If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find.
John Churton Collins
It was one of those travel days from hell (thanks, United Airlines!). After delays, a canceled flight and rerouting, my plane landed in Boston late at night, instead of in Maine as planned. I stood at the airport taxi stand, with exactly 18 minutes to speed across town, navigate my way through the cavernous South Station, buy a ticket, and catch the last bus of the night to Maine. A challenge, but I knew what to do.
I hopped in the cab and told the driver, “Take me to South Station, and I’ll pay you an extra ten bucks if, instead of the usual place, you drop me off at that upper level employee parking lot right next to the elevators that go to the ticketing counter.” The cabbie laughed. “How do you know about the secret place?’ I smiled back. “I just know.” A decade earlier a kind cabdriver had tipped me off to this shortcut, which shaves off six minutes of walking and riding escalators in the busy terminal. Ten minutes after getting into the cab, I was sitting on that last bus heading north, ticket in hand, and my cabdriver was speeding away with his best tip of the night.
I’ve only used the knowledge of that secret drop-off spot four times in ten years, but every time it has saved me from at best a two-hour wait, and at worst another night stuck on the road away from home.
The best trade secrets are often the ones you use rarely. My favorite trade secret whenever I’m struggling with my writing is to end my writing day by stopping writing in the middle of a sentence. Sometimes I even stop in the middle of a word. I learned that trick from Donald Murray, and it’s the quickest way when returning to the draft the next day to hop into the middle of my train of thought, instantly immersed in the writing again.
When I struggled with any class of students, my secret weapon was to break routine with a “community clean-up day.” I’d start with something that was bothering me with the class (for example, students straggling in late or side talk). Then I’d ask the class to brainstorm five other elements of the class that weren’t working well. Students would break into groups randomly assigned by me, with each group tackling one problem and coming up with an action plan for solving it. The issues they came up with were sometimes surprising, their solutions were always brilliant, and our class never failed to get back on track after the activity.
Nothing builds professional skills more than experience. But I’ve come to believe that no one feels truly confident and savvy in any realm — whether it’s traveling, writing, or teaching — without a few trade secrets. Those secrets are something you don’t pull out every day, but when you do use them, they are an instant reminder that you’ve been in tough jams before, and you have the skills and experience to work your way through them. What is your favorite teaching or leadership trade secret? How do you pass it along to those who apprentice with you?
This week we’re featuring resources to foster more thoughtful student research. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
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In this essay from the Choice Literacy archives, Heather Rader explains how Research Is the Project (or at least it should be) for young learners:
The second installment of our Summer Reading Round-Up has suggestions from some of your favorite literacy leaders, including Donalyn Miller, Shari Frost, Diane Sweeney, Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan:
This recent article from Educational Leadership describes how the Common Core is changing the ways nonfiction is used in classrooms:
Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts explain why making a Hail Mary Pass in trying new things may be more smart than desperate in the final days of school:
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Chris Lehman has tongue-in-cheek suggestions for 13 Ways to Raise Students Who Hate Research:
Franki Sibberson demonstrates how much ground can be covered in a three-minute conference with a student. In this week’s video, she helps fourth grader Pierce think through the audience for his writing, how to add visuals to blog posts, and enlists him to teach others new skills as he acquires them:
Katherine Sokolowski finds late in the year is the perfect time for Launching a Fiction Writing Unit with Fifth Graders:
If you’re looking for more resources to support research across the disciplines, our Content Literacy section of the site includes dozens of print and video posts:
That’s all for this week!