Sunday, 10 March 2013

My Week with Regie

I have had such a wonderful experience working with and learning from Regie Routman. We hit it off the moment I spoke to her on the phone! She pushed me to think more deeply about my practice. I’ve decided to make a list of things learned throughout this exciting experience. I know I’ve learned more than what’s written in this post, but my list represents highlights of my learning and beliefs.

1.   Write for an Authentic Audience and Purpose

Writing must have an authentic audience and purpose. Engaged students will take the time to construct a wonderful piece of writing. They will also do the hard work of revising and editing.

Prior to Regie visiting, we had been working on an inquiry into citizenship. Our central question was “What does it mean to be a good citizen?” We charted our initial thoughts and students interviewed their parents to find out who they admired. After sifting through all of our data, we discovered that a good citizen is simply anyone who wants to make the world a better place. This “place” could be at home, in school, in the community, and in the world. 

I'm showing Regie our thinking surrounding our Citizenship Inquiry.

We read several excellent picture books (fiction and non-fiction) connecting to our inquiry on citizenship. We also read the novel, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. This book is definitely an all time favourite for my students. During a phone conversation with Regie, she told me about an excellent non-fiction text called Ryan and Jimmy: And the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together by: Herb Shoveller. This is the true story of a Canadian boy, Ryan Hreljac, who helped build a well in Africa and founded Ryan’s Well Foundation. This story was a wonderful connection to our inquiry, and most importantly, the writing was excellent. While reading all of these texts, we thought about how they positioned us as readers. We also looked at them as writers by commenting on specific lines.

Regie and I decided that our shared writing would became – “What can we do as a class to make Strathmillan School a better place?” and our individual writing focus was going to be – “What is your plan to make the world a better place?”

Students were really excited to think of all of the ways they could help make the world a better place. Some want to be better siblings, some want to do chores without complaining and others want to pick up litter around their community. There was a great deal of frontloading before we began writing as a class or as individuals. When students are excited about their topic, the quality is high!

Note: I plan on creating a separate post about our shared piece of writing and students’ individual plans later on. Stay tuned!

2.   Celebrations First and Critiques Later

Regie is so very good at making students feel comfortable and proud of their writing. She conducts a public conference. She sits side by side with a student and has them read aloud their piece first. As the student reads, she listens for the overall meaning or message. Next, Regie will read the piece aloud with expression to make sure all students hear everything clearly. The idea is to focus on the writer first. It’s an empowering experience for everyone. The proof is in the picture below.

3. Pick Out Those Magical Moments

This next step builds upon the idea of “Celebrations First and Critiques Later”. During a public conference, Regie will also go through a piece of writing, line by line, and is very specific about her comments. She will repeat lines and comment on the rhythm or flow of the sentences. She will explain how a student built up suspense or how they combined specific words to slow down their writing, allowing the reader to paint a picture in their heads. I like to call this portion of the public conference, “picking out magical moments” because all students hear these ideas and can try them out in their own writing.
Here I am giving feedback to a student with Regie coaching me.
During our citizenship inquiry, students also wrote about what makes them happy or what I called “Snippets from the Heart”. We had several public conferences. I found these conferences so valuable because students would comment on each other’s writing. The best part is that I started to see students using each other as mentors by trying out a line that someone else used and twisting it to make it their own. Below are samples showing this “piggybacking of ideas”. This is the power of a public conference.

"But my first step on ice was like my first step in life and I realized I would never be without hockey."

"When I grow up and move out of the house, right when I take my first step out the door, I will look back and see my dogs sitting with their eyes filled with tears. I will stop for a moment and say to myself, "I'll never leave them behind."
"Now, when I look at my bear, I think back to being on my papa's lap, in the rain and he is holding his black and white umbrella."

4.     Write in Front of Students - “On the Spot”

Regie encourages teachers to write in front of their students. Students must see us struggle to find the right words, how we use different lengths of sentences, etc. They need to see how we re-read our work over and over and how we revise “on the go”. I remember Regie saying that if we expect our students to write fluently, we need to as well. This is the perfect opportunity to share and model your thinking out loud. In other words, make your thinking visible. You never know, you may even receive some constructive feedback from your students! I often do! :)

5.      The Inseparable Reading and Writing Connection

Reading and writing are so complex there is no way we can separate them. They are intertwined. They inform and complement one another. Students must be reading texts as readers as well as writers. This involves a lot of deep, critical thinking. I can’t imagine teaching reading separate from writing. I’ve written about the reading and writing connection in an earlier post. You can find it here.

6.      Students can be Independent, EVEN if they Struggle!

As teachers, we are constantly finding ways to support all learners in the classroom. Sometimes, I think we forget that these struggling learners must be accountable for their work – especially if they have a plan, they know what to do and we’ve checked in with them before they begin. Regie makes it very clear that students must be the ones “holding the pencil”. It’s easy for teachers to jot down student’s thinking on a post-it note during a conference and send them off to start writing. Instead, when conferring with a student, have them list their ideas in a way that makes sense to them before sending them off to write. This conferring may take longer, but you have greater pay-off in the end.

Here is an example of a student's prewriting plan. We discussed ideas together; he recorded his thinking, before I sent him off to write.

It has been such a rewarding experience to work with Regie Routman. I can’t think of another professional development opportunity that has topped it. One of my students sums it up perfectly in her reflection below:

I learned that writing a strong lead will catch/hook the reader and I feel more like a writer than I did before. To be a writer you have to be a reader. You have to read your work from a writer’s point of view and a reader’s point of view. Coming to our classroom helped us so, so much. You inspired us and made us AMAZING writers. Thank you. And thank you for making Mrs. Steuart happy. You made me happy too.


  1. To Sherri,

    I LOVE your blog! It captures our work together beautifully. It was such a joy and privilege to collaborate with you and your students on all the teaching and learning that took place over just a few days together. Thanks for being a stellar educator--thoughtful, flexible, curious, smart, caring, and willing to do whatever it takes to support your students to aim high and learn more.

    With admiration,

  2. Sherri,
    How lucky to have Regie for a whole week! I have been to several of her workshops and always come back inspired. And thank you for the window into your classrooms It lloks amazing - I expected no less) and into your kids' learning. I knew you would be a great teacher the day you walked into my classroom. I'm so glad our paths crossed!! Take care.

    1. Thank you so much, Shawna! I was so lucky to have been in your room for my final year! I'm glad our paths crossed too! :)


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