Today on the podcast we have an special conversation hosted by author Carl Anderson with his longtime friend and colleague, author Matt Glover.
In Matt’s recent book Craft and Process Studies: Units That Provide Writers with Choice of Genre, he argues that focusing on craft and process teaches students important writing skills while also providing more opportunities for choice of genre. And when students pick their own genre, they become more invested and engage in their work.
Below is a full transcript of this episode.
Carl: Matt, it is so exciting for me to be able to have a conversation with you today about your wonderful new book, Craft and Process Studies. Before we start with the conversation about the book, I've been reflecting on our relationship and I think I've known you now for almost 15 years. We got to know each other in your old school district in Ohio, the Lakota school district where you and your colleagues would bring me, Katie Ray, Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher, Lester Laminack... each summer, it seemed like for many years, for an institute for hundreds of teachers, which was wonderful. We've met at many conferences since then since you've become an author and consultant. I know we've presented at NCTE together. We presented at the NECA conference in Istanbul. It's always so wonderful to see you and learn from you.
Of course, I've encountered you so many times in the wonderful books that you've read over the years. I was thinking about this this morning, just how many books you've written over the last decade. I mean, Already Ready in 2008 with Katie Wood Ray about nurturing kindergarten, pre-K writers, Engaging Young Writers in 2009, Entry Points for Young Writers Into Becoming Writers. You wrote the wonderful, Projecting Possibilities for Writers in 2012 about designing units of studies. I Am Reading with Kathy Collins in 2015 on supporting young children's reading, and this brand new book, Craft and Process Studies. So, we've been so lucky to just get all your wonderful thinking. And so-
Matt: That's funny to think back, that's been about 15 years or so.
Matt: That was a long time ago at Lakota and it's ... so much has changed since then too because at that point I was just starting to figure things out around conferring and writing workshop and thinking things through and learned so much from you and the other people at that institute, so it's kind of bizarre to be talking with you today like this because I think back to how much I've learned from you over the years and where I was 15 years ago compared to now. So it's nice to just have a chance to be able talk like this as colleagues, which is different than it was 15 years ago.
Carl: Well, thank you. I've continued to learn and grow too and a lot of that has come from talking to you, hearing you speak, and from reading your wonderful books. So, let's zoom in on Craft and Process Studies. Mainly what I want to talk about today is I think the book has so many interesting implications for conferring, but I would like you to just talk a little bit first about what motivated you to write this book and what need do you think this book addresses with that?
Matt: Really the driving force behind it is an issue of engagement and really being interested in how we support student engagement and increasingly becoming concerned about students who might be less than engaged writers. One of the things that certainly impacts that is choice, choice of the topic that children have, meaningful topics will impact that and choice of genre as well. Increasingly, I work in schools where children have no choice of genre. It's just not at all uncommon for me now to be in a school where every unit of study from kindergarten through the end of sixth grade is a genre study and children never choose genre. There's so much about how having a genre that you really care about impacts children's engagement, and not just for less confident writers or reluctant writers, but for all writers, having a genre you care about impacts engagement. All children don't have the same level of energy for the same genre. So, whenever we're choosing a genre, somebody's going to be less engaged. I always have to be careful in talking about that because it's not an anti-genre stance. I love genre studies. It's just that it's not the only thing we should be studying.
Carl: Right. I in no way took from your book that it was anti genre study. I also loved genre studies and find inquiry into particular genres to be very exciting, but I do think you make a really important point about student engagement and that when every study is a genre study, there are always some kids that seem left out and aren't as motivated to write because they don't have that choice. So, as I read the book, Matt, I kept thinking about how all these wonderful units of study in which students can choose the genres in which they write, which is what the book is all about, it has so many implications for conferring. I think the very first implication is that, in conferences, when we're not in the genre study, when we're in a study where kids can choose their own genre, we start conferences not necessarily knowing what genre kids are writing in. I think that's a really interesting thing to think about and I remember watching you do a writing conference in school. We were both working in Indiana years ago. I remember the question that you asked over and over again to kids was so striking to me. The question was, "What are you making?" I'd like you to unpack that question a little bit and why you think it's such an important question to ask.
Matt: Yeah, well, what's interesting about that question is you can only ask it if you're in a study other than a genre study. We don't ask children who were in a how to unit-
Carl: "What are you making?"
Matt: What are they making, right, because we know what they should be making. Now, we may ask if it's clear they're not, but even being able to ask that question would imply the children have a choice of genre. So, that makes that question significant right off the bat. It really gets at, that word making really gets at what's this thing that you're creating? If we even care about children understanding genre, one of the ways to do that is, when they choose genres, then they have to articulate, "Hey, here's what I'm making today. Here's the genre I'm writing in." That thinking is very different than when a genre is assigned. So, that question implies so much about children's ownership and decision making that you have when you have control over what are you actually creating?
Carl: Yeah, yeah. It is interesting to think about, when kids get to choose their own genre, they get to learn so many things. They get to think. Sometimes you just love a genre and you get to explore it and that's a really interesting thing to think about. I have a purpose for writing, but which genre best enables me to do that for the audience that I'm writing for. So-
Matt: Well think about what writers have to do in terms of thinking about aligning audience purpose, genre, and topic. Do we have all those things line up? If you don't have control over all of them, it's difficult to make those kind of decisions.
Carl: Right, right. I think I was so struck by that question because it made me reflect on how I very rarely ask it because so many studies are genres, studies. It's interesting, I've been thinking about this a lot in the last couple of weeks. Genre does come up sometimes in conferences about genre, but usually it's about the child's having some trouble with segueing into the genre, to transitioning into the genre. I had a conference with the sixth grader where he was writing a book review and he says, "My teacher kept saying this is not a book report, it's a book review. I don't get in trouble if I write a book report." So he was really trying to grapple with the idea of this new genre, but he didn't have any choice in that he had to write a book review, so he wasn't experiencing what writers over the world experience of deciding this genre and why.
Matt: They can make then, conferring in that, in a unit like that, where children have choice of genre a little different. If you're used to only conferring in genre studies, then the first thing we look at and think about when you sit down next to a child is what genre are they writing? Are they writing in the genre they're supposed to? Are they writing in that? What's interesting about Craft and Process Studies then is genre is the last thing I should consider teaching in a craft or a process study, yet it's the first thing that comes to mind. So if you think of it like this, the first thing we should be thinking about or one of the first things we think about in any conference would be, "Well, what are our unit goals? What are we working towards? How's this conference going to help a child work towards the goals for this unit?"
Then if we can't think of something related to the unit goals, then we can teach them something that would help them in any unit of study. So, in a genre study, that's fairly straightforward, what's related to the genre, what's related to the unit goals, and then what else would be helpful? Where this gets challenging, for me at least, is then when I'm in a craft or a process study, the first thing we should have been thinking about are the unit goals, so if I was on a punctuation study, the first thing we should be looking at is what's your punctuation like? How are you crafting using punctuation? Next thing I should think about would be, well, what else would help you as a writer? Then the last thing I should be thinking of is, well, what's the actual genre you're writing? Because if I teach into that actual genre, it won't meet the unit goals and is not helping them in any other unit of study probably either.
Carl: Right. Right.
Matt: If it's really a real genre specific teaching point. Yeah, what happens for me is, when I sit down next to a child, I'm so used to looking at everything through a lens of genre that even if I'm in a punctuation study and had fourth graders writing a mystery, first thing that jumps to mind, all my mystery teaching points, right?
Carl: Yep. Yep. Yep. Yep.
Matt: All things related to writing mystery, and those are the last things they should be going for. I think it just, it's not any harder. It's just takes a little getting used to if you've only been thinking about genre first rather than genre last.
Carl: Right. I think that when I'm working with kids in genre studies, one of the questions I often ask kids is, "What are you doing to write really well?" Which really means, ""What are you doing to write well in this genre?" It is interesting, one of the questions that I'm sure you get too from teachers is, in the research part of a conference, how do you know what questions to ask? It seems to me that our questioning will be different in craft and process studies where kids can choose genres, because if you're teaching kids to read like a writer or you're teaching them to an illustration study or punctuation study and those are your unit goals, it seems like that's going to drive our questioning in a different direction. So.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely, because the first ... one of those questions first is going to be, the research questions, is "What are you making? Talk to me a little bit about your writing." How's it going?" All those things, but then there's usually a key question that I'm asking that kind of relates to the unit goals, and this helps not only, I think, students understand what the goals and what we're shooting for in this particular unit, but it helps teachers keep that in mind also, because one of the things that will happen sometimes with craft and process studies is that teachers, if they're not used to them, will feel like, or say that they feel like they're kind of fuzzy, right? That they're not quite sure what they're teaching towards. Well, there's lots of little things that will help clarify those units. Having a clear ... knowing exactly what you're going to do at the writing celebration and how that's going to show what they've learned will help.
There's those little things will help, but one of the things that will clarify those units is that if you are going to ask the, in every conference, the same question, if you're going to ask one question to start at every conference, I'm not saying you have to only ask that question, but if you are going to ask the same question at the beginning of every conference that would get at the unit goals, what would that key question be? So if it was, like you said, if it was a illustration study, "Talk to me about your most interesting illustration move you've made so far or talking about how a page where your illustration and words work particularly well together." Or if it was a punctuation study, "What's the new type of punctuation that you've tried out in this piece of writing? Or what are you getting ready to think about trying next?" Or in a revision study, I mean, the revisions is always going to be "What's the most powerful revision move you've made?" I'm not going to ask it as "Have you made any revision moves?" Because that would imply maybe you did or maybe you didn't. Let's just going to ask it as that positive presupposition. "Well, what revision moves have you made? I what's the most powerful one you've made?"
So, I think those kinds of questions help the teachers also keep in mind what the big focus for this unit is. What are we working towards? If we're asking those kinds of questions that cut across the genres right off the bat, it helps us avoid falling into that genre trap.
Carl: Yeah, I think that's a really big takeaway, that some of the important questions we're going to ask children in any unit of study, genre study, or a craft and process study are going to be really linked to our unit goals. Keeping those unit goals in mind are going to really help us with our questioning and centering the conference in a way that is going to help deepen the study that the class is on. So, I think that's really powerful takeaway, Matt.
Matt: Well, and of course, that's no different with genre studies, right? It's the same thing.
Carl: Yeah. Yeah.
Matt: But if you ... it helps kind of clarify the focus for those craft and process studies.
Carl: Right, right. I think it helps us to understand that in the genre study, we may be asking kids what they're doing to write well. I don't think we always realize we're doing that because it is a genre study and we are hoping the kids are going to learn to write well in the particular genre we're studying, so that question really is tied to unit goals as well. So anyway, let's think about something else too here. Now, let's think about mentor texts, which I'm sure you get the same question from teachers in your work too, as teachers are always wanting to know where to find good mentor texts. Then, in a genre study, it's challenging even to find texts in that genre that are appropriate for them to show kids with that genre, how that genre goes, but I'm wondering in general, when you're building your stack of mentor texts for a craft in process studies, what are some of the challenges that ... what's different about finding mentor text in those kinds of studies?
Matt: Yeah, so one of the things off the bat is that we have to make sure that we have a range of genres represented in our stack, because if we only have one genre represented, then we've made it a genre study, right?
Carl: Yep, yep.
Matt: So if we say this is an illustration study, let's just say, and I only put stories in there, or I put realistic fiction stories in, now we've made it a realistic fiction unit. Whether we tell them they can choose there's ... We can tell them over and over you can choose your genre, but if we're only showing one genre and the teacher's writing that the teacher's using is also in that same genre and all the students do whatever in the same genre, then it's genre study.
One of the tips would be that we need to make sure we have more than one genre represented in our stack, but what also makes it easy is that it doesn't matter which genres we have, because teachers will often say, "Oh my gosh, I have eight different genres going on in my class right now. How am I going to get eight different stacks of texts for all these different students?" And do I have to have eight samples of my own writing?"
And actually you don't have to have any of the genres children are writing in, because we're not teaching into the genre.
Carl: Right, right.
Matt: Thinking about it from a conferring standpoint, when we have texts that we're using in conferences, when I sit down next to a child, let's say I had two published mentor texts with me and the child's writing in a different genre, that shouldn't matter at all because I don't need the ... I'm teaching something about illustration or punctuation or whatever it is, I don't need the same genre. And in fact, here's where it really gets interesting, often, when I have a child who's writing in, let's say, realistic fiction and I have a realistic fiction story with me and I have an informational, all-about-book with me, so I happened in that case to have the same genre the child's writing in, I often go to the other genre. Rather than showing it in the same genre and running the risk of them thinking, "Oh, this is a realistic fiction technique."
If I show the same technique in a genre different than the one that child's writing in, that helps them see, "Oh, this craft move cuts across genres," which actually is supposed make them more powerful. Because I worry a lot of that when children start to see different writing techniques as being siloed into a particular genre, that what we learn in the poetry unit never crosses over into anything else and what we learned in this essay unit won't cross over into my story. And a lot of those crafting techniques cut across genre, and so when we're conferring if we have more than one genre with us and we sometimes use a genre different than the child's writing in, it helps them see how that cuts across.
Carl: Right. I think that's such a powerful idea. And we're about building repertoire of crafts that cross genres. And I was thinking of an example that, if I'm teaching a child in an illustration study that you can in your illustration have several panels, like a comic strip, if a kid's writing a story, I can still show that to them in a nonfiction book and say, "This is a craft technique that you can split a picture into several panels like this. It isn't specific to story, it's a technique that writers use in really every genre in a picture book where there's illustrations." I think that's a really important thing for kids to see across time.
Matt: Yeah, I just saw that yesterday. I was with a group of sixth grade teachers and we were looking really closely, trying to get better at reading like a writer and looking really closely at specifically what this author is doing, and three fourths of what we noticed cut across genres. We could find the same technique in all sorts of others honors really quickly and so it helps ... I think that makes those techniques much more powerful for students when they know that they can use them in a variety of places.
Carl: I think that's a really, really powerful idea and just for us to grapple with in our work with kids. So another thing that struck me about mentor texts in your book, first off, I just do want to step back and just ... I'm so thankful that you actually describe 17 different units of study in which students can have choice of genre. What an incredible resource for teachers. Where was this book 20 years ago when I was a classroom teacher? I would have ... I think I did do some approximations in some of these units, very, very ... very basic versions of them, nowhere near as well thought out as you've done here, but so many of them I never conceived of as a classroom teacher.
And so anyway, I just think teachers just need to know that there's so many great ideas for units of study that provide writers with choice of genre.
Matt: But I can say the same thing though. I could say, "Carl, where were you 30 years ago when I was teaching first grade and I didn't have a writing workshop in place?" So I think the same way.
Carl: Well one of the interesting ... one of the features that I just really love in everyone in these unit descriptions, you have this section on how to be prepared for conferences, a section on that. And could you talk about what do you mean by preparation for conferences and why you included these sections?
Matt: So one of the big things I'm trying to get at, and this is something that I very specifically learned from you, is thinking about when we're teaching in a conference, that we need to actually be teaching rather than telling, reminding, correcting, which aren't really showing children how to do things. It's just telling them what to do. And I remember so clearly, first time I heard you talk about, "Yeah, here's how we're going to pull my own writing out or I'm going to use published writing or student samples in a conference."
And so I think that's something that, in general, in any unit of study, genre, craft, or process that makes learning much more powerful for students is when we're actually teaching and showing children how to do something. And so part of it was including that portion in each of those 17 units was kind of that reinforcement, that reminder of okay, we need to always be having our own writing, we need to have student samples with us less often now. And instead of using student samples, I'm using students in the classroom, I'm bringing one student over to be the mentor for someone else and we need to have published writing.
So part of it was to remind them of that, but then to go deeper with that is also the issue of all right, well what genre of my own writing do I need? What student samples I need? How can I have these tools pulled together that are going to be focused again around the unit goals. So not focused around genre, but focused on the unit goals. And if I have these tools with me, I'm going to be much, much more prepared for our conference. If I had that toolkit ready to go and I've been thoughtful about what goes in there, for example, I might want to have more than one sample of my own writing in different genres, just like do with published tags, and even, again, to try to make that easy.
What worries me sometimes is teachers will say, "Oh my gosh, now I've got to go write all these different things." You really don't. I would just pull pieces of writing from other units that I'm already using in the year. I don't need to create something new for this unit, I can show revision moves and punctuation moves or whatever in other pieces of writing that I've already had. So again, part of this is to reinforce really big ideas, but also to make it easier for teachers in some ways. Pulling out tools to teach within a craft or a process study is even easier than in a genre study.
Carl: Mm-hmm (affirmative) mm-hmm (affirmative), that's an interesting way of seeing it. This whole idea of preparation I think is so important. I was reflecting with some teachers in New York City on Wednesday, that if you think about writing workshop is, let's say 45 minutes and 10 minute mini lesson, five minutes share, that means 30 of the 45 minutes is independent writing and conferring time. And that is the majority of our instructional time is in conferences. So, I think we want to just ... You're making the point so well in these units that we need to be justice prepared for our conferences as we are for our mini-lessons or our small group work that we do with kids.
Matt: Well, it's interesting when you break it down time-wise like that and just thinking about where do teachers spend more time preparing. Are they getting ... spending more time getting ready for those 10 minute mini lessons that aren't going to meet everyone's needs often because they have such a wide range of students, or are we spending some time preparing for the most powerful teaching we do in conferences at the end that are trickier? So if we do that little bit of preparation ... I mean, think about how much trickier conferences are than mini lessons, because no one goes into a mini lesson thinking, "Oh, I wonder what I'm going to teach in this mini lesson?" Everyone knows what their going to teach in a mini lesson when you're prepared for it.
Whereas, the conference is going to have that sense of, "Yeah, I don't know what to teach until you start talking, but there are so many things that we could do." Again, I learned from you, looking at student writing in advance. If I just look at student writing a little bit to get prepared for this conference, I'll be way closer to a teaching point, I'll have a much better sense of where this conference might go if I've spent just a few minutes looking at their writing.
Carl: Right, right. One thing I was just thinking about, Matt, was just in these craft and process studies where kids can choose their own genre, just how exciting it is for a teacher to be conferring because you never know what you're going to be ... You know you're going to be focusing on the unit goals, but just the incredible wide variety of things that children write when they get to choose the genre they're writing in. And I think that just brings a freshness to conferring, to know that in this conference, I'm working on a cookbook with the child, in this conference, I'm working a graphic novel with the child, this conference, I'm working in a feature article with a child. I think it, just from my perspective, my own personal sense of "Gosh, this is interesting for me," to have kids doing so many things is just so exciting.
My wife has given my son a pair of socks for every night of Hanukkah this year, and I think for the first two nights, he'll be excited by it. But by the third through eight nights of Hanukkah, he's going to be like, "Oh, another pair of socks." And I just think it's kind of like that in a genre study. As much as I love genre studies, we know what the kids are doing and it's so much fun to work with kids when they're doing different things.
Matt: And I love it when I'm surprised. I mean, I love it when I have a child and I'm like, "All right, I have no idea what genre this is. This is a really interesting piece of writing. I'm not quite sure what genre ..." And those are such enjoyable conferences, or the conferences I have where I have very little frame of reference for the genre, but I can still teach into that. But those are such fun, interesting conferences.
One of my favorite conferences in the book is with this little guy where I knew he had a memoir that he was working on, but then he also started talking about this rap battle that he was in, how he had been writing these raps, this rap battle going back and forth with the instructional assistant in the classroom. So I ended up having a conference with him to thinking about word choice and all in his rap, which you're talking about genres I know very little about, that's not my go-to genre, but it was one of my favorite conferences. It's like, all right, this is going to be really interesting to think about, what are the common things you need regardless of what the genre is?
Carl: One of my favorite conferences ever, that I've ever had was with a eighth grader I taught in Kentucky many years ago and she really surprised me. I sat down with her, and most of the kids, it was early in my writing workshop experience and so a lot of kids were writing stories, but she was doing a parody and she was doing a parody really of me in my class, her class, and she did it by just having the Beatles, Paul McCartney have a writing conference with John Lennon. And it was utterly a roasting of me and my teaching and writing workshop just in only the way an eighth grader can do. But it was just such a wonderful surprise to encounter a child who had found the genre that was really interesting to write in for her to accomplish an important purpose, to just kind of needle her eighth grade teacher a little bit. So, anyway.
Matt: Well, I think what that does too, in opening up possibilities for children, what's nice about this is that may have been the first parody she ever had written. You don't have know very much about a genre to be able to go try it out. I see students all the time who are writing in genres that they're really engaged in but they have never really had a ... Like I said, this child's writing this movie script. She had never had a movie script unit of study, but she cared a lot about it and was figuring out how to write in that ... And to think about what great genre work that is when you have to figure out, "Alright, I'm going to write this parody or I'm going to write this movie script. I have to think about how am I going to do this." That thinking is so different than when it's being directed in a genre study.
Carl: Yeah, it's fascinating, isn't it? In some of the units that you describe so well in your book, it made me think about how they require different kinds of mentor text, and that that we traditionally think of mentor text as published texts by authors or a finished text that we've written or a student's written, but in some of the units you're writing about, like the Launch Your Writing workshop unit or the Revision unit, seems like we need some different kinds of mentor texts to be prepared to support the unit goals in these studies.
Matt: Yeah, I agree. I mean, especially something like a revision unit, right? Let's take that one for example. I can't show revision moves really in a published text. I mean, I know that in any published text we're looking at, I know the author made revisions, but I don't know what they are or I can't show them. So I have to rely heavily on my own writing then to show revision moves that I'm making, and to rely heavily on student writing.
But there is an equivalent of published text, and that's video clips of authors talking about their writing. The one I used to go to quotes and we'd find things that authors were saying about revision. But now it's so much easier to find video clips of authors talking about revision.
And, so, often in mini lessons, I'm going to those clips for a unit like how to have better peer conferences. You can now just go and watch what do authors say about talking with other people? Why is it important to talk with others about their writing?
So I started to pull these together for teachers in this website authortoauthor.org, where it's just ... I've been interviewing authors and finding clips on the web and linking to those on this site, just to make it easy for teachers to be able to skim through and find a video clip they want of an author who they know or enjoy, to hear what they say about revision, or some of these process studies or their author's process that are sometimes invisible on the page.
Carl: Right, right. I mean, it's fascinating to think of a mentor text as a videotape of an author talking about his or her process. You know who does that well is Dan Feigelson in his Practical Punctuation book. He includes so many nice quotes from authors talking about how they approach the use of punctuation. It's really interesting in that particular book how he positions that part of writing with these very famous writers to help teach kids about the importance of punctuation.
So I think that's really interesting how you're doing that with your revision study and how you talk about a writer's notebook as a mentor text in the Launching Writer's Workshop unit for example. I think your book helps us broaden our sense of the kinds of mentor text or "texts" that are going to be important to show kids, to help them focus on the aspect of the unit that we're zooming in on.
Matt: Well I'm thinking that it helps a lot when you think about people like Ralph Fletcher and other people who talk about really it being mentor authors, as much as mentor texts that we're learning from or [crosstalk], and so that helps broaden that definition of what we could look at a mentor text, if it's really how are we learning from what authors do?
Carl: I think you're absolutely right. We need to make sure kids understand that we are studying mentor authors and their work because we want kids to become these kinds of people, so we want to talk about the texts in a way that makes it obvious that people wrote these texts. It's not a magical thing.
I always love how when kids meet me in a school and they say, "You just look like a dad," and they have this idea that an author is some exotic kind of person, and authors look like everybody.
Matt: The version I get of that is when I walk in into a class, and the teacher's made a mistake of saying, "Oh, we have this author coming to talk to us." And they'll say, "Did you write Knuffle Bunny?" And I'm, like, "No."
They'll start asking me all these different things, and you can just see them deflate. You can just see them ... We're really not that interesting after all.
Carl: I was walking out of PS 321, my daughter's school once I'd been doing ... One of my children's school in Brooklyn, and I was in the playground with my daughter and I heard some kid yell, "Mom, mom, there's Eric Carle," it was referring to me. I thought that was funny.
So I've got one more question for you, Matt, and I just want to stay with this mentor text piece a little bit more because I think it's such an important aspect of teaching writing. And I think your book really, really helps just think about that.
But you know what, I was reading the Acknowledgement Page of your book, Matt, and I was struck by the incredible diversity of schools that you work in. You work in schools from Kansas City to Houston to Jakarta to Johannesburg. You are literally all over the world. So partly I get exhausted reading your Acknowledgement Page. I don't know how you do it, but also it's very exciting for me to think that all these schools have had access to you and your thinking. And so you work with an incredible diversity of students.
And I'd like some thinking from you, just to help me think about this. How do we make sure the mentor texts that we choose are going to be good for the diverse students that we work with? How can you help teachers who are trying really hard to make sure their mentor texts are ones the diverse students are going to be able to relate to and learn from?
Matt: Yeah, I mean, I think the person we always have to keep in mind in any unit of study, anything we're reading in schools, is that over time, and the range of what we're reading and using, can students see themselves in those pieces of writing?
So I think that first step is just being aware of what types, especially when we're thinking stories, what other types of writing too, can students see themselves in that, right? Are they ones that they'll relate to? Are there settings, characters, families, that look similar to theirs, right, and that they relate to in that way?
And one of the things that's a little easier about this, again in these types of studies, is that there are some units where finding a stack of texts is harder than other units, like personal, finding true stories in primary grades is a trickier stack to pull.
And sometimes when it is a trickier stack to pull, it's a little trickier, or it might be harder to have the range and diversity that we really need to have. And so then sometimes they have to use other things to kind of supplement that stack.
But it's easier if I just need a piece of writing that has interesting punctuation for a punctuation study, I've got the whole world of writing out there then to look at. And the other way to look at it is that then there's less of an excuse not to have those types of writing that our students will relate to when I've got the whole world of writing to be able to go to. I'm not limited by this particular genre and what can I find in that genre? I've got all genres I can look at then to pull from if I have to [crosstalk] for that.
So I couldn't agree more that I'm trying to get better at it all the time of having a more diverse stack of text. And last thing is I think it's particularly important though for less engaged writers, and just, again, so much of what I think about, in that those are students where we need to do everything we can to catch their attention, to engage them. And one of those would certainly be just the texts that we're using. I think we have to maximize every opportunity we have to impact engagement.
Carl: Right. And it seems like it's two dimensions of it. As you said, I'd like kids to see themselves in the stories that they're reading as mentors in writing workshop. I'd also like to see them reflected in the authors too. I'd like that we have a diverse set of authors, not just for narrative, but for nonfiction, for opinion and argument writing, or all the kinds of writing that kids can do where we can do that, because I want kids to be able to say, "People like me write these kinds of things." I think that's something that I'm trying to think more and more about and get better at in that dimension of it too.
Matt: Well that ties right back into what you were saying a second ago about thinking about mentor authors, right, in that there are times where people will read writing to children and not talk about who the author is or show a photograph, right?
Carl: Yeah, yeah.
Matt: I mean, I'm trying to get better at making sure that in the back of every book I have, I have a photograph of the author so that the students are seeing what these people look like, not just in terms of characters, but in terms of who's writing this, right? Or to make sure I'm reading authors' notes or finding little bits of background about authors. Because if we just mention the author's name, often students are missing an opportunity to go a little bit deeper with that.
Carl: Yeah. So, Matt, gosh, it's been such a privilege to talk to you about your book this morning. It is my hope that your book is just read far and wide. I think, in all the things you've talked about today, just the word engagement is something that just weaves throughout all of your books, and I think that your book is making such an important contribution and just helping us think about this important way of engaging writers, to give them more choice of genre in studies.
But I just hope that so many people read your book because not everyone can have you come to their school. Although it does seem like you're in most schools in the world, not everyone can have you, and I'm just so grateful that you took the time to write this new book. It is marvelous. It is important. It's one of the most important books I've read recently about teaching writing, and I just hope it's read far and wide.
Matt: Well, that means a tremendous amount coming from you, who I've learned so much from, so I really appreciate that.
Carl: It's been great talking to you, Matt.
Matt: Thank you so much. This was so much fun.
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Matt Glover has been a teacher, principal, and consultant for over 30 years. He is the author and co-author of many Heinemann titles including I Am Reading, Engaging Young Writers, Projecting Possibilities for Writers, Already Ready, and Watch Katie and Matt…Sit Down and Teach Up, a video- enhanced ebook. Matt was also co-editor with Ellin Oliver Keene of a best-selling collection of essays, The Teacher You Want to Be.
An international literacy consultant, Matt frequently speaks on topics related to nurturing writers of all ages, early reading, and supporting children’s intellectual development.
Follow Matt on Twitter @Mattglover123
Carl 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