Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hello Maryland! SoMIRAC 2015

     Hello!  I'm so excited to be attending and presenting at the State of Maryland Reading Conference!  As many of you know, I taught in Prince George's County for a couple of years.  Many of my dear friends still live here--I'm hoping to run into some of you today! 
     Maryland holds a very dear spot in my heart.  I loved working and living here.  It is such a vibrant place.  There are so many top-notch professional development opportunities year-round.  I always felt like I was right in the middle of all the cutting-edge happenings!  I remember my good friend Barb Gallagher and I hopped the train one Friday after school to attend a Teachers College Reading/Writing Project Saturday workshop.  Wow...I sure miss those days! 

     Below are the handouts for my sessions today.  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.  Thanks for inviting me once again to share in a tremendous day of learning with you all!  I LOVE being a part of it!
Happy reading/writing/thinking!  

From the "Quick Bursts of Writing Across the Curriculum" Session:
*Quick Writes strategy poster:

*Thinking Boxes strategy poster:

*Quick Jots strategy poster:

*Quick Tries strategy poster:

*Rules for Quick Writes (you could print this poster size)  
(there is a much nicer version of this here:)
*Notes on Keeping Standards High in Everyday Writing  (which gives some helpful tips for ensuring students do their best work even during these quick, informal opportunities to write)

Resources from the "Why Am I Writing This?" Session:  
Note:  I couldn't get this saved as a google doc with the correct formatting, so this is a png image.  If you'd like a copy of the original document, just email me.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Stella Writes Posters Are HERE!

I'm thrilled to announce the Stella Writes posters are available!
(See close-up photos at the end of the blog post.) 
Putting these together was no easy task.  I mean, Stella's great--a real super-star writing mentor who kids and teachers love, but trying to distill what is demonstrated in the books and best-practice writing strategies down to shortlists was tough!  I think the points that were settled on will be really helpful in classrooms--great reminders for the opinion, informational and narrative genres and writing in general (see the "Tips For Writers" poster below).  Plus, I love the pictures and the "Stella-isms" (wise quotes from Stella that come from the books). 

Oh happy day!  I love writing and it shows!  Enjoy!  :)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

FREEBIE MADNESS Weekend Happening Now!

I've avoided posting about my TeachersPayTeachers products here, but I just have to post this one little note.  Just yesterday, I started a new Facebook page to post TPT updates and other fun things:
I've been putting up many of my TPT products for free as my LIKES have been going up.  You can see all the FREE offerings on the page.  I think this is pretty nuts since I've spent like a zillion hours making these products!  But, I'm hoping, after I finish a few other projects that are on my plate, to start posting lots of great stuff to tpt. My store is just getting going...

I'll be blogging about that at .  I have 1 follower there!  Ha!  I started that blog awhile ago, but was unable to keep up with that one and this one and Facebook and Twitter and full time teaching and parenting!  But, I'll give it a good try once again.  Hope to see you there.

Don't miss out on the FREEBIES!   There may be something you really like!  Plus, I might even post more as the day goes on.  But the madness must end tonight...since tomorrow's Monday: weekend over, folks, back to reality!

Thanks so much!  Enjoy your Sunday! -Janiel
P.S. Thanks to Nikki at Melonheadz Illustrating for creating this cute graphic and for coming up with the name for my new Facebook page.  :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


One of my good friends said she feels she's taught writing less effectively this year than any year before because so many of her lessons have been focused on the skills needed to successfully write prompt-based, on-demand essays for the new yearly writing tests.  One skill set to rule them all, I guess.  How sad.

Seems like a recipe for "Writicide."  (Tip of the hat to Kelly Gallagher...*)

Our high-stakes writing assessments just finished for the year.  Teachers have fretted and wrung their hands, but worked hard to prepare their students, in every grade, third and up (that's A LOT of students!!!) to do their best on these tests.  Now what?  What do our students think about writing after being fed formulaic strategies for responding to prompt after prompt with a focus on using text evidence above all else?  Do our students want to write?  Do our students know how to generate their own topics based on their own interests?  Do they know how to skillfully pursue these interests through reading and writing?  Do our students know how to use sources in a balanced way; noting with clarity what authors have to say then pushing beyond the text to stimulate and articulate their own innovative thoughts or ideas?  Given the test instructions and the rubrics, teachers were openly worried about allowing their students to include their own ideas in their writing on these tests.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  To be fair, the rubric does encourage and reward elaboration, but only that which directly follows from information provided in the text sources (don't think too far outside the box or beyond the sources assigned).

I watch my son, at the age of 7, joyfully pursue writing for multiple purposes.  Yes, he completes writing assignments in his first grade class, some based on choice, but he writes at home based on his own motivations, often stimulated by what he is reading.  He has an eye and an ear for reading like a writer.  He fearlessly tries out the writing moves and writing forms of his idols.  He seeks response.  He gets it.  He asks for endless notebooks and pens.  He composes on his computer.  He wants to have his stories published.  He is a writer and he knows what writing is all about: stories, information, lists, letters, notes, labels, calendars, reminders, poems (he just wrote one this very minute), you name it, he is willing.  And, he smiles at his efforts.  (How did he get here?  Part of the story can be found here: )  Will he keep his enthusiasm for writing if he, too, is subjected to year after year of this kind of 'writing test prep?'

Smiling matters.  Writing matters for much more than tests.  Our students' conceptions of what writing is, what writers do, how they write and why they write, matters.  Balance matters.  If we're going to avoid an epidemic of "writicide," we need to stand up for what matters in our writing classrooms every day.  There is no one skill set to rule them all, though essay writing certainly has its place.  Think carefully, act thoughtfully.  What else matters for our writers?


Friday, February 27, 2015

An Analogy to Get Us Out of the 5 Paragraph Essay Rut

I spent three days this week scoring writing essays for the State of Utah’s high stakes tests (yes, folks, our test window for writing this year has already closed).  Can’t really talk much about the details (nondisclosure agreement), but working with teachers in this setting brought up the ever-recurring issue of the necessity of the five paragraph essay (cue sound effects…dun dun dun).   Teachers sometimes get hung-up on the idea of the ‘5 paragraph essay’ as the ultimate in essay-ness, the cream-of-the-crop format, the one-to-shoot-for, the essay sans pareil.  I get it.  It’s easy to teach.  It’s neat.  It’s tidy.  It often fits the prompt:  intro, three body paragraphs, conclusion.  It can also be boring, redundant, and make us want to ‘poke our eyes out with sticks if we have to read another.’  Not to mention what this might mean for our student-writers year after year after year (maybe they want to ‘poke their eyes out with sticks if they have to write another?’).

As I was driving home after three days of debating scores on papers, I was thinking how many times I’ve heard experts make arguments against the necessity for the 5.P.E. (as we’ll reference it going forward). Cue Kelly Gallagher (slides from his keynote presentation last year at the Gulf Coast Writing Conference in Destin, Florida):

I’ve made the argument that we need to move beyond the 5.P.E. at many writing conferences myself.  But, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to sink in.  I realize not everyone is comfortable teaching writing, not all teachers are writers, and not all have had a great deal of stellar training on how to be effective writing teachers.  It occurred to me, maybe we need an analogy, something to help people understand that sticking solely with the 5.P.E. though ‘clean’ to teach and ‘easier to grade,’ is doing our student-writers a disservice.  So, here’s my attempt at an analogy; please let me know what you think:

“Teaching students to write only five paragraph essays is like telling them you can’t build a house unless it has three stories.”

A one story house can have all the ingredients that make a house a house:  a kitchen, a bathroom (or several), bedrooms, a living room, dining room, etc, etc., and be as elegant, beautiful and fully livable and enjoyable as a three story house.  A three story structure doesn’t make a house ‘better’ or ‘bigger,’ and the three stories doesn’t mean it has features that one or two story homes don’t.  It’s all about how the architect plays with the pieces, putting them together in creative ways to craft an interesting whole that does the job (based on his purpose, task and audience, er…you get my drift).  Mucking around with the pieces can result in a more exciting product and can leave the crafter with a much better sense of fulfillment.  Imagine stamping out the same cookie-cutter house again and again, day after day.   Where’s that stick?  The redundancy would be mind-numbing. 

We want our students’ minds to be stimulated, not numbed.  Go crazy.  Get wild.  Experiment writing ‘an essay’ yourself, even responding to a prompt, without doing it in the 5.P.E. mode.  Get out of the box and see what it does for you.  Imagine what this freedom might do for students.  Then, imagine, just imagine, you, in front of the class, modeling writing, breaking the 5.P.E. mold, but still addressing task, purpose, and audience, while finding your own voice and having some fun, to boot.  You might surprise yourself.  I guarantee, if you widen the possibilities, your student-writers will surprise you.  Best of all, nobody will be looking for a stick.