Listening to Gretchen Bernabei

Pictured above as speaker: Gretchen Bernabei

A few days ago, I had the chance to listen to Gretchen Bernabei share her experiences about writing and writing workshops at a Summer Writing Academy I am attending. Wow, what a great presentation!

Here are my take-aways from her session, some things are quotes, others are my best attempt to scribble down what she said. All errors are mine. Click on her name above or the book below to find out more about her.

  1. Writing projects have changed my life. 
  2. To get published, read the calls for manuscripts. Fill your work with student voices and share those conversations...those dialogues make it more readable.
  3. Everyone wants children to make progress...parents don't want their children to be lessened, to be made smaller. Kids come from home famous, and schools make them less so.
  4. If students leave writing workshop feeling famous, then I have done my job right. Sharing your writing, being enlarged by others' writing is what makes you feel famous.
  5. "You are my roots...I learned to teach in [DistrictNameOmitted]. i like to work with kids that struggle. One day, leadership changed and I was told there would be no more institutes...never again." (so she left)
  6. You won't find 5 paragraph essays in any magazine or book but only in school. Ask kids to do authentic writing.
  7. You know about the NPR Driveway Moment?
  8. On why she didn't teach 4th grade: Too many things I didn't know that kept me out f the 4th grade teaching, like gettings kids to line up.
  9. How do we get kids to write Driverway Moments instead of the 5 paragraph essay?
  10. The only people who read essays are teachers...we do it out of an over-developed sense of duty.
  11. We're looking for a highly personal response which shows a genuine reaction to the prompt.
  12. Where we do authentic writing, it may cause an emotional reaction.
  13. Gen Patton left no stone unturned in getting the job done...why should we, even if it involves emotional reactions?
  14. We teach the 5 paragraph essay because it is teachable...we don't have a teachable alternative on how to organize paper (Thomas Newkirk, author of "The School Essay Manifesto," as cited by Gretchen Bernabei. Thomas Newkirk was Nanci Atwell's teacher).
  15. Finding what authors do, how they organize their text and then share that with the kids.
  16. Newkirk - no surprise in the essay as to where it's going. There is surprise built-into the writing...the reader doesn't know what's going to happen until it happens in the writing.
  17. "How can writing foster and track movement of the mind?" Socrates as cited in Phaedrus
  18. What's one thing you know right here [heart] and how do you know that?
  19. What is one thing that's wrong or true and why do you think so?
  20. Gretchen holds up two hands...any good piece of writing has to have something from each hand.
    1. One hand represents what you know:
      • Everything I know that is true, not true, might be true, every attitude, fact, or opinion, quotes, truisms, life lessons, "dichos" (sayings).
    2. One hand represents Experience: 
      • All my experience, every step I've taken, smelled and eaten, seen with my eyes, conversations I have been in, movies, stories, songs.
  21. Ideas for stimulating writing:
    1. What are 5 topics you talked about with friends/family within the last month? Pick one and ask yourself to recreate the dialogue in a written piece.
  22. 5 Sentences Starters -> Kernel Essay
    1. When I was young/little....
    2. I thought that probably...
    3. Since then...
    4. All I really need to know is...
    5. Gradually....
  23. Prepare the sentence starters as a paragraph then read it straight through without explaining. [Here's an example Miguel made for fun.]
  24. The inner streaming of what kids are walk in with plenty of discourse
  25. What could we do with this kernel essay? Type it up and add pictures, share it!
  26. Harvest topics then...
  27. Jim Moffett on Teaching the Universe of Discourse:
    1. Drama = what is happening
    2. Narrative = what happened
    3. Expository = what happens
    4. Persuasive = what should happen
  28. On writing truisms...a truism is a statement that might be true for anybody.
    1. When I was young, I wondered about....
    2. I've learned that sometimes..."
  29. Having a reflection as part of a conclusion is a great device. A TAKS essay doesn't get a 4 unless it has a reflective part.
All in all, it was a great presentation. I loved her relaxed, easy-going style and practical suggestions for encouraging writers.

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Anonymous said…
Gretchen Bernabei's thoughts are a wonderful mix of personal experience, professional advice, and reference to others. Sometimes a teacher simply needs to be reminded of the power of authentic student writing. We teachers can lose sight of the main focus of teaching writing--the essay is less important than the student writing it.
@Judy, definitely! You could make that statement about many of our human endeavours!

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