Friday, June 20, 2014

Teachers Teaching Teachers

Robin Belcher (kindergarten) and her sister Tammie Davis (2nd grade)
This week I had the opportunity to teach a writing workshop for thirteen teachers from Buchanan and Dickenson County. The class was called Writing Strategies for Every Classroom Teacher and it was offered by the University of Virginia's College at Wise and the Appalachian Writing Project (AWP). Since 2006, I have been a teacher consultant for AWP which is a branch of the National Writing Project (NWP), and I have given in-services for teachers across southwestern Virginia.

Carolyn Mitchell (special education) and Phyllis Mullins (7th civics)
Wanda Perry teaches K-5 Art and Music
NWP is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. NWP provides professional development, develops resources, generates research, and acts on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities. Co-directed by faculty from the local university and from K–12 schools, nearly 200 local sites serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sites work in partnership with area school districts to offer high-quality professional development programs for educators (
Dot Owens (1st) and Rebecca Burniston and Codi Layne (Pre-K)
I began the week with writing activities I had used with my students because NWP is based on the principle of teachers teaching teachers their best practices of teaching writing across the curriculum. Some of the activities I provided centered on using the students' "favorite subject" - themselves! We also discussed how students can write about themselves using multigenres.

The workshop also featured presentations by other members of AWP. TC Tammy Williams showed us how to use books to produce great "opening lines" for our writing.
Teacher Consultant Tammy Williams
TC Amber Couch discussed how to do research with our students using the I-Search method. She gave us strategies for teaching students how to form their research questions as well as conduct the research and put it together into a paper. A librarian, Amber talked about how students use the library to conduct research.
Teacher Consultant Amber Couch

TC Robin Justus ended the workshop with her presentation - Book Arts. Robin brought materials and led us through making books of all shapes and sizes while giving us strategies how to use them with our students. We practiced making books and had many examples to take back to our classrooms.
TC Robin Charles shows Angie Slemp how to cut the pages

The teachers attending the workshop also shared their ideas. The teachers brought an activity they have success with in the classroom and shared it with the group.Teachers teaching teachers in action!
Robin Belcher shared a "froggy" idea.
Tammie Davis 
Phyllis Mullins 

Tabitha Keen binding a book.
The week was filled with learning new ways to add more writing into our classes. It didn't matter that our group ranged from Pre-K teachers to 7th grade civics, we all found activities that could be adapted to our grade levels and subject area. After all, no one can take a paper towel roll, empty oatmeal containers, yarn, glitter, and glue and produce a masterpiece like a teacher.

Karen Coleman and Angie Slemp
The week was filled with laughter and learning, writing and sharing (which produced a few tears), but it was a fun-filled learning experience for all.  At the end of the workshop, I got a profusion of thank you's from teachers who went out the door carrying activities they could implement in their classes on the first day of school. The class had achieved its goal - Writing Strategies for Every Classroom Teacher
Rita Baily and Pam Fields

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Review of Long Man by Amy Greene

As a teacher, I always look forward to my first summer read - the book I choose to kick off my summer vacation from school. This summer's choice is especially important because I decided, after much soul-searching, to retire from teaching, so I wanted a special book that would mark this milestone in my life. Well, I found it. Long Man by Amy Greene was the perfect choice.

Long Man is the story of what happens in the eastern Tennessee town of Yuneetah, during three days in the summer of 1936. An entire town and way of life for its inhabitants is about to be wiped out when the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) completes its project to dam the river Long Man and flood Yuneetah. There's just one problem, three year old Gracie Dodson disappears as the flood waters are rising faster than expected because of a raging storm.

Gracie Dodson is in harms way because her mother, Annie Clyde has refused to leave her 40 acre farm, a farm her ancestors have owned for generations. Even though Annie Clyde's husband wants to make a fresh start in Michigan where he believes they will have a better life, Annie Clyde is determined to remain a farmer. The land means everything to Annie Clyde. She believes a hard scrabble life toiling on the farm is better than the unknown.

As the deadline looms, a powerful storm hits. The storm is a metaphor on many levels - the fight between Annie Clyde and her husband; the fight between Annie Clyde and the TVA man; and the fight between Annie Clyde and Amos, the drifter she believes has taken her child. Perhaps the biggest storm in Annie Clyde's life is the loss of her land and the history it stands for.

The search for Gracie Dodson is as powerful as the force of the river Long Man. The pain Annie Clyde and her husband go through is palpable and heart-wrenching. The way the remaining townspeople, their families, and even the TVA man bond together to search for Gracie a testament to humanity. The possible loss of a child puts the flooding of this town into perspective, and  it reminds the reader of the sacrifices made by people like the Dodsons in the name of progress.

 The characters are vivid and tragic, each one having to deal with the loss of the only life they have ever known. This book is a testament to family and what it means to be connected to the land you love.