This week was the book birthday of my second professional text with Stenhouse Publishers – SPARK! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms. I felt a great deal of joy on this occasion, but I also experience what many authors have shared-a bit of trepidation. When you have put everything you have into your “baby”, you want the world to welcome it and love it as much as you do. I can tell you that my admiration for all writers and authors has increased exponentially as I appreciate the courage it takes to put a piece of you out into the world and let it go.
I created SPARK! because I know that the only way we get better at something is with practice, I could see that with my own kids in dance and soccer, as well as any task they excelled in. But with our tight teaching schedules many kids aren’t getting nearly enough writing practice as they need.
My son Casey’s soccer coach gave his team some great advice, “If you want to up your game you need to increase your touches with the ball, every-single-day.” That meant time and touches outside of practice. Casey found dozens of small moments each day to increase his touches and practice his footwork and ball drills-usually in our living room! It made all the difference for him as a player.
I want to increase the touches our kids have with writing each day-outside of the regular practice of writing workshop. Short bursts of practice throughout the day that can increase their skill and confidence. But I also wanted those touches to move beyond the same drill and skill and kindle creativity, engagement, and enjoyment.
I curated a collection of “SPARKS” or prompts to “Kindle the Hearts and Minds” of our students because I wanted them to grow as writers, but also as humans through their writing. The obvious benefit is that builds up the volume of writing. We’re building in opportunities for fluent practice and because they are low stakes (not graded or assessed) they encourage more creativity and risk-taking. Maybe less obvious, but also important, are how they can be used to develop off-page skills. We aren’t just raising readers and writers who are college and career ready, we are raising human beings who need to be life-ready These quick writes encourage critical thinking, creativity, communication, mindfulness, appreciation and a host of other social emotional skills in addition to writing skills. I’ve set up each chapter with a different focus so teachers can choose from a variety of beneficial sparks.
And the beauty is that it doesn’t require much of our most precious commodity–TIME. Most of us can find 5-10 minutes in our busy schedules, why not use it to increase those touches our kids have with paper and pencil, or even keyboards, to spark wonder and curiosity, explore their thinking, increase their appreciation and compassion, or play with ideas. I believe with a short investment of time we can yield some terrific results with our students’ learning and lives.
I’ll try to share a SPARK! with each blog post this year to encourage you to give them a go, or you can preview the whole book here for free at the Stenhouse Website.
Shared Spark! One way we can use quick writes is to help our students reframe their thinking. I offer some quotes as sparks for students to respond to that give them an opportunity to reflect and possibly reframe their thinking to embrace a more positive outlook or mindset. Try one of these:
- “Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”-Abe Lincoln
- “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”-Wayne Gretsky
- “What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”
Students are free to respond in any way they choose for about 5 minutes. I often take the next 5 minutes to let them share their thinking and appreciate the diversity of responses. Let me know if you give it a go!
One More Off My TBR Stack!
HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson has an uncanny ability to create incredible stories that speak directly to her readers’ hearts and to tap into the raging currents of our time. I can no longer read one of her books without hearing her voice- layered with passion and lyricism. In this story six 5th grade students in Brooklyn are sent to the art room alone each Friday- just to talk- by their very wise and trusting teacher. It becomes the ARTT (A Room to Talk) room and gradually each shares their hopes, fears, and experiences in such a way that you do not pity them, but want to embrace them. As Ms. Laverne shares, “Every day we should ask ourselves, ‘If the worst thing in the world happened, would I protect someone else? Would I let myself be a harbor for someone who needs it?” The response of these students in word and deed is a resounding, “I WILL HARBOR YOU.“