Archives For NWP

#Why I Write


It’s not because writing is fun…writing is hard.

It’s not because I have the time to write….(so far the first two sentences in this response have taken over two days to construct so they sound the way I would like them to sound).

It’s not because I like the end product…(I still think the aforementioned two sentences need more work). In fact, I usually think of a better ending several hours after publishing.

It’s not because I take unnecessary risks. I am self-conscious; I self-censor. I do not want to be misinterpreted. Writing on a blog that is public is a bit like performing linguistic acrobatics without a net.


So, why do I write?

I write because I cannot provide support in reading and writing for teachers and students if I do not read and write myself. So, I write publicly as a performance task….as an “authentic task”, one that I might assign to students.

I write because I want to remember my own ideas (I am getting forgetful).

I write because the act of completing a sentence, a paragraph, or a blog post in this distracting world demands focus, even if that focus is for a brief amount of time.

I write because writing forces me to research. For example, while I was writing the phrase “linguistic acrobatics” above, I thought of my favorite example of linguistic “acrobatic” writing…an excerpt from a brilliant conversation written by E.B. White for Charlotte’s Web. To get the quote, I had to spend a little time to research the quote from the text (not the film!)

In this exchange, the spider Charlotte plans how to save her friend Wilber, and she listens for suggestions from other farm animals about words she could write in her web:


Charlotte: “Cut that down to one TERRIFIC and it will do nicely. I think TERRIFIC might impress Zuckerman.”

Wilbur: “But Charlotte, I’m not terrific.”

Charlotte: “That doesn’t make a bit of difference. Not a bit. People believe almost anything they see in print. Does anybody know how to spell TERRIFIC?”

Gander: “I think it’s tee double ee double arr double arr double eye double eff double eye double see-see-see-see.”

Charlotte: “What kind of acrobat do you think I am?! I would have to have St. Vitus’s Dance to write a word like that into my web.”

Nevertheless, the spider Charlotte does weave the word terrific into her web. She writes and because she writes, Wilbur is spared.

What better reason to write then the one that E.B. White offers?   Writing saves lives.


Screenshot 2015-02-21 12.54.55Finally catching a break from the weekend snowstorms that have plagued Connecticut this winter, the Connecticut Writing Project (CWP) at Fairfield University hosted a session of the Assignments Matter National Task Jam on Saturday, February 21. The CWP morning seminar gave 25 educators a chance to collaborate and to design high-quality, engaging writing assignments for the Assignments Matters Google+ Community  Their created tasks will be posted alongside the assignments by already created in January by 475 middle and high school educators throughout the country. This National Writing Project (NWP) initiative is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as “a collaborative, knowledge-building and sharing experience open to any teacher who knows that meaningful tasks create powerful results.” This Gates Education Foundation provided grants that allowed teachers nationwide an opportunity to develop writing tasks that can be shared through NWP collaborative platforms.

As with all NWP workshops, teachers began the workshop by writing. The prompt was meant to focus attention on the importance of clarity in designing writing tasks:

Write about a time where you gave a task to someone and the result was not what you wanted. What happened? What was the purpose of the task and the desired result?

The discussion that followed illustrated how critical good directions are in lesson design. Take for example, my own story when I was teaching grade 6th:

“Take out your notebooks and go to the back”…I said to the class.
I looked down for the markers on the bottom of the overhead cart.
I heard shuffling.
I looked up.
Several students were walking.
“Wait!…”I yelled, “What are you doing?”
Everyone froze.
I saw students mid-way out of their seats stiffen.
They all looked surprised.
“You said go to the back….”, stammered one of the boys.
“Yes, well…I meant….go to the back of the notebook….”
Moment of realization!
6th graders are literal.
I need to be clear and specific when I give directions.

That lesson in clarity has stayed with me in my teaching career, and based on the examples given by other teachers in their responses, there was mutual agreement on the importance of clarity in giving directions-written and spoken-in teaching.

The afternoon session was dedicated to the development of writing prompts that teachers could use in their classrooms. Teachers were encouraged to use templates provided by the Literacy Design Collaborative. The opportunity to revise and to share new prompts with other teacher participants brought immediate satisfaction. The knowledge that these prompts will be shared with teachers across the country throughout the school year was gratifying as well.

These prompts are a clear demonstration that while #taskmatters, the role of the teacher in crafting writing prompts as assessments that address the needs of their student populations is critical. These prompts are not “canned” curriculum prompts. They are proof that in in creating assessments #teachersmatter.

Thank you, Bryan Crandall, for hosting; thank you, Shaun Mitchell, for facilitating!

One of my favorite cartoons features a young woman, obviously nervous, seated next to a white-suited, white-haired caricature of Samuel Clemens. Above her head floats a thought bubble,“‘I want to be a writer,’ she thought, mused, considered, said aloud, to no one, to herself, giving voice to the idea passion she had always had in her heart but had only recently discovered in her hand head.”

I also always wanted to be a writer, but the responsibility of writing stopped me. Writing was a task that I took very seriously. I had to write papers for courses I took. I had to write letters-personal and professional- and I had to write memos for work. Writing was a product that needed to be perfect. As a result, my writing duties had stifled my writing passion.

However, sixteen months ago I started this blog to share the ways I had increased the number of books in school classrooms. During the first month of entries, I wondered if I would have enough materials to write about on a blog about used books in class.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that what I have discovered is that writing is less product and more thinking. Sadly, I was an English teacher who required writing and encouraged students to write regularly in class, but who did not cognitively understand that writing is really a recording of thinking. I was always interested developing (and assigning) the prompt and collecting (and correcting) the final product. I did not fully understand the necessity of thinking as the most critical part of the writing until I began to write myself.

Now, as a convert to writing as thinking, I am using this post to encourage others to write in order to think.

October 19-20th, 2012 will be the National Day of Writing. The National Writing Project (NWP) is encouraging people to contribute to “What I Write” on their website:

What do you write or compose? Blog posts? Poems? Videos? Grocery lists, computer code, or song lyrics? Whatever you write, on Friday, October 19, use the hashtag #whatiwrite to share your compositions with the world as part of this year’s National Day on Writing.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has  links on their blog for people to read what authors say about why they write. The NYTimes Learning Network also has a page on their blog asking, “Post what, you ask? Well, could be…

  • Thoughts about what you write, whether it’s poetry, short stories, school essays, computer code, love notes, song lyrics or Facebook updates.
  • A link to some writing you want to show others.
  • A photo or drawing that illustrates something about writing, or illustrates something you’ve written.
  • Thoughts about things you’d like to write someday.
  • Notes on your writing process.
  • Thoughts on the role of writing in your life in general.
  • Advice about writing.
  • Links to good pieces about writers or writing

So, on Friday, October 19th, I will have my students create lists of topics they want to “think” about, topics* they want to explore in writing over the course of the year. We will collaborate on a master list using a Google doc that we can revisit over the course of the school year. I want my students to learn how to write, but more importantly, I want my students to learn how to write so they can think. I want they to feel free to write without constant assessment. I want them to write and read what they write to understand what they think. Hopefully, in this process they will discover that writing is not an academic responsibility, and that good writing is really good thinking. And I will imagine  thought bubbles over their heads as they write.

Share the hashtag #whatIwrite.

*Topic list created 10/18/2012