Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Stella Writes GIVEAWAY!

I want to celebrate the success of the Stella Writes books with a little giveaway!  If you are interested, CLICK HERE.  I'll pick a winner randomly tomorrow night.

I'm thrilled that #SDE4educators is devoting so much press to the Stella series.  Unfortunately, I still need to get the word out about these wonderful books.  If you teach writing in the primary grades, Stella can help make your job easier and increase your students' joy and success.  See the sidebar of this blog to checkout all the Stella titles.  If you know and love Stella, would you help me spread the word about these books to your colleagues?

We also put together a set of instructional posters with key points for each text type from the Stella Writes books. 

Thanks for your support!  Here's to writing every day with students!
Have a fantastic evening,
P.S. I plan to post on this blog more regularly now that I'm taking a bit of a break from extra-curricular publishing :)  Stay tuned for some informative posts and some super exciting announcements!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dear Teacher: What Will Happen to my Eight Year Old Writer?

Hello!  I've been away from the blog a long time. My days and nights have been filled finishing a couple of book projects and being mom, in addition to my full-time teaching assignment.  However, I had to take time out to publish this letter, which I plan to give to the third grade teacher my son will have next year.  I hope many elementary teachers will read it.  I hope to work with teachers to bring the joy back to our writing classrooms.  I plan to start a Facebook page campaigning for saner writing instruction and reasonable accountability.  I'll keep you posted on this effort.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear your feedback, your stories of what is happening to writers and writing instruction in your schools.  There is urgency here...we must work together to solve this problem for the sake of our writers.

Dear Teacher,
     My son just happily trotted downstairs to get another new notebook.  I can’t keep enough in the house; they are littered all around the living room, kitchen and his bedroom.  He is a writer; a motivated, second grade, eight year old writer.  He’s been writing since he was very young, scribbling on the page, imitating mommy with her notebook and pen.  His scribbles were stories he shared with me, his dad, his grandparents, and they are some of the most precious pieces of paper I will ever have.  I plan to keep them forever.  Now that he’s eight, he loves to write cartoons (he was working on his series “Robot Rampage” earlier today), lists, stories with the characters from his favorite books or his own original characters, letters, poems, notes to family (he is very demanding and makes a lot of requests!), public service announcements for his bedroom walls (see photo below), and he doesn’t mind school writing projects (last month he made a ‘brochure’ to share with his class about a book series he discovered:  ‘Baby Mouse’  by Jennifer Holm).  He loves to write.
     Next year, he’ll be entering third grade.  I’m already worried for him.  This is it.  This is the grade when we start testing writing.  He’ll likely be required to write informative and opinion essays for both interim and year-end exams.  I’ve seen what these tests do to classrooms.  Since so much is riding on children’s scores, ‘writing’ becomes prepping for these exams.  Forget about narratives.  Forget about poetry.  Forget about writing for real reasons.  Oh, and definitely, most definitely, forget about choice.  It’s all about getting a score on a test, so ‘writing’ in the classroom is now prompt after prompt, essay after essay, formula-driven writing, drafting, and redrafting to get a certain score on a computerized practice program.  Just last month, I was in a fourth grade classroom, where one student was working on his nineteenth revision of an informative essay on the atmosphere. Nineteen revisions entered into a computer.  I have never written anywhere near nineteen revisions and I’m about to publish my fifteenth book.  My heart dropped for this student as it does when I hear teachers say (just last week, in fact), “My fourth graders come to me already hating to write.”  HATING TO WRITE.
     I was elated when the new national standards arrived in 2010 because they finally, finally really addressed writing.  WRITING!  They say to write across genres, to work with peers and adults to revise, to publish using digital tools, to write long and write short.  Unfortunately, they leave out writing for choice and voice, engagement, motivation, and relevance but, hey, at least writing was coming to the forefront again.  I couldn’t wait to see the impact—anticipating more writing time in elementary classrooms.  But, then came the tests.  The tests focus on informative and opinion/argument writing, so now, in many classrooms, that’s all that is taught.  And, it’s taught to pass tests…to get scores.  I haven’t seen much teaching about why we would want to write opinions or information or what we might do with our opinions or information.  I see a lot of formulaic teaching—complete these steps to do the job.  Worst of all, what I’m seeing is that now, students feel pressured at an early age to produce, produce, produce for on-demand tasks.  At least before, without the ‘writing emphasis,’ students weren’t stressed-out about writing at age eight.  They didn’t hate to write by age nine. 
     Please, please, don’t bow to the tests and these pressures.  Please, please don’t immerse my child or his classmates in an environment that turns his love of writing into hate.  Do all you can to make writing a discovery, a joy, something to celebrate and something to relish.  Do all you can to give your students a balanced experience where they can thrive.  Put the tests in perspective. These kids are eight and nine years old.  Nurture their love of writing; that is your duty, that is your highest calling.  We all need to be advocates for the right kind of writing instruction, environments and accountability.  My son is just one among many.  Let’s keep the promise of students’ futures as happy, well-balanced writers alive. 
Janiel Wagstaff

On Max's bedroom wall:  He thinks reading is pretty great, too!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Funny Thing Happend When a Friend Recommended Big Nate: The Power of Peer Book Recommendations

     My eight year old son has loved graphic novels, particularly the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, since he was six.  He devoured what he could of the text and pictures, laughing, sharing, enjoying.  He even started writing his own ‘Diary of a Wimpy Max’ books, emulating Kinney’s style.
     Being the avid reading advocate I am, I naturally noted his interest and brought him to the library to check out other graphic novels.  He read the Flying Beaver Brother series by Maxwell Eaton III,   Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece Bell, The Bird and Squirrel series by James Burkes and many others.  He pretty much loved them all, reading several of them more than once.  (I silently curse my own poor parenting when he’s up at 10:00PM on a school night and I can’t get him to close a book.)
     Near the beginning of this school year, I brought home several of the books from the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce.  Students at my school like them, so I figured Max would, too.  I talked to him a bit about them and showed him the covers, but for some reason, he didn’t pick them up.  Over the course of a week, I mentioned them several times, but nothing sparked his interest.  I collected the books and took them back to school.  

Then, a funny thing happened.

     A few weeks ago Max asked me about Big Nate.  I replied, “Remember, I brought home several of the books from the series, but you weren’t interested.”
     “Well, I’m interested now.”
     I wanted to check some out from the library, but he insisted he wanted his own copies.  Strange…how did we go from no interest to “I’ll die if I don’t have my own copies?”  Come to find out, a student in Max’s second grade class gave a book talk on one of the Big Nate books.  The teacher has a simple routine: every student has a day of the week for “Share a Book.”  They give quick book talks, sharing favorite parts, reading a bit aloud, etc.  Max’s classmate shared a few funny parts from Big Nate and OH!  From that point forward, Max was convinced he had to get his hands on these books.
     Since the books arrived from Amazon, Max has been furiously reading.  He can’t put them down.  In fact, I just spoke with his teacher today and he’s been in a tad bit of trouble for trying to read them while his teacher is teaching.  In trouble for reading!  Ha, imagine that.
     The point of this post is this:  REVERE THE POWER STUDENTS HAVE IN THEIR HANDS!  They can be extremely influential in the reading lives of their peers.  Imagine, me, full-time teacher, writer of books, book-talk extraordinaire, unable to convince Max to pick up a book, but a classmate did the job with little to no effort.  A few questions you might consider:  Do you take advantage of the power of peer-to-peer book recommendations?  Do you have any simple routines in place that allow for student book-sharing or informal talk about books?  I presented on this topic at the IRA annual convention in 2014 and wrote a post with some suggestions you might find useful.  You can find it here:  I’d love to hear your stories and ideas, as well.

Happy reading (and, we’re going to bed early tonight—books closed, lights out!)!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Perfect Timing for Some Purposeful Writing: Thank-Yous for a Winter Holiday Gift

My second-grade son is working on his letters now!
Hi there,
     I hope you've had a wonderful holiday!  Just a quick idea for some purposeful writing as we go back to school tomorrow following the break.  Our students undoubtedly received some type of winter holiday gift while away.  Wouldn't it be nice to have them write a thank-you and send it off ?  We can teach the conventions of letter writing, transitions, voice, description and more with this authentic assignment.  More significantly, we're teaching the importance of  expressing appreciation.  Many teachers invite children to bring in one gift they received to show to the class or to a small group.  This is perfect for working on speaking and listening standards and, having the object in front of students as they write their thank-yous will help them with description and to recall details related to the gift.  Students' motivation soars when we make writing purposeful!
    Having students talk prior to writing is one of the best scaffolds we can provide them for success.  Even if they don't bring in an object to share, allow them time to talk to peers about a gift and what they might write in a thank-you before they write.  Share some examples aloud with the class and discuss them--this will go a long way toward promoting success for everyone and diminish "I don't know what to write!" or the two sentence 'Thank you for the ___________. I really like it.' problems!
    One of the themes in my newest book from Corwin Literacy is purposeful writing.  I can't emphasize enough the difference this makes in the effectiveness for student learning and in the writing climates of our classrooms.  Another theme of the book is integration:  integrating standards to save time AND help students use literacy in authentic ways.  In the simple assignment above, we can integrate writing standards, language convention standards and speaking and listening standards (and more:  Consider the letter recipient's point of view, for example.  What might s/he like to know in the letter?  Why do you think this?)
   Here's wishing you a great week!  Thanks for stopping by.  Happy reading/writing/thinking!
Click the picture to check it out.  Corwin is offering it at a great discount.

 P.S. Thanks to Krista, from Creative Clips, for the fun clip art.  Max and I used her sets to create some personalized stationary!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Poetry Friday: Boy Of Eight Year's Time

Hello!  It's Poetry Friday!
Still in draft form...needs something (suggestions welcomed!) :

Boy of Eight Year's Time
Nose to nose
that boy
he grows,
eight years old.
Skinny boy
Drama boy
Stubborn boy
Humor boy
Boy of mess-making.
The house,
an unlimited playground.

an airline,
from living room to
dining room to
Little cardboard planes
flew to exotic destinations,
like Phoenix.
a mine of gems,
rubies and emeralds,
from beneath the couch.
The brown berber carpet
holds a paradise of promise
for this
boy of imagination.
Boy of eight year’s time.

© Janiel Wagstaff

For the life of me, I can't find where he put Phoenix!

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