Teaching Writing or Writers?

To some, writing workshop is a frightening leap off a cliff into unknown waters. It takes a lot of faith making that transition from teaching writing to teaching writers.

Some teachers are happy with their status quo. They do the same kind of writing year after year. Everyone writes the same story. In October it might be the voice of a pumpkin. In November it will inevitably be the turkey begging to be saved, and December could be a wish list to Santa. Pencil to paper, that’s writing , right? Students learn about punctuation, sentence formation, capitalization, and spacing, That’s writing, right? That is not my definition of writing.

When I go to a school and work with the teachers on writing, I want them to teach the writers in the room, not writing. I try to help them understand the difference.

Last week, I completed my second year in a school. Our focus was writing workshop. I asked the teachers to jump into the pool of teaching writers instead writing. Some started paddling, but lost stamina and reverted back to teaching writing just like before, but they are thinking about how to do it differently next year. Some were treading water, barely keeping their head above the waterline, but they stayed afloat. Next year, they will be stronger.

One teacher said, “I thought I knew how to teach writing. I thought I was pretty good. I was wrong. I didn’t know how. Now I know my kids as writers.”

“I used to hate to teach writing. Now, this is my favorite thing to teach in my day. I feel like I am actually teaching my kids how to write, ” said another teacher.

These comments fill my heart with joy.  It’s been a good year and I look forward to another year with these teachers.


A Snow Day Minus Snow

I check my calendar. In two days, I am to visit a school to observe teachers during writing workshop. I have not been to this school for over a month. I send the principal an email confirming my anticipated day. I want to be sure I am expected, since it takes over an hour to get to the school.

I wait all day for a response.  None.

I wait the next day, still no response. This is unusual for this principal.

At 8:39 p.m. I get a text. “I’m so sorry, I just saw your email. Perhaps we should reschedule. One of the teachers is out sick. There would be few teachers to see tomorrow. So sorry for cancelling so late!”

That message put a spring into my step as I prepared for bed. It’s a snow day for me, but there’s no snow. I can sleep in, if I want to. I can read all day, if I want to. I have freedom to plan my day.

That school day will be rescheduled when everyone is back and healthy. I’m just glad I didn’t get up early, drive an hour, and not be able to do my job. A snow day with no snow is perfect!

Note: this happened last week before the broken tooth. It was a post in my pocket for a day I might not be able to write. Today I needed that post since I will be in the oral surgeon’s chair at 7:30 a.m. and not sure what the day will bring.


Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Currently, I have no single moment snatched from living to share this week, but yet I am compelled to string together a few words on this Tuesday. So what do I propose to share?

There have been more moments of encounters with spiders as I mind my own business reading on my patio. They were gently relocated away from my body and did not meet the fate of last week’s spider.

This has been a week of reading. I finished two professional books, enjoyed six picture books from the library, and have started an adult mystery book. My to-be-read stack of professional books continues to grow as I step away for this mystery book.

Right now I can’t stop to shape either thought into a slice of life because at this time I am:

Working on a presentation of the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).

Pondering how to make this assessment useful for the teachers to implement next year.

Worrying that this information will be forgotten by the time school starts.

Wondering what else needs to be explained during my day with teachers.

Hoping to find some great books at a half price book sale on Wednesday.

Anticipating that I will have time this summer to read more professional books and the not-so-professional genre. 🙂











Day 8: Best Moment of Monday

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

If you read my post from yesterday, you will know that Monday kicked my plans of the day to the curb. Recalculating was the word of my morning.

However, recalculating was not an option for the afternoon. Monday was the final day of a three year literacy PD journey. I have worked with the kindergarten through fourth grade teachers to develop balanced literacy practices in their building. This involves meeting with teachers, modeling in classrooms, and coaching the teachers. I have been in their building and classrooms at least twenty days each year.

So Monday was the day I would say good-bye to this group of teachers. Third grade came ready to work/learn. We had great conversations on getting the year started in writing, revisited reading notebook options, and what kinds of conversations we need to encourage in their daily instruction.

Suddenly the door opened and another teacher came in carrying a gift bag. All of a sudden the faces of the third grade teachers brightened with their ear-to-ear grins. What? As the teacher handed me the bag, she said, “This is a little something from us.”

I was at a loss for words. I stammered out a thank you. I opened the cards and each staff member had written a kind word of thanks. There was a little tin box nestled in the bottom of the bag, a gift card to a nice steak house. What a treat! But that wasn’t all . . . they included some cash too. The teacher explained, “You can spend it however you want.” Of course you know where that money will go, books!

The day had its bumps but the best moment was working with the teachers. Every teacher in this building took on the three year journey of learning and changing/developing their skill as teachers of literacy. I will miss my monthly trips to their school next year.

P.S. My mom is healing and doing fine. 🙂


Day 4, 6 Words 6 Images

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” by Ernest Hemingway, is the most famous six word story. The concept of telling a story in six words has intrigued me for some time. My brain has played and abandoned the challenge of creating a six word story.

Last year, I attended a session by Don Goble at a conference and he revived that spark. He had videos of six words, six shots done by students that could take your breath away. However, time passed and my spark fizzled out.

This year he did a full day on the six word, six shot concept. A friend attended and came away bubbling with enthusiasm. I knew I wanted to try, but I also knew I could not put it into a video (not that savvy in the tech department).

Finally, I had a story to share. I took six photos, I selected six words. I combined them to document my work in a school.




Waterlogue 1.3.1 (72) Preset Style = Illustration Format = 8" (Large) Format Margin = Small Format Border = Sm. Rounded Drawing = Technical Pen Drawing Weight = Light Drawing Detail = Medium Paint = Natural Paint Lightness = Auto Paint Intensity = More Water = Tap Water Water Edges = Medium Water Bleed = Average Brush = Natural Detail Brush Focus = Everything Brush Spacing = Medium Paper = Watercolor Paper Texture = Medium Paper Shading = Light Options Faces = Enhance Faces






I celebrate the choice this school made to invest in their teachers. Changing practices takes time. The teachers were given that time and support.

What can you celebrate? Share your celebrations with the world at Ruth Ayres Writes.

What can you celebrate? Share your celebrations with the world at Ruth Ayres Writes.


Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

“You’ve got the job,” Mr. Reed said. “You start in February.”

My first teaching job! Fifth grade, my dream grade! I had just graduated in December and couldn’t believe my luck getting a job mid year. I would be finishing the year for a teacher who was having a baby and she did not want to return.

All the memories came flooding back as I walked into my first school a few weeks ago. I’m back working where my career started. This time I’m working with teachers, not students.

The building I taught in had been torn down. Additions sprouted from the original school. I recognized nothing in the school, but the street had not changed. I wandered down long halls looking for remnants of the previous building, but found nothing familiar. However, I did find something to make me smile as I explored.


Harold and his purple crayon

Tacky, the penguin

Tacky, the penguin

Charlotte, Wilbert, and Olivia

Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton, and Olivia

The very hungry caterpillar and the cat and mice from Mouse Paint

The very hungry caterpillar and the cat and mice from Mouse Paint

What a delight to find these friends! The art teacher (who just retired) and his students were responsible for these perfect replications. Maybe he will come back and add some more.

Who says you can’t go home again? I’m right back where it all began for me.

Celebrate Learning

celebrate newThis week, the gusting winds pushed me every time I stepped outside. I watched the trees in the yard shake, bend, but yet remain intact, no broken limbs. The howling winds and gray skies make me want to hibernate just a bit longer, even though I am surrounded by the pop of color blooming. The cold I caught two weeks ago, still hung on zapping my energy level. I’m ready to shake it off (as Taylor Swift says). If only the winds could blow it away! But this is not the day for wallowing in misery, this is the day to reflect on the week to find the blatant or hidden celebrations.

I celebrate the school I’ve been working with for the last two years. This week we had our final meeting days. Last year our focus was on reading. We spent this year developing writer’s workshop in the K-4 classrooms. A few weeks ago, I was able to observe every class for the entire writing workshop period. The teachers work at developing writer’s workshop, and they are noticing changes in their students. Is it perfect in every class? Not yet, but their willingness to try is something to celebrate.

This school promotes learning. Several grades are having a change in their staff. The new teachers were invited to our final meeting to get a glimpse of the work we have been doing. I was able to give the teachers some professional books to read over the summer. They want to know and learn best practices. Their quest for information is something to celebrate.

Since these were my last days in a school, I declare I am starting my summer break. 🙂 (This is the joy of retirement.) I do have a few professional development days popping up. I am so looking forward to Ruth coming to work with me and my fellow trainers in my town. Then of course, there is the All Write conference in June, too. I celebrate the anticipation of those days of learning.

Plans Change

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

A busy week approached: make-up days in a school, birthday celebrations, tickets to Wicked all crammed into a few days. Each event was falling into place, and there was still a bit of breathing space between events. That’s what I thought . . .


Lunch prepared, heading to the office to collect my supplies for the day when my phone dinged, signaling a message. It’s the principal of the school. “Just checking to see if you got the email with the schedule.” I respond, “I hope you mean the one where I am working in your building today.” She responds with, “Yes, but we have a half day today.”

Oh no! is my reaction. I had checked the Google doc, but it didn’t indicate what grades on what days. We usually do half days on Wednesday/, this was Tuesday. My whole scheduled crumbled.

In my perfect world, I would would work all day with two grades, go to see Wicked in the evening. Sleep in the next day, but still have time to take my mother out to breakfast for her birthday before returning to school for a half day. Finish the week out with another full day of working with teachers. This schedule did not happen. Instead . . .

I spent the morning reading/commenting on slices before leaving for my half day of school. Thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Wicked that evening. Pulled my tired self out of bed the following morning to work all day. Barely made it to eight o’clock before falling asleep. Another early morning, but at least I was more rested. Finished my make up days. Friday was a day to step back and take life slower.

It wasn’t the week I mentally planned, but it all turned out in the end. Wonder what surprises are waiting for me this week. 🙂

Schedule Mix-Up

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Sometime in the spring, I create a schedule for the days I will work in the next  school year. Usually by the time school rolls around there might need to be a change or two. That makes me nervous. I worry that I might mix up dates. So far, I have not had a problem.

This week is one of the weeks changed. Originally I was scheduled for full days Wednesday and Thursday, and half a day Friday. The calendar was changed to full days Tuesday and Thursday with Wednesday being the half day.

I had just finished making my handout copies at the office when my phone rang. The number was displayed, but I did not know who was calling. The called identified herself and my heart dropped. It was the principal and her next words did not comfort me. “We have a scheduling problem.” Oh, no! Was I supposed to be there right now? Then she said. “Our person who schedules substitutes has subs for us on Wednesday, Thursday, and half day on Friday. Apparently she did not get the schedule change. Would you be able to work those days or should we reschedule?”

Relief flowed through my veins, my heart began to beat at a normal rate. I replied, “No problem, I can do Wednesday, Thursday, and half day on Friday.” She profusely thanked me for being so flexible. I assured her, it was not a problem. I’m just thankful it wasn’t a mistake on my end. Now I will have to make sure she has notified the sub scheduler of our other changes.


The Hickory Chair

She said, “I don’t like this book.” There was a catch in her voice, and I knew she didn’t mean those words. She knew her heart was going to be squeezed tight as I read The Hickory Chair by Lisa Rowe Fraustino to a group of fourth grade teachers.

What I didn’t realize was how difficult it was going to be for me to read this aloud. I’ve read it many times . . . to myself, but never to a group. As I read, I avoided eye contact with the teachers, steeling myself for the emotional journey that was unfolding through the text. I had to take a deep breath before I could complete the final line.

Hands quickly reached for the box of tissues in the center of the table. Eyes filled with tears, noses sniffled as the teachers savored the words of this story.

Another teacher posed the question, “Do you still hate this book?”hickory chair

Now she says, “How could I hate a book that makes me cry?”

This is the story we will return to over and over as we discuss comprehension strategies.

If you don’t know this book, find it, read it, and savor the beautiful language.

Synopsis: “Lilacs with a whiff of bleach.” Gran’s smell. That “rich molasses voice.” Gran reading stories. By these things, Louis knows his grandmother. And he knows that she loves him. But when Gran passes away and leaves notes hidden in her things for each family member to find, Luis seems to be the only one forgotten. Could it be so?