over 50 actions that teachers can take to work on all sorts of different aspects of the way that they teach writing. These are actions that can be done in the classroom as teachers are working with students, they can be done outside the classroom, either by themselves or preferably with colleagues. All these actions are ones that we've taken ourselves as teachers in our careers or that we've done with teachers in schools around the world or both. All these actions are grouped in a way that really what they do is they help teachers align their classroom practice to keep principals of learning and teaching writing.

For example, chapter two contains actions that will help you get to know your students as people and as writers. Chapter three contains actions that will help you create the conditions for engagement in a writing workshop. Chapter six will help you help students learn from authors.

Matt has mentioned the videos, but many of these actions include videos that will either show lessons that are really important to get in your repertoire, or some of them are discussions between Matt and me where we're modeling how to talk about various aspects of writing. The book also comes with a robust package of online resources that are also used in the actions, and they include diagnostic forms, record keeping forms, assessment guides, forms for projecting or designing if the study. There's just so many great tools that we're offering in the book. I think that's what the guts of the book contains, Matt.

Matt Glover:

One that I think in this day and age is particularly important is the chapter on becoming a curriculum decision-maker. I want to be careful about this. It's really how to think like a curriculum decision-maker, because we're not expecting people to go write standards, not going to rate their district curriculum. But our point is that when you're teaching day by day, you have to be thinking like a curriculum decision-maker because we're thinking about big picture decisions that teachers make day by day. We certainly want, teachers are going to follow standards and curriculum and resources. However, standards and curriculum and resources can't tell you exactly what to teach tomorrow because they weren't there today. The only person who can decide what exactly your students need tomorrow is the classroom teacher because they're the only one that's there today. In order to make those decisions, it's not enough just to decide the night before, certainly, "What am I going to teach tomorrow?" We'd have to be thinking across a unit before the unit starts. We have to be thinking about what are our goals, what are the possibilities for how this unit could unfold so that we can make responsive decisions day by day in the unit. That's really what we're thinking about is how do teachers make responsive decisions about what to teach tomorrow based on what they see happening in the classroom?

There's lots of actions in this chapter. Certainly there's one about how to revise units when you already have a unit, there's an action about how to talk to your administrator if your administrator is saying, "Follow these lessons blindly without making decisions," how to talk through that with your principal, because of course we'd want people to be thinking about why does this mini lesson today make sense? What was I thinking originally? How am I going to alter this? How does this make sense today? Well, we want to make sure that principles are supportive of that as well, and that can be a challenging conversation sometimes, and there's an action supporting that.

But one of the ones that we've really think about, and this is how to get ready for a unit in writing, how to get ready before the unit starts because it'll make the teaching much, much easier and the decisions we make much more effective, the more prepared we are for the unit.

Carl Anderson:

I think, having projected some units myself this summer and actually done this action multiple times over the last couple months, I know that that step of rereading mentor texts before a unit, before you want to do a unit, it helps you see so many teaching possibilities, so that, as you were saying, so when you're in a writing conference, what comes up may not be that day's mini lesson. It may not be any of the mini lessons that are in the unit, the child may need something very different, but if you've taken the time to look through the mentor text, you're going to have a much larger repertoire of craft points. If you've taken the time to do some of your own writing, you're also going to have more process teaching points that are provided in the mini lessons of a district written or commercial unit.

As you were saying too, that when I have that extensive repertoire of teaching points that you get from reading mentor text or from doing some of your own writing, it's much easier than if you feel like you need to swap out a lesson that you don't think is appropriate for your kids, well, then you have some other lessons to swap in that you think are much more appropriate. I think what we do in this particular action is try to help people have a much more active stance towards curriculum versus a passive stance.

Matt Glover:

Yeah, and that's such an important point that you make there about conferring because who are the most challenging students to confer with? The students on either end of the learning spectrum, the students who probably didn't need what was in today's mini lesson because the downside of whole group teaching is it's focused on what do most students need, not what do all students need.

Carl Anderson:

Then in some conferences, you sit with the kid and they're doing today's mini lesson, they needed it, but they're doing really well with it, and you want to challenge them more, either with kind of more advanced version of that or with something else. The more you know your mentor texts or your own process texts, the more you can be able to do that kind of work with kids.

Matt Glover:

The big move I learned from you long ago is pulling out a mentor text, whether it's your own writing, student writing, published writing in a conference, having those resources there with you. Well, it makes it 100 times easier if I don't have to flip, if I don't have to say to the child, "Hold on just a second, let me find a place in these mentor texts where this author does this." No, because the only reason we even thought of teaching it is because we saw it in the mentor text to begin with. It makes finding that spot in that mentor text where they're using dialogue or that spot where they're elaborating on a reason in an essay or whatever it is, it makes it so much easier to find those things because the only reason we even thought about teaching it is because we saw it in the mentor text or we saw it, we noticed it in our own processes in our writing. It just makes that teaching much, much easier.

Carl Anderson:

It takes some time upfront to do this, and in a way, it's a very simple move, read through the mentor text, and as a writer, as a writing teacher, and see what the possibilities are, but it makes the work in the units go so much better when you have that familiarity and that broader repertoire of teaching points than what a unit may provide.

Matt, I'm wondering, tied to that, and you mentioned this before, not every school do admin feel comfortable with teachers being curriculum decision-makers. I was wondering if you, and this is I think one of the great actions in this chapter of how to have conversations with your principal or your supervisor about being more of a curriculum decision-maker in your writing workshop. Could you say a couple things about that?

Matt Glover:

You have to be careful, I go long on this. I was a principal for a long time, so I have thoughts about this from the teacher perspective, from the principal perspective. But as a principal, I was thrilled when a teacher would come and say, "You know I'm thinking about altering this lesson," or, "I'm thinking about altering this sequence and here's why. Here's what I've been seeing happening in my classroom."

One of the things is that teachers, I think, have to be prepared and have to be able to explain why they're making those decisions. It's not, "I decided not to teach that mini lesson today because I just didn't feel like teaching it." No, it's, "No, here's been happening in my classroom, here's how I thought the unit would unfold to begin with, here's the adjustments I've made, here's why I made this adjustment on this particular day."

But to be able to talk with administrators about this, the place I always start is thinking about beliefs and actions and really trying to ground and make sure we have a common understanding of what do we believe as a school. When you think about, well, do we believe that all children don't need the same thing the same day, same time, that our job is to meet the individual needs of students? I've never met a principal who said, "No, that's really not how children learn and grow. Everyone's exactly the same." I think that there's a commonality often around beliefs. What really do we believe about high quality instruction and what do we believe about the role of a teacher and what do we believe about teaching and learning? If we can start by having some common understanding about beliefs, then it's much easier to look at does this action align with this belief? Whenever I'm thinking about this, we're thinking about how do we align beliefs and actions, but the starting point always is, well, what do we believe as a school? What do we believe as educators?

Carl, I'm wondering, I know this is a tricky question, but I'm wondering if you have a favorite action from this book? I know we love all of them. In fact, we love them so much that not only do we have the actions in the book, we have online actions that we ran out of space for but we couldn't just discard so we put them online, so there's additional actions online, and we have an ongoing list of actions we want to add later on down the road or actions we hadn't thought about that point. We just keep thinking of new actions. I know it's a tricky question, but I wonder if you have a favorite.

Carl Anderson:

Oh, it's like asking me which of my two children is my favorite.

Matt Glover:

Exactly. Exactly.

Carl Anderson:

I'd probably answer that by saying, "Whichever one I'm with at that time is my favorite," and if I'm with both of them, they're both my favorite. We have one on using record keeping forms to set and track goals for kids. One of the things I like about that action, I think record keeping is a very mysterious process for teachers and what exactly are you supposed to write down and how do you do that quickly during or after a conference? In that action, what we do is we ask teachers to watch a video of you and a video of me and to take some notes as if they were us, and then we have a video where we show the notes that we took and explain our rationale. Literally, this action is people are going to compare notes with us, so I think that's a really fun action and really helpful.

Another one that I love, there's actually two of them, there's some actions on how to teach precisely and craft and process lessons. It's from the chapter on teaching clearly and precisely. I have loved doing this work in schools, helping teachers learn how to really talk about craft techniques or writing strategies beautifully and in a way that's very accessible to children. In these actions, we have teachers study our videos, we have transcripts of teaching points, and then we invite people to write their own and try out some of the things they're learning. I think those are some powerful actions there.

What about you, Matt?

Matt Glover:

I'm so tempted to respond with the actions that we have around immersion, because as I think about one of the most powerful things that teachers can do is to have that immersion phase at the beginning of a unit where we spend two, three, four days studying our stack of texts with students. We have several actions around that, but I just feel more strongly than ever about how crucial that is. But if I had to ...

Carl Anderson:

Okay, Matt, I want to jump in and say, "That's my favorite now." Okay, that is my favorite now. Forget what I said before. I love the immersion actions. They're so great and the video is amazing.

Matt Glover:

Yeah. Yeah, I agree. As you were talking about those, I was thinking, "Oh, I'd love that one too." It is really hard to pick. But one I guess I've been thinking a lot about over the last couple of years is using students as mentors in a conference. One of the just shifts in my own teaching over the last several years has been that I've always used student samples when I'm conferring. I'll pull out a student sample and show a child how to do something. But really, I rarely use student samples from previous years anymore. I'm much, much more likely to use students in the classroom where I pull over a student in the classroom, say, "Hey, come on over here. Let me show you what he did," or, "Let me show you what this other child did."

When I pull that other child over, I get an additional benefit. Both children benefit from it. I don't have the child who's bringing their writing over, I don't have them teach it. I should be able to out teach most six-year-olds and 10-year-olds. I should be able to teach it better than the student does. But what I am doing is, "Let me show you what this other child has done," and the reason that's so powerful is that both students benefit from it. The child who I'm teaching, often I'm using another child because they're a closer approximation to what this child's doing, but the other child who I'm bringing over benefits as well, especially when it's a less confident writer. I use less confident writers to be the mentor in a conference more often than more confident writers.

The reason for that is I've seen time and time again where a child's disposition as a writer, their identity of themself as a writer, has shifted simply by having a teacher bring them over to be the mentor for somebody else. They walk away from that interaction feeling different about themselves as a writer, especially the less confident ones. I just can't stress that strong enough, if any of the teachers listening to this, just think about when was the last time you used a child in the conference to come over and be the mentor for somebody else? It's a tremendously powerful and underutilized move. Of course, there's a video to show exactly how to do that.

Carl Anderson:

I got one more thing to think about, Matt. Our friend and mentor, Katie Wood Ray has read our book, and one of the things that she said about the book is she said that, "How to Become a Better Writing Teacher isn't a book you read, it's a book you do." What does she mean by that, Matt?

Matt Glover:

Well, I think it's a couple of things. One is that it's not necessarily a book that you read straight through. It's really a book that we give you some tips at the beginning, how to use and find actions that will meet teacher's individual needs, so any two teachers reading this book might take very different paths through it. They would be able to dip into an action that speaks to them right now or that meets the need that they have. It's very much tied to teachers classroom practice. What are they doing day by day and it's the same thing with this book. We're going to use these actions, use the video to help us become better teachers.

I think the big thing about this is that we talk all the time about teaching with nudges with students, that our job as teachers is to help nudge a student to teach right in that zone of proximal development. Well, I think it's that same thing with teachers. Trying to tackle 20 different things to become a better teacher all at once is not an effective way to grow as a teacher. The much more effective way would be to pick one thing, work on that, and then pick another and work on that one. It's really a book that you would use over a long period of time to constantly be coming back to and say, "Okay, what am I trying to do next to become a better teacher?"

Carl Anderson:

I think that this book contains actions that we've taken ourselves as teachers and actions that we've helped teachers with, but I think it's by step by step by step by step in a way that makes sense for an individual teacher. I think that's what Katie means, that this is a book you do and use over time to gradually lift the level of your practice as a writing teacher.

Matt Glover:

Yeah, I agree. It's so interesting. I think I'm a very different writing teacher after having worked on this book with you. It really shows how much we've learned from each other, and I know that I'll be a different writing teacher next year because as you and I continue to talk about things and we continue to learn from teachers in classrooms, that we're constantly improving. I just thank you so much for the opportunity to work on this book together. I think it's just been a tremendous growth experience, and I've just enjoyed it greatly.

Carl Anderson:

Yeah, our conversation has been so special over the last several years, and we've known each other for a long time, but this collaboration over the last three years has just been one of the most powerful of my professional life. Anyway, Matt, it's been a great, great experience.

Matt Glover:

Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Edie:

Thank you to Matt and Carl for their time. You can order their book, How to Become a Better Writing Teacher at heinemann.com. Learn more and read a transcript at blog.heinemann.com.

 


Author_Circle_Headshot_Glover-Matt

 

 Matt Glover has been a teacher, principal, and consultant for over 35 years. He is the author of the Heinemann titles Craft and Process Studies: Units That Provide Writers with Choice of Genre and Engaging Young Writers, as well as the co-author of Already Ready, Projecting Possibilities for Writers, I Am Reading, and Watch Katie and Matt...Sit Down and Teach Up, a video-enhanced e-book. An international literacy consultant, Matt works in schools with teachers on topics related to nurturing writers of all ages, early reading, oral language composition, and supporting children’s intellectual development. 

Author_Circle_Headshot_Anderson-Carl-FIN

 

Carl Anderson is an internationally recognized expert in writing instruction for grades K-8. He works as a consultant in schools and districts around the world.  Carl is the bestselling author of numerous books including How to Become a Better Writing Teacher, A Teacher's Guide to Mentor Texts K-5A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Conferences, Assessing Writers, and How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers.

 

 

Topics: Matt Glover, Podcast, Carl Anderson, Heinemann Podcast

Date Published: 11/02/23

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