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
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."