Picture this – a group of close women friends, sitting around a sunny library, a fire in the fireplace, a bottle of red, a bottle of white, a Macallan scotch on the rocks for the one scotch-drinker in the bunch, the savory aroma of a gourmet meal cooking, mingling with the fragrance of a pot of French Roast coffee. All of this the backdrop to authorly talk about life, about books, and about literature. This was the setting where numerous dreams, books, poems, and personal memoirs were born, amidst much laughter and occasional tears. We’d critique each other’s writing, learning our craft and learning the bigger lessons about human nature in the process. Dianne Schlosser, a veteran school librarian, was a member of this, my author’s group, affectionately dubbed “Ode Friends.” So, when Dianne retired and flew off to her new exciting life in NOLA, I wanted to pick her brain about what she learned about reading and writing workshops and response to text. Here’s her response:
After being a librarian for 47 years, I retired a year ago; therefore, when Barb invited me to write a blog post for her website, I was thrilled. A part of me misses the daily interaction with students and books so I’m happy to impart the most important lesson I learned from my many years of experience.
Except for my first three years in elementary school, I spent the whole time in middle school so young adolescents became my specialty. I’m one of those rare people who love the age. It wasn’t until I started working at The Louise S. McGehee School that I was introduced to Nancie Atwell’s reading/writing workshop. I met an eighth-grade English teacher who had just read the newly published In the Middle and was fired up about Atwell’s methods. However, she was not familiar with adolescent literature having only taught high school. That’s where I came in. We partnered that year and for 12 years to come along with sharing the methods with the other middle school English teachers.
It was the most rewarding time of my career. The students averaged reading at least forty books a year and wrote many notebooks of pages based on their reading. Freedom of choice, having access to a wide variety of appropriate books, and having dedicated time to read during class provided the impetus for writing. Vocabulary was individualized by students selecting words from the books they were reading. If students couldn’t find vocabulary in the books they were reading, then they had to find more challenging books. Sharing of books was common with many book talks, not only by the teacher and myself, but also between students. Summer reading was based on individual choice of three books, with many students reading ten or fifteen books over the summer. Reading responses were written for each book read during the year and the summer.
Reading and writing are skills to learn with practice making perfect, so with all the reading and writing in this method, student skills had to improve. Not only that, students became critical readers and writers, able to talk and write about books at levels much higher than expected for their grade.
I’m happy to say that these teaching methods have survived at the school even since the teacher and I moved away. When previous students write the two of us (primarily on Facebook), it makes us feel proud of our work during those years.
Retired Director of Information Services, Greens Farms Academy, Greens Farms, CT
Retired Librarian, Louise S. McGehee School, New Orleans, LA