At Frank Newman Campus in Cotulla, Texas, I had many wonderful teaching experiences. It was there that I learned how to share my love of writing with children. Since I was a “brand new” public school teacher, I had few preconceived notions of what it meant to teach Language Arts and Reading the “right” way. So, I began with Lucy Calkins’ book on “The Art of Teaching Writing,” William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well,” and, most importantly, Nanci Atwell’s “In the Middle.” Using these books, I taught children how to write–not from the Houghton-Mifflin textbook that the more experienced teachers used–from the mini-lessons and workshops I gleaned from the maverick writing teachers. I supplemented those minilessons with the work of Writer’s Digest magazine, Kenneth Koch’s “Wish” poems, and avoided grammar except to teach them “X-words” and how to diagram.
My classes were writing and reading workshops, and what my students did was transform how they learned writing. I managed to sidestep the grammar in Houghton Mifflin and help my students learn how to share their stories, to listen to others, and find their voice. Wow, what a powerful feeling and excitement that caught us all up.
Collaboration: I fostered sharing of ideas and collaboration, per Nanci Atwell’s instructions, by how I grouped students. Heteregeneously grouped, these students worked together on their writing. In Cotulla, I worked with several groups of students.
One of the most exciting times during any class was Group Share. This is when we all sat in a circle and listened to what we’d written (I wrote, too). It was a wonderful experience…powerful to me as a new teacher, and even more astonishing now that I look back on it from my experiences in San Antonio and East Texas schools. Yet, sharing has always been an important part of my classroom, as has been working in the excitement of doing things differently.
One of my favorites was using Marjorie Franks’ book, “If you’re trying to teach kids how to write, you’ve gotta have this book!” What a wonderful book full of activities, like the clothesline activity I did with my students.
Check out Miguel’s Workshop Materials online at http://mglearns.wikispaces.com