Inquiry Into Being a Writer

Now that I’ve finished my PYP essential elements provocations, I plan to begin the next series of inquiry-based provocations on the SDG’s (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030).

But first, I’d like to pause and do a couple of inquiries into more general learning identities. We all hope our students will move from “doing” math, writing, reading, or science” to seeing themselves as mathematicians, writers, readers, or scientists. Amidst the many curriculum-mandated tasks associated with those subjects, however, it can be difficult to hold on to this sense of identity.

This week’s provocation is meant to help students inquire into what it means to be a writer.

Resource #1: My recent post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators.” I had so much fun putting this compilation together with my kids. Almost a month later, my kids are still referring to specific videos in our house, recalling some funny thing Oliver Jeffers did or requesting a re-watch. Each of the videos offer a unique lens for what it means to be a picture book-maker, but below are a couple I would especially recommend in this context:

Resource #2: J.K. Rowling’s handwritten notes!

How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet

Resource #3: How to Build a Fictional World Ted Talk by Kate Messner

Resource #4: Picture Books

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a writer?
  • Why do people write?
  • How does our identity as writers change over time?
  • What is our responsibility to write? (for ourselves? For the world?)
  • What are the different perspectives on what makes a writer?
  • How does being a writer connect to being an author?
  • What is the connection between voice and writing?

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18 Best Videos To Get To Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators

As I was updating Goodreads with an old picture book list I’d made, I came across notes I had written about a couple fabulous author/illustrator videos that I wanted to remember to share with my students. And re-watching those just kind of…snowballed into this post.

I always love a good compilation; especially one that gives kids a glimpse into the processes & lives of their favorite authors &  illustrators as people. I hope you enjoy these as much as my very small students and I did!

#1: Oliver Jeffers Picture Book Maker: As playful as all his books. We particularly enjoyed the sandwich hunt.

#2: Little Carmen Deedy Didn’t Like to Read: Loved her story on how she first found the right book. “And I’ve said for a long time that if the right book and the right child find each other, bam…fireworks!”

#3: Author & Illustrator Peter Brown on his Process: Great insight into the decision-making process. Especially his note, “Should I use the word ‘naked?'”

#4: What is Music? from Christian Robinson: Ok, so this one isn’t directly about Christian Robinson, but it still provides insight on him as an illustrator. And it absolutely delighted both my kids and me (for more direct information about him, see this Meet the Illustrator article).

#5: La La La by Kate DiCamillo & illustrated by Jaime Kim. Great perspective to hear about book collaboration.

#6: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett: So I guess this isn’t directly about Jon & Mac’s lives either, but having met them at a library Author Link, I’d say there’s probably more accuracy than one might guess…

#7: An Interview with Beverly Clearly: So cool to hear about how she got started writing realistic fiction!

#8: bethany bARTon monster painting. No words. Just some great tunes & Bethany enjoying her art.

#9: The Truth About the Writing Process by Julie Falatko. As hilarious as her books and her tweets.

#10: Meet Tomie dePaola. I loved hearing about how folktales shaped him as an author.

#11: Snappsy Did Not Ask to Be in This Video About How to Draw Him from Tim Miller. Just a funny and highly-precise how-to (ie “medium-sized hot dog for the snout”)

#12: 2017 from Carter Higgins. So cool to watch her double-debut year unfold as she used the app, One Second Everyday.

#13: Tour Philip & Erin Stead’s Michigan Studio. Fun to see this pair in their home element.

#14: The Teacher Who Changed Everything with Patricia Polacco. If you’ve read “Thank You Mr. Falkner,” you know this story, but it’s incredible to watch Patricia share it herself!

#15: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble: Kindness. It absolutely blew my mind to hear Amy’s conclusions on a life worth remembering years before hers was tragically claimed by cancer. Her legacy of kindness truly lives on in her books and videos.

#16: Matt de la Pena Author Video. I enjoyed hearing Matt’s “unlikely” story on how he became an author, and how that background helps him work to appeal to reluctant readers.

#17: Peter Reynolds discusses his books: Did you know he works with his twin brother, and has since they were tiny?

#18: Brendan Wenzel: Great to hear how “The Stinky Cheese Man” influenced him as an author/illustrator!

If there are any authors or illustrators on this list with whom you are not yet familiar, I encourage you to check out their stuff right away!

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When Texts Become Our Mentors — Really

What happens when we earnestly look to the text for learning?

I mean, really look to the text.

Not some sterile passage from a basal.

Not the occasional book that seems to coincide with our unit.

Not even the mandated whole-class novel, though I have heard merits on both sides (some pros here, cons here).

I mean full-blown looking to texts as our mentors day in and day out.

Starting out units immersing ourselves in books on every level and topic we can find (our school librarian was a saint in consistently helping me prepare for the immersion stage of our units).

Getting to really get to know the author–his/her style, favorite strategies, even personality — and then talking about what ____ is doing to make us feel or think the way we do?

Setting out each day for authentic discovery within the pages of the mentor text — which, of course, means we don’t necessarily know what our students will find?

Engaging alongside students as we also seek out examples of what we’re trying to better understand as readers and writers?

I have been on both sides of this approach to mentor texts. And I’d like to share a few before/after effects I observed in my students:

Before: 

  • I rarely, if ever, heard students refer to themselves as authors
  • The writing strategies we were trying to learn about usually felt much more abstract with little context.
  • As we inevitably turned to worksheets, our approach felt more contrived.
  • Students looked to me for each day’s literary learning.

After:

  • Students saw authors as people — people who were once kids like them that had to learn and hone their craft in the exact same way we were — which led to them referring to themselves as authors, too.
  • We made it our daily mission to seek out clear context within books.
  • The strategies we were trying to learn about felt much more natural.
  • We all looked to the books for rich, co-constructed literary learning.

We become better equipped to find and share mentor texts when we read as much as we can as teachers. Whole language reading/writing workshops will also include plenty of examples of texts that coincide with each unit (One of the reasons I enjoyed Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series). But of course, there are also plenty of free online resources available, too! Here are a few:

Making the shift toward integrating mentor texts into our daily literacy learning has been pivotal for authenticity. After all, if we say it’s all about reading and writing books, shouldn’t books be our primary companions?

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The Magic of an AuthorLink #TeacherMom

A few weeks ago, our local library hosted Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen as they shared their newest book, “The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse.”

It was a 3-generational fan-girl geek-out.

Hearing authors read their own stories is always a treat…

…but having an illustrator demonstrating their process, too? For my young aspiring author/illustrator, it was nothing short of magical.

As we waited in line to get our copy signed, my daughter grew a little nervous. But as soon as we got up to the front of the line, she told Mac and Jon all about her large box of books she has created, and they told her to never get rid of any of them, no matter what anyone ever says (and that they still get ideas from stories they made as kids).

 

What I love most about AuthorLinks is it gives kids the chance to see authors and illustrators as real people. Suddenly, the idea of making a book isn’t some abstract fantasy, but one with concrete choices and steps and possibility. For this gift for my daughter, and for the gift for my future students with whom you can bet I’ll be sharing these photos and videos, I’m grateful! Thanks so much Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and authors everywhere who take the time to connect with kids.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto