Friday, July 18, 2014

A book that all teachers of writing should read…Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children's Writing

This is a bit embarrassing because when I went to write about the International Reading Association's Annual Convention in New Orleans awhile ago,  I realized that I had never finished the post I had begun about  the International Reading Association Annual Convention in San Antonio that I attended last year.  Now to be fair, I was really really busy when I returned and probably my post was a bit too ambitious since I didn't get it finished!
In the early 1980's I read a book that really changed my thinking and excited me, Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves.  Some time after that I attended a pre-convention of the International Reading Association in Atlanta, Georgia.  Children from a local school were brought in and we were able to watch Don conference with the children and then later we were able to work with the children as well.  It was an incredible experience and when he complimented me after he watched me work with my student, I was thrilled.

 In 1986, I was the program chair of the Transmountain Regional Conference of the International Reading Association, a conference for 3000 teachers,  in Vancouver and we were able to bring Donald Graves in as one of our keynote speakers.   It was wonderful.  And I will never forget our dinner at the University Faculty Club, especially since Pierre Trudeau, our former prime minister, happened to be sitting at the next table.  Two of my heroes in the same room!  And in some ways they had things in common!  They were change agents!

In the summer of 1987, I decided to attend the Writing Institute at the University of New Hampshire which he had begun.  He wasn't an instructor but was often around and very much a gently guiding, challenging, listening force.  My instructors were Tom Newkirk and Jane Hansen, two amazing teachers.  There were 120 students with five instructors and we were all focused on writing and the writing process.  Most of us were living in three floors of a residence on the beautiful campus.  We worked hard but had so much fun.  This blog would be way too long if I tried to describe those three weeks and the impact it had on my own teaching and career,  and even the healing effect it had on me as I wrote about my marriage that had ended with that conference.

Donald Graves was an amazing person and educator. He died a couple of years ago, still active and learning I am sure.  Tom Newkirk and Penny Kittle, two friends and colleagues, previewed a wonderful new book at the convention in San Antonio, that they have edited, Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children's Writing.   They decided to do this project as they realized that young teachers were not necessarily familiar with his work and never would have the opportunity to hear him speak.

I think I am safest here just quoting, Heinemann's press release. "Children Want to Write is a collection of Donald Graves most significant writings paired with recovered video-tapes that illuminate his research and his inspiring work with teachers. See the earliest documented use of invented spelling, the earliest attempts to guide young children through a writing process, the earliest conferences. This collection allows you to see this revolutionary shift in writing instruction—with its emphasis on observation, reflection, and approaching children as writers."

I wrote last year that I was really looking forward to sharing this book and particularly the video tapes with my staff.  And I realize now that I really haven't done that!   Writing workshops are  alive and well in our school's classrooms, and very much a part of our literacy project in the district.  And I  quoted him regularly in my own classroom, " Those who find it hardest to write, often have the most to say!" "You have to be a good listener to be a good writer"  And I have had some amazing writers, and the delight the grade ones had this year with their writing was wonderful again to see.  But I know that Donald Graves was the one who made me realize how powerful writing was to our learning,  really at the core of our being, and it became the core of my classroom practice at all levels from primary to university to professional development.  And it is so wonderful that this book is here for today's teachers!

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