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Choice and Voice Team

A team of 10 Bastrop Independent School District teachers, in partnership with the Heart of Texas Writing Project, were awarded an NWP LRNG grant for the 2017-2018 school year.  As a part of this grant, these 10 BISD K-4 teachers will  create writing units of study that culminate in student publication in the Bastrop community and online.  The “Choice and Voice” team’s work supports BISD’s ongoing initiative to bring Writing Workshop to all BISD Language Arts classrooms. Writing Workshop is a research-based, student-centered structure for teaching process writing.

The Choice and Voice team will use this space to document their ongoing work in classrooms with students and encourage other Bastrop ISD teachers and students to write blog posts sharing their writing and writing workshop experiences. Click on the following links to learn more about the LRNG grant and the Choice and Voice team’s upcoming work.

Bastrop Teachers Tapped to Create Student-Centered Writing Curriculum published on statesman.com.

Bastrop ISD Partners with UT for $20,000 GrantnewsEngin.18648982_IMG_6783 published on bisdtx.org

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BISD Second Graders Apply Author’s Craft to Create for Real Audiences

Since our last post in January, more LRNG grant teachers have been sharing their students’ writing in more local, national, and digital spaces.

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In order to help their students to write original pieces on topics of their own choice, Writing Workshop teachers, like our LRNG grant team teachers, rely heavily on teaching from mentor texts. They guide students to apply to their own writing students’ favorite authors’ and poets’ craft.

In these classrooms, students are not writing simply to comply but to apply, analyze, and create. Blooms Taxonomy at it’s best!

At Red Rock Elementary, Second Grade Teacher, Melissa Schlabach held a Poetry Publishing Party at her class holiday party. Before Ms. Schlabach guided her students to write, she read a variety poetry with and to her students. Then, she carefully chose specific poetry to use as mentor texts. In her writing mini lessons, she highlighted poems that don’t rhyme, are written on everyday topics, and incorporate a variety of poetic devices and forms. Her choices set students up for success in authentic writing of poetry that doesn’t rely on an assigned topic or poetry form. Ms. Schlabach’s students analyzed and applied published poets’ craft to their own poetry publications. Look, listen, and admire students’ highly academic work.

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Students displayed their poetry for reading and enjoying. Many students also chose to read their poetry for an audience of peers and family.

In the new year, Mina Elementary’s Second Grade teacher, Kim Russell, published her students’ fiction stories at the Bastrop Library. BISD teachers, families, and Bastrop community members enjoyed flipping through the pages of students’ original stories and illustrations.

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Students had read a variety of fiction mentor texts and incorporated components of fairy tales, realistic fiction, and fantasy into their own stories. The slideshow highlights some of the titles and pages that demonstrate their original pieces.

And this month, Nicole Craig’s Second Graders from Emile Elementary crafted persuasive pieces under the influence of Mo Willems’ pigeon books. They used speech bubble, persuasive tactics, text features and layouts that they learned from reading, adoring, and analyzing Mo Willems’ way with words. Bastrop Library Programs Director, Bonnie Ueckert Pierson, created a beautiful display of students’ books. Come by the Bastrop Library to read and enjoy!

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Going Public in Bastrop!

Funded by the LRNG Grant, the Choice and Voice Team, made up of 7 Bastrop K-4 teachers and a Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, aim to connect Bastrop students’ in and out of school experiences. They’re publishing in innovative ways in community spaces to bring our youngest students’ voices and writing outside the walls of the school. These acts of publication give students audience and new motivation for their writing. They also help us to educate the public about high quality writing instruction that honors the writing process, students’ authentic voices and stories, developmentally appropriate writing, and students’ strengths in their work as writers with important things to say and share.

In October, Lost Pines Elementary’s Meggie Smiley and her 3rd graders published fiction stories and canvas artwork at the Lost Pines Art Center.

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In November, Bluebonnet Elementary’s Shirley Miller and her kindergartners published stories from their own lives including drawing, writing, and voice recordings of students’ work at Berdoll’s Pecan and Gift Company.

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In December, Cedar Creek Elementary’s Dr. Lupe Chávez and the rest of the CCE kindergarten team published more than 100 mobiles of their kindergartners’ drawing and writing at Fisherman’s Park for Bastrop Parks and Rec River Lights Walk.

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This month, more student writing is on its way out into the community! And, the Choice and Voice team’s work has been inspiring more teachers in Bastrop ISD to also connect their students with authentic publication in school and community spaces. More photos to come!

 

Making Choices, Raising Voices

As of Monday, October 30th, LRNG grant students have begun to publish their writing in the community. We are excited to soon share how these opportunities have brought students and their families together with community partners in the name of students’ work and interests. But before we talk more about the details of the products, I wanted to address the layers of process work we’ve engaged in through September and October.

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Over the last two months, the seven LRNG grant teachers and I have formed a professional team that has been supporting each other through brainstorming, advice, shared readings and deep discussions. We’ve grappled over how to guide multilingual and monolingual K-4th grade students to make choices in seating, in language, in tools, in audiences, and in topics for writing. Each teacher has made decisions about when and how to step in to move students forward and build on strengths and when to step back to make more room for students’ autonomy decision-making in time-management or craft.

Randy Bomer (who, together with Katherine Bomer, was recently awarded NCTE’s 2017 Outstanding Elementary Educator in the English Language Arts) once told me that he sees Writing Workshop as the Trojan Horse of social justice. The structures of writing workshop, paired with the additive beliefs and appreciative lens we work with teachers to adopt, brings to underprivileged students the types of agentic learning opportunities that are commonly reserved for their more privileged peers. Through their work, our Choice and Voice teachers have been advocating for equitable learning opportunities for their students and, as this article about the negative impacts of the “word gap” argument calls for, have been working to “address both pedagogical skill and deficit thinking at the same time”.

In planning for their units of study, these Choice and Voice teachers have stretched themselves as professionals to try out new pedagogical skills. At the same time, they have engaged in reflection about how the decisions they make either support or suppress student learning. They have advocated for equitable learning opportunities for their students. They have looked at their students’ work with appreciative eyes, building on strengths rather than focusing on deficits.

Bastrop teachers are making choices that are raising the voices of their small students in big ways. I can hardly wait to share the fruits of their efforts but, for now, let’s take a moment to just appreciate the power of their process.

Resilient Writers!

Our First Meeting

Bastrop ISD and Heart of Texas WP‘s LRNG Grant Choice and Voice Team has gotten off to a great start this school year. At the end of July we had our first meeting in the

Sanchez Building of the University of Texas at Austin.  It was some teachers’ first time on campus and, for others, it had been years since they had been back.

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We started with a webinar with Francesca Arturi from edu.buncee.com. She walked us through the multi-media presentation tool and got our minds’ reeling with ideas of how this platform will help us get students’ voices out to the world!

 

We got to know each other and set dates for the year, paged through our book club books, About the Authors and Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray, and geared up for our upcoming work creating units of study that end in student publication in the community and online.

A Strong Start Despite Strong Winds

This year, when Hurricane Harvey blew through Texas just as the school year was starting, it was impossible not to think about how the school year started in Bastrop ISD schools just six years ago. Bastrop hit national news in September of 2011 when the largest forest fire in Texas history torched more than 36,000 acres and more than 1,600 homes, including those of many teachers and students, just as the 2011-2012 school year was about to start.

The local economy and Bastrop schools experienced lasting effects of the fires that burned through their community.  According to the national census, in the decade before the fires, the poverty rate in Bastrop was stable at 11-12%.  However, in the years since the fires, the poverty rate his doubled to 23%.  Bastrop school communities were challenged with new student homelessness and the loss of teachers who were forced to leave Bastrop due to the loss of their homes. Today, many Bastrop residents still refer to life events in terms of “before or after the fires.”

Though Bastrop and nearby Austin were spared major flooding during Hurricane Harvey, we are all hurting as we watch our fellow Texans affected by another natural disaster.  Many of our friends and family have been affected. One of our team members was absent at our second meeting as she cared for family impacted by Harvey. The weight of this historic storm sits with us as we begin the school year.

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Choice and Voice team member, Meggie Smiley, teaches 3rd grade. Her students were just 2 years old when the fires came through Bastrop and now, as 8 year olds, Mrs. Smiley’s 3rd graders wrote cards for the Houston firemen to thank them for helping thousands of victims of Hurricane Harvey. Bastrop and Austin newspapers have highlighted their writing.

Bastrop students and teachers are no strangers to resilience and so, while the start to this school year was painful and unsettling in some ways, it also offered a reminder about the importance of community support and connectivity. Mrs. Smiley’s class used writing and audience to show support for fellow Texans.

Strengthening Community Across Geographically Distant Families

Bastrop, Texas is located 30 miles southeast of Austin, Texas. With a total of 14 schools, the Bastrop district boundary covers an area of nearly 450 square miles and includes the communities of Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Red Rock, Rockne, Paige and vast rural areas of Bastrop County.  As a point of comparison, the nearby urban Austin ISD has 130 schools and covers 172 square miles.

While the district boundaries contrast vastly with neighboring Austin ISD, the diversity in student demographics closely mirrors that of Austin’s urban school district.  Bastrop’s student demographics include a population of 64% Hispanic, 27% Anglo, 4% African American, and approximately 3% of students identify as multiple ethnicity, Asian, American Indian, or Hawaiian.

At our second meeting, we met with community leaders and had time to talk about how our project could help us bring together geographically and culturally diverse Bastrop populations.

Our Second Meeting

Building community despite such a wide geographic reach is one of our goals as a Choice and Voice team. We have partnered with Bastrop Library, Bastrop Parks and Recs, and We Believe in BISD to connect community and school spaces through the display of authentic student writing in community spaces. Our second meeting was held at the Bastrop Library and we welcomed Mickey DuVall and Bonnie Pierson who joined us and helped us brainstorm ways to bring BISD student work to the local library.

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It was moving just sitting down in the beautiful Bastrop Library, together as community stakeholders.  Even with all of the intentions and plans, it seems so rare that public librarians and school teachers have the opportunity to sit down together and talk about ways to unite in our support of local youth’s growth and academic engagement. We got brainstorming about events, displays, partnerships, and new outreach to parents and to multilingual families.  We thought of ways that the library can help BISD teachers and students meet goals and ways that BISD students and teachers can help the library meet their goal of reaching out to more community members.

Next week, at our third meeting, Victoria Herbrich, Recreation Coordinator for Bastrop Parks and Recreation, will join us to talk about ways we might publish student writing in other community spaces.

We’ll be sharing clips from our meetings here and on our new vimeo page soon!