Friday, March 23, 2018

Slice of Life 2018 Day 23: Golden Lines - On Writing

In the summer of 2016, in my former role as a secondary district literacy coach, I led a professional development session to middle level and high school English Language Arts (ELA) teachers in my district on best practices in teaching adolescent writers.

I wanted to lead a session that wasn't just me talking and telling. I wanted participants to be engaged. I yearned for teachers to leave with new learning and insights.

I ended up setting up this session like a workshop, providing participants with choice and inviting them to make something meaningful. You can see my plan here. I designed this staff development session based on what I learned from Samantha Bennett, who graciously guided me in developing it. (To me, Sam Bennett and Cris Tovani's explanation and examples for how to plan for and instruct using a workshop model makes the most sense. Check out Sam's That Workshop Book and Cris' So What Do They Really Know? for more on workshop.)

In the first part of the session I invited teachers to read an array of professional materials about teaching writers. I shared resources from some of my favorite teacher authors, including Katie Wood Ray, Katherine Bomer, Ralph Fletcher, Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher. In addition, I provided books on writing by Stephen King, Anne Lamott, Georgia Heard, and Natalie Goldberg. Participants could select which resources to read and determine what pieces that they were the most interested in.

A few of the writing resources I shared with teachers. 
As teachers poured through materials, I asked them to collect golden lines, or lines that particularly resonated with them. After teachers collected golden lines, I instructed them to star or circle one or two of their favorite lines. Next, each teacher shared his or her top golden lines with a small group and later with the large group. Based on conversations they had with each other about their golden lines, teachers were invited to add lines they heard about from their colleagues to their own list.

Finally, I asked each participant to create a writing manifesto based on the collection of golden lines or ideas based on what they read. The idea was that if teachers could create a writing manifesto, then they could articulate their beliefs on best practices AND be able to support their beliefs with theory or research.

Prior to leading the staff development session, I created two samples to share with teachers. Below is my writing manifesto, based on a collection of golden lines from my favorite teachers of writers:
We live in the world as writers, searching for and capturing ideas for writing.
Writing is a process and by focusing on the process and habits of a writer, writing improves.
Good things happen when writers are able to articulate what they are doing and why.
The daily practice of craft sharpens the writer’s vision and tunes the writer’s voice.
The more you do it, the easier it becomes for you to continue to do it and the more you learn about how it gets done.
No matter where we start as writers, we can reach for more.


I also wrote a poem as a different way to communicate my beliefs about writing. You can read it by visiting this post.

Collecting golden lines gave teachers the opportunity to write a manifesto similar to how someone would create a found poem. However, had the option to create his or her writing manifesto using any format desired. Honestly, the format didn't really matter. What mattered most was that teachers thought deeply about their practices in writing and how he or she synthesized that information in order to make positive change for writers.

At the end of the morning session, teachers shared their writing manifestos in small groups and a few shared in the large group. This led to a fantastic discussion about instructing writers. This was, by far, one of the most powerful staff development sessions that I have ever led. All of the high school and middle level teachers were engaged. Many commented that they appreciated making something that mattered to them. I encouraged all participants to hang their manifestos in their classrooms or where they plan as a reminder that our beliefs about teaching writers matter for planning.

Nearly two years later, both of my manifestos (my poem and my collection of golden lines) hang near my computer at school. They are daily reminders of what I strive to do as a teacher of writers.


  1. This is a really great idea. There’s a bug difference between assigning writing and teaching writing, and I think teachers fall into one of these two camps. Love your manifesto and the list of resources. Have you presented at NCTE before, Trina?

    1. Yes, there is a huge difference between assigning and teaching anything, but especially in writing! I would agree with you!

      I haven't presented at NCTE yet. However, I have presented at our statewide reading conference several times and at some conferences sponsored by our WI DPI.

    2. You really should be presenting proposals for NCTE and presenting. If you’re planning to go to Houston, let me know. It may be my last NCTE since I’m retiring at the end of next year.

    3. Thank you! Going to NCTE would probably not be in the cards next year since it would be all out-of-pocket and our budget doesn't allow! Maybe some day! I would love to meet you in person!

  2. This sounds like the best day of PD! I am sure that teachers were grateful to think and work and make. So often PD is sitting around and listening rather than doing. I really like the idea of having teachers write manifestos. I think I'm going to borrow this idea for my Children's Lit preservice teachers this semester. Thank you! (And yes, you should definitely come to NCTE! Trying to think where it's going to be after Houston and if it will be closer to you, but my mind is blank.)

    1. Thanks! It was fun for me to lead too! I also teach an adjunct course on Disciplinary Literacy and was thinking about starting my next course with this.

      I would love to know how it goes if you do this with your Children's Lit.

  3. Love this idea and it sounds like it was a great work shop - I went back and read your poem - it was perfect. The book stack is great as well. I love the mix of authors you shared with the teachers.

    1. Thanks Joanne! It was fun! I actually loved my poem more than my collection of lifted lines. There are so many great authors out there about teaching writers!


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