Friday, January 11, 2019

The College, Career, and Community Writers Program for Upper Elementary

by Emily Olson

“Mrs. Olson, can I look up for sources at home so I have more evidence?” 
“I saw this advertisement yesterday.  Do you think their claim even makes sense?” 
“Which piece of evidence do you think works best here?”
These thoughtful questions from my sixth grade students are, I believe, a direct result of the C3WP work we are doing in my classroom.  I teach three sections of 6th grade Language Arts, and so far this year, I have taken students through two different mini-units from the upper elementaryinstructional resources.  The first unit, “Identifying Arguments and Entering Conversations,” had undergone a few revisions from when I worked with it last year, but it was still pretty similar. I really love starting the school year with this unit because it sets the stage for civil discourse in the classroom.  It gets students looking for argument in the world around them and has created so many opportunities to push students to explain their thinking about why a billboard is convincing, why a meme is funny, or why any given argument is effective.
By the fourth week of school, I took all my language arts classes through the second upper elementary resource unit, called “Joining a Conversation in Progress.”   This unit had also been revised to use a different text set, but it retained one of my favorite writing frames from C3WP:  “At first I thought. . .then I learned. . .now I think.”  As students unraveled different aspects of civilian drones in society, we took time to pause and write about what they thought, what they were learning, and how it was affecting their thinking.  Most of the time students did not make a drastic change to their opinions, but hearing them acknowledge new viewpoints or push back against ideas using things they were learning was really quite thrilling.
Most recently, I worked through the “Organizing an Argument” unit with my homeroom group in our Social Studies sessions.  This unit, which has a text set focusing on youth competition, really pushed my students to choose the evidence that best fit their claim and organize all the pieces of their argument.  I watched students soften to ideas about competition that didn’t match their own, struggle through the process of how to organize the ideas they wanted to share, and even gather additional evidence on their own in order to clearly make their point.  The most exciting part of this unit was the progress students made in revising their claim into something clear and concise and, for some, even pushing themselves into nuanced claims.  Here are just a few examples from my students this year:
“I think Competition is good because it teaches kids to work hard in life.”
“I realize that families have to make their own decisions, but I believe that youth competition is a good and healthy thing for kids.”
“I think all kids should have the choice to be in youth competition no matter their age or their size, but I also think kids are taking it way too far.”
So many of my 6th graders are taking on the challenge of discussion and argument writing with a renewed passion.  I really can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds for these students. 
For more information about the Atwoodian Table that the students are showing us in their notebooks, check out Angela Hase's blogpost from August 12, 2018.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

NWP is now integrated into the NCTE Annual Convention

Youth poet Sara Abou Rashed, who immigrated from Syria 5 years ago, read a powerful poem, "I am America"
by Kelly Sassi

One of the big changes this fall was that the National Writing Project no longer hosts an Annual Meeting the day before National Council for Teachers of English Annual Convention. Instead, this year NWP was integrated into NCTE, with its own strand of presentations. This made NCTE Annual Convention even bigger this year. I heard there were between 7000 and 8000 attendees in Houston, November 15-18. 

NCTE was excellent, starting with the opening session on the theme of "Raising Student Voice," where I heard Marley Dias talk about her #1000blackgirlbooks movement and other youth activists as well. Another highlight was hearing Chimimanda Adiche speak. She boldly stated, "There is something perverse about always expecting to be comfortable" and challenged teachers and students to get out of their comfort zone. Her book Americanah, is going to be the NCTE Winter Book Club Cafe selection.


I presented on two panels, one was called  "Teaching Fraught Homeplace Histories: Stories from (and Approaches for) K-16 Classrooms," sponsored by MLA, with Sarah
Ruffing Robbins, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Kelly Sassi, and Adam Hubrig. The second was "Fostering the Emergence of Personal Voice through Collaboration between Writing Project Sites and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards" with Meg Peterson, Dina Portnoy, and Alexis Almeida.


Since I serve on NCTE's Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, I also attended that meeting, as well as the workshop for NCTE Affiliates on behalf of NDCTE.

I attended the Heinemann author reception, where I rubbed elbows with Penny Kittle,

Monday, October 29, 2018

Reviving Reading: 2018 MCTE and Penny Kittle


Reviving Reading: 2018 MCTE and Penny Kittle
by Angela Hase
October 29, 2018

I am sitting at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota, listening to Penny Kittle talk about reading. It is beautiful here. The trees are auburn, gold, scarlet; there are so many of them. And so many pumpkins. They line the roads, form intricate designs and patterns, pile on top of each other to build towers. I can see now why pumpkins exist. It is not to spice our lattes, but to create a fall fairytale in Minnesota. They will live here, the pumpkins, intricately displayed, until they die. A beautiful death if ever there ever was one.

The Slow Death
Penny Kittle is also talking about death: the death of reading. Kittle tells the story of a kindergartener she met, years ago, while she was coaching a kindergarten teacher. The student was so excited to share a story she wrote about a brown dog. Kittle shows us a picture of a little girl,

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Visiting the Scholastic Office in New York City

by Kelly Sassi

The newly remodeled offices include lots of art from the books published by Scholastic, Inc. 
Today, I visited the new Scholastic offices in New York City at 130 Mercer Street. The reason for my visit was to attend the board meeting of the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers. Who are they? The Alliance is the nonprofit organization that runs the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The Red River Valley Writing Project is in its 5th year of serving as an Affiliate for the Awards. We partner with Plains Art Museum to promote the awards, encourage submissions, oversee blind adjudication, and award gold key, silver key, and honorable mention awards to North Dakota students ages 13 to 18.

The board of the Alliance has an Affiliate Advisory Council, made up of 7 members. My role on the Council is as representative of the 11 writing project sites who serve as state affiliates for the Awards. This is my second of three years serving on the Council. I've learned a lot more about how the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards work, which helps our work here in North Dakota. I have also passed on feedback to Scholastic that has improved how the Awards work. One of the big changes is the use of online submissions and payments.

After the board meeting, M. R. Robinson (the owner of Scholastic) hosted a dinner at the posh Crosby Hotel. During the dinner, people shared more personal stories about why they are inspired and motivated to work on the Awards. One board member, Andy Merson, was so moved by our work here in North Dakota that he took out his checkbook and generously wrote a check--right then and there-- for $2000 to support us! People really do care about creative teens in North Dakota and want them to have access to the recognition that the Awards provides. I remember when our whole budget for the first year of running the state Scholastic Program was only $500 (and it hasn't increased much since), so this kind of gift really makes a difference!

Here is the report I presented to the board:

Report from the Writing Project Affiliates
Conference Proposal Accepted
The Philadelphia, New Hampshire, Northwestern, and Red River Valley writing projects, with

Friday, August 31, 2018

Scholastic Spotlight: Payton Johnson


Rock Bottom

Honorable Mention


Author: Payton Johnson
12th Grade
Educator: Shawn Krinke
Northern Cass

I heard them laughing,
when I couldn't do my best.
They aimed their axe at my base,
so I took my final breath.

The base I built for years,
that held me up so high.
It faltered to the bottom.
Splinters and leaves colored the sky.

I hit the ground hard,
it was cold I do remember.
The others down here don't mind,
they told me it'd get better.

The sun isn't so warm here,
the flowers are dead.
I try not to think about what could've been,
but the mistakes echo in my head.

Tomorrow I'll replant my roots.
I tell myself I'll breathe again.
Besides,
they say rock bottom has the best foundation
to build and grow within.