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Christmas came early this year. It came in February.

I had pre-ordered my copy of Jennifer Serravallo’s The Writing Strategies Book and it arrived last week. What an incredible body of work for teachers and coaches to use in developing confident and skilled writers!

Already this week, instructional coaches in our district have taken a look at a few of the strategies in the book so we can begin to help teachers match much-needed resources to emerging young writers.

A colleague and I got a chance to facilitate the session with instructional coaches and we started by reading an article about the 2013 Russian adoption ban. The article was paired with a video by a Texas teen whose family adopted a young boy from Russia in 2011.

The hauntingly beautiful song playing throughout the video is Sam Baker’s Road Crew. Coaches read the article, viewed the video, looked closely at the lyrics from Road Crew and discussed the connections within and across the texts and media. We also took a look at the inspiration for Road Crew; Baker shares in the liner notes of his CD  that the “sweeping up the hearts” in his lyrics is also found in a poem by Emily Dickinson (Part Four: Time and Eternity XXII).

Each table group had a question about the selections that led them ultimately to create either a performance or a product. Strategies from Serravallo’s book were shown so we could make connections between student needs and ways to support their writing attempts. Some examples—

  •  Using information from the article, construct a joint communique between Moscow and the U.S. regarding the ban on American adoptions in Russia. Take a close look at the sample communique to guide your work.

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the lyricist’s word choice (Baker used ordinary images—billboards, beer cans, brake shops, batteries) in the song, Road Crew.
    What purpose does that language serve? Given opportunity, how might you change the lyrics? Create your own version of Road Crew being careful to maintain the songwriter’s message.

  • Identify the point of view from which the song is written. Hypothesize (or consider) why you think the lyricist/songwriter chose to write from this particular
    point of view. When you share out, please choose the format of an interview to share your hypothesis.

  • Compare the article to the video. Write a short piece about two differences between the article and the video. Cite critical evidence from each selection (text and media).

We had further discussions about where these questions would fall on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and how many of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences we could identify in the questions/tasks.

One of the problems we struggle with most in upper elementary classrooms across our district is facilitating opportunities for thinking and authentic writing in regard to texts and media literacy. It was interesting to hear the discussions around the room in the hour we engaged in reading, listening, speaking and writing.

Thank you, thank you to Jennifer Serravallo and to Heinemann Publishing for this collection of powerful writing strategies.

I cannot wait to engage in the work of growing thoughtful and empowered writers using this incredible resource.