From Teaching to Writing
TeachingBooks asks each author or illustrator to reflect on their journey from teaching to writing. Enjoy the following from Anna E. Jordan.
by Anna E. Jordan
Teachers who assign writing to a group of students have heard this refrain over and over only to receive what is often a student’s first draft. As a middle-grades educator, it’s difficult to compete with friends, family, sports, and social media for the attention of my middle grade students. It’s equally hard to convince them that the first draft is never the last draft. In my classroom, there are multiple ways I work to share this message.
One thing I use to illustrate this for my students is my own work as an author. The seed of my debut novel, Shira and Esther’s Double Dream Debut, was a visit to the Society of Illustrators in 2013. After that, I created multiple drafts between 2013 and 2021 when it was purchased, and three more with my editor. That’s before you count all the ancillary writing that I did, or the edits with sensitivity readers, copy editors, and designers. I like to share this timeline and images of my documents window so students can really understand what goes into writing a book.
I didn’t get better as a writer without constant constructive feedback. The authentic critiques I received in writing groups and in my MFA program, challenged me to be silent and listen to the concerns of my readers. Where is my work unclear? What makes a character feel alive or, conversely, two dimensional? How is the reader relating to the point of view and voice? Where does the tension lag or the stakes seem insignificant? Creating a workshop culture in the classroom requires teaching. To that end, I model a short writing conference with a colleague at the beginning of each school year. See video.
In this video, as the partner giving feedback, I’m trying to make my thinking visible. This idea, from Ron Ritchert and the Harvard Education Project Zero research team, posits that for deeper understanding, educators can focus on teaching thinking routines. I’ve revised Ritchert’s SEE-THINK-WONDER routine to a LISTEN-THINK-WONDER.
When students learn to give feedback on writing I’m leading them towards observing closely and describing what’s there, making connections, wondering & asking questions, identifying patterns & generalizing, and clarifying priorities. Instead of “slow looking,” I’m teaching students to listen slowly. So often, when we need to give feedback, we’re thinking about what we want to say instead of just appreciating the writing. The first time the author in the video reads, you’ll see that I’m prompting students to watch how I listen with my eyes, ears, and body. I’ve projected the work on the SMARTBoard so they can follow along. Next, I listen again jotting down my observations on a teacher provided graphic organizer.
The organizer I’m using in the feedback session in the video was organized to parallel the assessment rubric and enumerate a list of criteria. It guides the partner giving feedback to consider whether or not the writer is using evidence to support their statements, if they have a variety of sentences, if their main idea is clear, and whether or not the closing sentence feels satisfying.
I model the feedback sandwich format of compliment, challenge, and compliment, and teach students giving feedback to use language such as “I notice,” and “I wonder.” In the video, the author uses thinking skills too. She isn’t defending or explaining as I speak. She’s also slow listening, considering my viewpoint, identifying patterns, formulating plans, and clarifying priorities.
The writing process doesn’t change when one becomes a published author. There’s always a blank page, a sloppy copy, feedback, revision, more feedback, editing, more feedback, and finally publication. Whether our students are publishing a paragraph, a poem, or a page, collaborating and taking the time to make the final draft the best draft provides young authors with thinking skills that improve life-long learning and can transfer to all disciplines.
Books and Resources
TeachingBooks personalizes connections to books and authors. Enjoy the following on Anna E. Jordan and the books she’s created.
Listen to Anna E. Jordan talking with TeachingBooks about the backstory for writing Shira & Ester’s Double Dream Debut. You can click the player below or experience the recording on TeachingBooks, where you can read along as you listen, and also translate the text to another language.
- Listen to Anna E. Jordan pronounce her name
- Enjoy this interview with Anna E. Jordan
- Discover Anna E. Jordan’s page and books on TeachingBooks
- Visit Anna E. Jordan on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and her GoodReads page.
Special thanks to Anna E. Jordan and Chronicle Books for their support of this post. All text and images are courtesy of Anna E. Jordan and Chronicle Books and may not be used without expressed written consent.