Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reflecting on TCRWP's 86th Saturday Reunion

There is a distinct  energy and feel to New York City when spring begins to peek its head out from a long winter. Streets come alive; people move freely, unencumbered by the weightiness of winter; smiles abound. March 22, 2014, was one of those magical days in the city. Not only did spring tip its hat to greet the day but eager anticipation filled the streets around 120th Street and Broadway. It was a day to celebrate the best of learning from literary luminaries, engaging presenters, and a time to turn and talk with colleagues in the field. Saturday was the TC Reading & Writing Project's gift to educators as it opened the heavy doors of the majestic Riverside Church to the 86th Saturday Reunion. It is with a sense of eager anticipation that I traveled to Teachers College for the day of free professional development that drew over 3500 educators to soak in the magic of spring and mill through the hallowed halls of Teachers College. Credit for the professional development opportunity available to all educators went to Lucy Calkins, who along with the support of distinguished colleagues and staff, planned the day of learning. 

From years of traveling to the Saturday Reunions, I learned that arriving early is a prerequisite. First task once you are on the Columbia campus is to pick up a flyer on the street corners surrounding Teachers College or in the foyer of Riverside Church. The early birds are able to relax into the experience of the day's ongoing learning by perusing the extensive flyer and planning their schedule before the crowds arrive. They are also able to secure a spot in the magnificent church where notable theologians and political figures, such as Martin Luther King and Bill Clinton, have spoken. 

From the moment I stepped into the majestic Riverside Church, I felt a sense of eager anticipation. Collegial and welcoming TCRWP staff greeted guests. Luckily this year, I was able to find a seat close to the front and make acquaintances with first timers from Maine. We chatted about education and ways to maximize the days' workshops before Lucy Calkins' began the day. As I began to reflect on the new learning that would come my way, I started reading the Tweets marked #TCRWP that were filling the Twitter channel. Everyone was there for a singular purpose: to learn new information, strategies, tips, and practices to hone their craft and impact their students' reading and writing lives. 

The program at Riverside Church began with Lucy Calkins speaking about the new site,, that she and other influential people in the field of literacy will open. Next, she introduced Diane Ravitch, historian of education and author of Reign of Error, whose speech was dedicated to defending public education "in the storm of the American public schools crisis." Several of her key statements were well-received by the audience, as evidenced by the number of tweets. 

  • We need to find ways to recruit, support, and prepare teachers. 
  • Standards should be reviewed continuously.
  • Testing reflects socio-economic status. No matter what the test, the pass/fail pattern mirrors family income. 
  • Tests don't close the achievement gap; they measure it. 
  • What is the plan for children who do not get a diploma?
The last thought left me pondering what indeed is the plan and how will each state resolve this issue. If you would like to see a detailed summary of Diane Ravitch's speech, you can go to a blog post provided by @teachcmb56 at

After this rousing speech, I joined the crowd of teachers who were moving at a fast-pace to the next venue, only to find several sessions closed, including the one that I wished to attend, Maggie Beattie Roberts' workshop, "Teaching Perspective, Author's Intent, and Critical Reading in Nonfiction Text Sets." Luckily, I found one spot in the back of the room and I slipped in just in time to hear the link for the handout,  We started with a quick look at Standard 6, Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text, and subsequently led through an activity using feeling words as entry points for understanding the point of view of a nonfiction text. I lingered on the following quotes from Maggie: 

  • Critical reading is a stance.
  • Explore nonfiction as a viewpoint, not just a text. 
  • All text have power, perspective, and position. (from Stephanie Jones' book, girls, social class, & literacy)
For more information about nonfiction reading, point of view and perspective you can read the blog post at

Because I thoroughly enjoyed this session, I stayed for Maggie's second workshop, "From Writing Information Books to Designing Websites: A New Unit of Study (and Book) in Information Writing for Middle School." I was not disappointed in my choice for I was introduced to the new Unit of Study in Information Writing for Middle School that Katie co-authored and work from the Riverhead School District's 6th graders. I learned that the goals of this new work are to expose and teach a variety of writing forms from an essay to a book to a website, develop healthy research practice, and incorporate research into writing. 

Next, I went to Kate Roberts' session, Teaching Students to Write Powerful Literary Essays Across 6-8. Kate was particularly animated during her discussion and very engaging.
An important point made was, "Lift the level of literary essay work through claims and thinking." Kate provided examples of the process that she used with 6th grade students to lead them toward independence in writing. She mentioned John Hattie's work on the important factors in student growth. "Kids need to have clear goals and see a clear pathway." She provided examples of Elaborate our Evidence prompts to push analysis, such as:
  • This illustrates...because ______________.
  • ______________ means ___________. Therefore, ______________.
Because of the short time between sessions, I was not able to speak with Kate and thank her for guest hosting of #nyedchat on March 3rd with Chris Lehman, so I joined the group taking the stairs to exit the building. 

My next and last workshop of the day was led by Stephanie Harvey. Her presentation, Thoughtfully Connecting Technology to Instruction, centered around these key words: connect, create, communicate, collaborate. During the presentation, Steph warned of the risks of technology when using iPads in the classroom with students. There can be an isolation factor. Therefore, teachers need to refocus on talk in the classroom, bringing collaboration to the forefront. A closing thought was to "nurture curiosity by living a curious life." The word curiosity has become a powerful and common thought in Stephanie Harvey's presentations over the years.

With the power of Twitter available and many tweeters recording thoughts from various sessions, I added additional memorable quotes from TCRWP presenters:

On Twitter:
Twitter is the most powerful platform for educational professional development.  -Stephanie Harvey
Twitter profoundly changed my professional life and career.  -Maggie Beattie Roberts

On Saturday Reunion:
As always, the Saturday Reunion Conference reminded me that I'm proud to call the TCRWP my professional home. -Carl Anderson
Reunion is so comfortable to present. -Maggie Beattie Roberts

On Reading:
Any text you read should trigger perceptions, feelings, thoughts. The DNA of reading. -Kathy Collins
Even 5 minutes of talk time after reading improves comprehension. -Lucy Calkins

On Writing:
We don't assign writing. We TEACH it. -Cornelius Minor
Revision is a disposition to be nurtured. -Shana Frazin

On Students:
Students is a word for school. Children is a word for life. -Kathy Collins
Whoever does the work, learns the most. Teachers do less. Kids do more. -Stephanie Harvey

As with every memorable experience, the day came to a close, but the energy for learning remained, and so at the end of a uplifting day of TCRWP collegial conversations and pertinent talk, I bid New York City good by. 

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