You know what’s worse than not working hard? Working hard in the wrong direction.
When I was a child, I struggled to tell left from right. This was a problem that vexed me through my first few years of school. The fear would crawl up into my throat every time the teacher would say, “Start in the left-hand corner of the page.” You don’t realize what an essential skill it is to know right from left unless you lack it. The height of my embarrassment was an unfortunate incident at the annual Miss Mary School of Dance spring recital, where I as a budding Rockette tap-danced my way to the far left side of the stage, only to look over and realize the other 14 girls had shuffled all the way to the right. This was a sad realization to have in front of 1000 people.
By the start of second grade I was struggling to find any trick to remember right from left. One day as I picked up my pencil to write, I noticed there was a small callus on my third finger from holding the pencil. I knew I was right-handed, so I began to feel for this callus as my personal North Star for knowing right from left. The problem was that the callus could disappear at any time if the writing waned, and we didn’t do a lot of writing in that classroom. So I began to write every day on my own. When anyone asked why I was writing, I told them it was fun. Writing was fun on some level, but mostly it was a way to ensure I was tap-dancing in the right direction through life. An unexpected thing happened — I was a shy kid who became known as the writer in the class. Soon writing was part of my identity, something I’ve carried through decades of professional work. I’m not sure I’d be the writer I am today if I hadn’t spent years as a child desperate to maintain a callus on my finger.
Necessity truly is the mother of invention. The book Founders at Work is a compilation of interviews with tech founders. What’s fascinating is how many groundbreaking inventions were on-the-fly creations to solve problems as they emerged. For example, one tech team was working on their Big Project that they were sure was going to be the Next Big Thing. What ended up being the Next Big Thing was a chat app they designed to use in-house to communicate more efficiently — a quick and dirty tool that voila! became the franchise once the original project sputtered. And then there were the designers who thought they were working on a fantastic new game. But when the game project fizzled, they realized they’d created an innovative way to exchange photos electronically that was revolutionary for anyone interested in sharing photos on the web (which turns out to be far more people than those interested in any game). These people were all just trying to keep tap-dancing in the same direction, and ended up on a different, better road entirely.
This week we look at how to teach procedural writing — step-by-step instructions that often take learners off onto unexpected paths. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Please note: Next week we are off for our annual one-week summer break. We’ll be back on July 8.
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Heather Rader shares advice and mentor texts for teaching Procedural Writing in Math:
Franki Sibberson shares a booklist of texts to help students master chronology in nonfiction:
Science Kids offers a terrific collection of how-to videos to use with children:
Wonder How-to is a comprehensive and fun online magazine of print and video procedural resources for older students and adults, in almost any category you can imagine:
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Shari Frost works with a team of first-grade teachers who are discouraged by the quality of the work they are receiving in their unit on procedural writing:
In this week’s video, Danielle French helps a young writer set goals for how-to writing:
In A Joyful Mess, Ruth Ayres writes about the messiness of analyzing needs, celebrating achievements, and thinking about what’s next with writers in workshops:
In the third installment of her “getting to know writers” series, Dana Murphy explains why observing students systematically early in the year and noticing patterns is a powerful tool for teachers:
Sequential retelling is the first step in understanding how procedural writing works, especially for young English language learners. In this encore video, Stella Villalba helps her students practice retelling with partners using key transitional vocabulary words:
That’s all for this week!