Reading Responses

Fall Responses:
When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working by Mark Overmeyer

For my research project I am creating writing lessons to use with small groups of students who are struggling with writing.  From this past spring’s writing assessment, I looked carefully at the lowest 30% of students from grades 3 and 4 writing samples and teacher scored rubrics.  I analyzed the data to determine which writing areas I need to concentrate on with my students.

The main learning need that I will concentrate on this fall is “organization”. So in creating the lessons I have used multiple resources, but this book, When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working, has served a foundation resource.  

From the research I have collected the foundational pieces/understandings for teaching a writing intervention lesson, include:
  1. creating and supporting student motivation and engagement,
  2. teaching strategies and
  3. incorporating collaboration.  

Examples from When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working include recognizing that lessons need to be adapted so that students achieve success.  Success is integral to creating and supporting student motivation and engagement.  I am concentrating on lesson examples that relate to “organization”. One of Overmeyer’s examples of this is attempting to circumvent a student’s frustration point by stopping the activity before they ever reach that point. In his description of “making a picture in my head,” (p.69 - verbal rehearsal prior to writing) when students share their “pictures” with a friend, Overmeyer gives them 30 seconds to talk (this time can be altered depending on the group of students), and says “When I ask you to stop you should have more to say.” Hopefully this will give the students who have previously struggled with writing the experience of bubbling over with ideas, and the motivation that comes with this experience.

This example also incorporates collaboration between students.  When students have the opportunity to share the ideas that are percolating in their brains, they are able to notice details that may be missing, or recognize that the main character can’t be in two places at once (unless it is science fiction, I guess). Overmeyer has “found the verbal rehearsal to be the most effective” (p.74) method for students to build stories and organize their writing.

I can connect this power of collaboration with a group of 4th grade students that I worked with last year.  I modeled listening to a friend’s story and asking questions for clarification, or questions to build the story.  After students had practice, both of us noticed that the following first drafts were anticipating the questions that would be asked, making the writing stronger and more thorough from the beginning.

When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working also includes looking at strategy teaching in a flexible manner.  When thinking about providing students with strategies to organize their writing my first thought was graphic organizers.  Overmeyer points out how the traditional organizers may emphasize aspects of a written piece that do not need to exist.  For example, in Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, the written story does not mention anything about the setting.  Setting is a staple on narrative graphic organizers. Once students have experience with graphic organizers, Overmeyer points out that they can generate, in his example, “webs” that fit with what they are planning on writing.  Students are generating organizers that pertain to exactly what they are about to write. “The point is to create a planner that makes sense: one that will provide students with a scaffold to list the kinds of interesting details that will result in a well-written product.” (p.67)       

All of these examples are included in the lessons that I have created for this fall’s writing intervention groups.  I look forward to seeing how they unfold.

Teaching the Neglected “R” - Rethinking Writing Instruction in Secondary Classrooms
edited by Newkirk and Kent

I found this collection of essays to have both core values as writing teachers (or any subject really) and wise ideas and exercises for my own writing.  Teaching at the elementary level, I do not have much exposure to the scene within the secondary classrooms.  This book allowed me a peek, and sometimes in humorous ways.

Core values -

Writing and consistently improving one’s writing becomes a habit. (p.2)

The guts of writing for students needs to come from them; their interests, their love, their passion. (p.3)

Failure is inevitable - take the opportunity to grow from the failure. (p.6)

Pragmatists - “a restless philosophy - we never arrive, we’re always moving.” (p.8)

Building on student strengths - “students should be able to … (build) their individual writing processes from the work that went well.” (p.19)

“In real life there is no evidence when people listen to you. It’s quiet.” (p.42)

“There was a time to show and a time to tell.” (p.44)

Writing with students - doing the same assignment.

“Remember, if you couldn’t think of a person or moment to write about, don’t despair. You have an entire lifetime to add snapshots and thoughtshots to your writing.” (p.46)

We are teaching and learning with fun included. (p.48)

“Write what you know” (p.58)

Avoid rubrics being used as “a quasi-mathematical shortcut to assessment.” (p.66)

“The teacher models how to work a thought through the structure and demonstrates, using any handy thought or life lesson.” (p77-79)

Think/write  outside “the box” or including many genres - multigenre writing (p.92)

Support students all the way (p.95)
Poetry creation and sharing builds community. (p.110)

“We can’t teach students to love fiction, or to love writing, or to love revising; you can’t teach talent or persistence or inspiration.” “The great bonus of teaching the craft of fiction is that it often leads students to the very things that are unteachable. What we call talent is often nothing more mysterious than the intersection of knowledge and determination.” (p.119-120)

Ideas and exercises -

“Write what makes you different.” (p.19)

“The best writing comes from contradiction, surprise, uncomfortable insight,” (p.20)

Detachment (p.20) - I recognize this in my own living. Sometimes I am looking in on the scene, and I can use this as a trigger for writing.

Writer’s Notebook questions:
  • What surprises you?
  • What connects with another iten on the lists?
  • What contradicts what you believe?
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • What do you see differently from your family or friends?
  • What is that shouldn’t be?
  • What is that should be?
  • What answer needs a question?
  • What question needs an answer?

Socrates’ questions (experience/thought):
  • What is one thing you know and how do you know it?
  • What have you done, and what has it shown you?
  • What have you seen, and what do you think about it?
  • Where are you now, and how did you get there?
  • What is one thing you think, and what has led you to think that?
  • What is one thing you believe, and how did that belief evolve?

Response to Research Articles (listed at the end):

1. I created a chart to illustrate how the intervention lessons I have collected and adapted connect to the research I have read.

Writing Lessons - Organization
Topic/Goal: Organization - Strategies to make your writing flow smoothly
Teaching/Learning Intrinsic Goals: Motivation, Independence, Collaboration
“My writing is focused and doesn’t stray off topic.”

Goals Achieved
Pre-Assess Quantity and Content Focus
Hail et al, 2013

I. Mentor Text

Baker et al, 2009
Koster et al, 2015
Rogers et al, 2008
1.Starting with the known
2.Shared experience
3.Students are explicitly taught the strategy, it’s purpose and benefits.
4. Goal Setting
Observe - what do students have in place? What needs to be re-taught? Revised?
II. Strategy: “Making a picture in my head.”
Good topic = Clear Picture Model

Planning a story/topic in my head - closing my eyes. Telling a friend.

Pick a topic - share all you know
Share with friend - 30 sec to talk, “when I ask you to stop, you should have more to say.”
Overmeyer, 2005
Baker et al, 2009
Koster et al, 2015
Rogers et al, 2008
Johnson et al, 2012
1. Model how to use strategy
2. Teacher supports/scaffolds student mastery of strategy
3. Collaborative Support
4. Independence
Observe - what do students have in place? What needs to be re-taught? Revised?
III. Strategy: Five Fingers (Fiction/non-Fiction)
Thumb - Introduction
3 Fingers - Supporting Details or Events
Pinky - Conclusion
Overmeyer, 2005
Baker et al, 2009
Koster et al, 2015
Rogers et al, 2008
Johnson et al, 2012
1. Model how to use strategy
2. Teacher supports/scaffolds student mastery of strategy
3. Collaborative Support
4. Independence
Observe - what do students have in place? What needs to be re-taught? Revised?
IV. Strategy: Conversations - verbal rehearsal/
Peer conferencing

Hail et al, 2013
Koster et al, 2015
Johnson et al, 2012
Overmeyer, 2005
1. Student voices are heard, validated and respected.
2. Collaborative support
3. Independence
Observe - what do students have in place? What needs to be re-taught? Revised?

V. Strategy: Sketches - focusing on organization/events/main topics

Baker et al, 2009
Koster et al, 2015
Rogers et al, 2008
Johnson et al, 2012
Overmeyer, 2005
1. Model how to use strategy
2. Teacher supports/scaffolds student mastery of strategy
3. Collaborative Support
4. Independence
Observe - what do students have in place? What needs to be re-taught? Revised?

VI. Strategy: Visual tools - “webs”
(Be sure the tools don’t detract from what the student wants to say. Build up to students being able to choose/design the best graphic organizer for him/herself.)
Baker et al, 2009
Koster et al, 2015
Rogers et al, 2008
Johnson et al, 2012
Overmeyer, 2005
1. Model how to use strategy
2. Teacher supports/scaffolds student mastery of strategy
3. Collaborative Support
4. Independence
Observe - what do students have in place? What needs to be re-taught? Revised?
Pause Observe Evaluate
Determine Next Steps
Fine Tune Instruction
VII. Observe - what do students have in place? What’s needed to fine tune the organization?

Leads? (p.77)
Strong endings? (p.36)
Sharpening the focus? (p.67)
Using Paragraphs? (p.71)
Fletcher et al, 2007

POST Assessment
Quantity and Content Focus
Hail et al 2013

2. I am using the following quotes from the research in a workshop and for my research presentation. Teachers will choose a quote as they enter and reflect on how it relates to their own experiences, then while introducing themselves they will share their reflections.

“Writing instruction that included planned brainstorming activities and helped students organize information prior to writing was more effective than methods that ignored or gave short shrift to writing preparation.” (Baker et al, 2009)

“Motivation to write is increased as they (children) become keenly aware of their audience and more confident in their personal connections.” (Hail et al, 2013, p.43)

“Trying to find the right blend of supporting students’ ownership of their writing, building their confidence in sharing a written message, and promoting excellence in writing is a fine line for some teachers.” (Hail et al, 2013, 44)

“The results show that the most effective interventions to improve students’ writing are, in order of effect sizes: goal setting, strategy instruction, text structure instruction, feedback, and peer assistance.” (Koster et al 2015)

“Beginning writers may profit more from a targeted intervention, such as text structure or strategy instruction.” (Koster et al, 2015)

“Reinforcement had a large effect on students’ writing productivity.” (Rogers et al, 2008)

Research and Books Referenced:

Baker, S. K., CHARD, D. J., Ketterlin-Geller, L., Apichatabutra, C., & Doabler, C. (2009). Teaching writing to at-risk students. the quality of evidence for self-regulated strategy development. Exceptional Children, 75(3), 303-318.
Fletcher, R. & Portalupi, J. 2007. Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Hail, C., George, S., & Hail, J. (2013). Moving beyond journaling to dialogues in writing. Critical Questions in Education, 4(1), 42-51.
Hansen, B. D., & Wills, H. P. (2014). The effects of goal setting, contingent reward, and instruction on writing skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47(1), 171-175.
Johnson, E. S., Hancock, C., Carter, D. R., Pool, J.L. (2012) Self-Regulated Strategy Development as a Tier 2 Writing Intervention. Intervention in School and Clinic, 48(4), 218-222.
Koster, M., Tribushinina, E., de Jong, Peter F., & van den Bergh, Huub (2015).
Teaching Children to Write: A Meta-analysis of Writing Intervention Research. Journal of Writing Research, 7(2), 249-274.
Overmeyer, M. 2005. When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Rogers, L. A., & Graham, S. (2008). A meta-analysis of single subject design writing intervention research. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(4), 879.

Summer Responses:

Reading Response - Because Writing Matters by C. Nagan, National Writing Project

I relate to:

“Shuffling through phases of planning, reflection, drafting and revision, though rarely in a linear fashion.” (p.10) first draft let it flow, no worries

“... the writer has reason to write, an intended audience, and control of the subject and form. It also means that composing is staged across various phases of rumination, investigation, consultation with others, drafting, feedback,revision, and perfecting.” (p.10)

“Writing often only progresses in fits and starts.”(p.13)

“For the teacher, the challenge is recognizing and then addressing the distinct instructional needs of diverse students.” (p.13)

“Writing is never learned once and for all, and the effective writing teacher offers students the kind of response that supports their growth as writers.” (p.14)

Schools Need to Develop Fair and Authentic Writing Assessments
Grant Higgins - “Many state writing assessments run the risk of undercutting good writing by scoring only for focus, organization, style, and mechanics without once asking judges to consider whether the writing is powerful, memorable, provocative, or moving (all impact-related criteria, and all at the heart of why people read what others write)” (p.15)

Because Writing Matters - Small group discussion with Jane and Dustin

Heart goes out to students - writing is not a linear and rigid process, it’s recursive.
Everyone is different in their style - when allowed to express in their style they are freer to create

Spelling - don’t worry about it, lean towards the meaning then meld the two, knowing your audience

Good fiction - punctuation.  The example of taking out all commas to show that commas support meaning

Balancing structure and freedom is critical

How can assessment improve to include the passion?

#1 Complexity of writing - accept the tension between usage and process, ask how do they work together? There has to be balance.
(I don’t remember exactly what we meant by “usage”.)

#2 How do we foster the love of writing with all the assessments? Can we assess passion and process?

Reading Response - Testing is Not Teaching by D. Graves
Shawne T. McCord

Graves thoroughly discounts the value, validity and purpose of testing in this book.  I will be responding to a big picture issue that emerged for me, a chapter I shared with colleagues, as well as a single quote.

First I think it would be helpful to clearly delineate the purpose of assessment - to help a learner and teacher improve, grow, test their limits, and succeed.

I. The big picture issue is generalizing all assessments as bad.  I understand and agree that when assessing writing and reading the standardized tests do not do the students, teachers and educational system justice. Writing and reading are so complex a sit down assessment is not able to meet the purpose of assessment, in the way I previously defined it.

It’s my understanding that standardized tests, though, were created to make sure that students all over the US are receiving an “equal” education. Is Jo-Jo, who goes to a small school in a poor, peach farming community in Georgia, getting the same learning opportunities as Daria, who goes to school in affluent Cape Elizabeth, Maine? This effort to equalize, (by evaluating the data, and requiring schools who are not meeting national expectations to create plans and improve teaching services), in theory, is admirable. We want all students, no matter where they happen to be living in the US, to get a similar chance at succeeding and contributing to making this country better.

All that being said, I want to come back to the premise of this book - testing is not teaching and assessment is bad.   To be more concise, standardized testing does not help teaching, it hurts teaching (and students). This testing though, does provide one data point.  I am not sure it would be the data point to help teachers identify a student that may be“falling between the cracks,” but that potential is there. If a school is using other assessments conducted by teachers, such as the Developmental Reading Assessment, Benchmark Assessment System, or Rigby, this more detailed data could clearly serve the purpose of helping a teacher identify what to teach so that the student is able to improve.

This leads to my last point about the big picture, and it’s a question. Could a testing continuum be helpful to more clearly identify the purpose of the assessment? At one end of the continuum is national standardized tests and at the other a teacher’s anecdotal notes.

II. The chapter “Are Long, Slow Thinkers and Endangered Species?” fit perfectly into a discussion at a reading teacher team meeting, while we were discussing specific students and the DRA results, as well as lessons. At the meeting I shared my new understanding of “honoring” these students who, with more thinking time, are able to come up with amazing ideas and insights.  Slowing the pace down is advantageous and permitted. Everyone on the team was enthusiastic about reading this chapter too.

III.  For our class I chose this quote:

"One of the chief ways to prompt exciting thinking and theorizing is to trust the shadows. I've learned that most solutions are not found by keeping to the obvious, the straight-forward road. Rather, they lie in the shadows." (Graves, 81)
I like the challenge of figuring out how to shed light on these shadows, so that solutions, plans and new ideas can be implemented. The "shadow" example Graves used was with a writing study - a student pointed out to him how important the drawing was to understanding the writing piece. Previously Graves wasn't paying much attention to the drawing. For me the "shadows" present themselves as students struggling to read - what am I missing in their learning/in their mistakes? So while problem solving teaching or learning predicaments, keep an eye/ear out for the "shadows" and trust them.

In a small group discussion, with Jane and Chris, many more insightful understandings evolved including:

Shadows don’t exist without the light
Don’t want to get rid of the shadows
Want to be able to see what’s inside/with them better
Trust the really bad sentences, displace the fear
Open up to all kinds of responses
Freedom to create
Asking questions
Letting go of control - as a teacher
Permitting, nurturing passions

Reading Response - On Writing by Stephen King
Shawne T. McCord

I was a bit trepidacious when beginning this book.  I had Breathing In, Breathing Out, at hand, just in case. I was forewarned that King can be a bit presumptuous. I also am not a fan of horror fiction. He was presumptuous, here and there, but not enough to deter me from getting wrapped up in his story, from gleaning some helpful writing points, and from questioning some of his suggestions. This book inspired me to take a jump and try to write a short story, using some of his advice.

I have organized my responses into the areas of what I “Agree” with, what I “Aspire” to, and what I “Argue” with.


  • On rewrites, get to the point. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” (p.57) This goes along with my attempt at not using too many words to get the image or gesture across, but enough that the image or gesture is not just in my head, but on paper for the reader to see/feel.
  • Have fun writing.  “I have written because it fulfilled me. I did it for the pure joy of the thing.” (p.249)
  • No passive verbs (p.124). Keep the story is action mode.  Splat - here I am.


  • Ideas just come to you (p.37)- yeah, right. From my experience, before this week, words might just come to me for poems, shorter pieces, but a whole story?  I like how King told the story in the beginning part of the book from his life, and then I got to see how his life played a role in how characters and places arise for stories.  This showed me how organically a story can be born, and grow.  “You undoubtedly have your own thoughts, interests, and concerns, and they have arisen, as mine have, from your experiences and adventures as a human being. ...You should use them in your work” (p.208).

  • Did the story “move me emotionally?” “Writing has always been best when it is intimate.”
(p.76) How I have grasped this concept is noticing that when I write something I am passionate about, the writing is strong.  It has a sense of purpose, of closeness.  When choosing topics for the learning autobiography, I went with ones that strike me inside, ones that I am still working with emotionally. On another angle, I have noticed that writing about tender issues or events also has the potential of healing.  

  • “If I can make you understand her madness - then perhaps I can make her someone you sympathize with or even identify with. The result? She’s more frightening than ever, because she’s close to real.”  For me this is describing a character from the inside, feeling and understanding her from her point of view, being her.  The challenge is stretching myself to be the perceived antagonist, the devil.  


  • “Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.” (p.118)  I have tried to use this advice, but for me I can often find a better word after some deep thinking.

  • No adverbs (p.124-125). I firmly appreciate my adverbs. They fortifyingly serve the purpose of giving more depth and color to my verbs.  Sure, if the verbs can stand on their own, great, let them be.

How do I know a book is really good after I finished it?    If, throughout my day, writing or not writing, I find myself thinking of points made in the book and how they apply to the situation at hand.  I really appreciate books that get this kind of real life thinking going. On Writing was one of these books.

Craft Lessons by Fletcher and Portalupi

What a wonderful collection of lessons directly addressing heart components of writing for students. I noticed how these lessons fit perfectly with my research/professional development project - collecting then using resources for re-teaching different parts of writing for students who need the extra support.

I created a padlet, Writing Lessons Grades 3-5 Padle, ( ) with the following categories:

  • Written Presentation
  • Topic Development
  • Organization
  • Conventions
  • Word Choice
  • Purpose and Audience
  • Motivation*
  • Voice*

All but the last two categories are on my school’s Grade 3-5 Writing Rubric.

I organized the lessons in the 3-4 section, and some of lessons in the 5-8 section into these different categories.

My goal is that this padle will be a useful teaching guide for myself and other teachers.  If I have noticed that a student or class needs to be taught how to better organize their writing, I have the lessons at hand.
Other teachers can add lessons within each of the categories too, making this a growing resource.  

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