The Writing is the Thing

“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

-Amy Poehler, Yes Please

As I gear up to start the school year and teach a new grade level, the daunting task of figuring out the eighth grade Writing Workshop curriculum is on my mind. Sorting through this, I keep thinking back to Mary Ehrenworth’s words.  During the Teachers College Training I attended this summer, she told a story of some of the teachers she coached. She recounted:

After spending a summer preparing, these brilliant, brilliant teachers- some of the best I have worked with- came back to school with manicured power-points, the Teaching Point, Mid-Workshop Teach, and Share perfectly displayed for the students. And I said, ‘What are you doing?!  That’s not how we teach writing! That’s not how it works.’

My jaw dropped. It’s not?

The hours I spent preparing Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons, arranging the Teaching Points, finding the perfect image to accompany each slide…. it was all for naught??

Mary continued to tell a story of when Dough Engelbart, an Internet pioneer, came to speak at a Teachers College (TC) training.  She said the folks at TC  had gone all-out to be prepared with tech.  They had all the bells and whistles at-the-ready to equip him with anything he possibly could have needed.

Instead, all he requested was chart paper, an easel, and a marker.

Mary said she was taken aback.  She relayed when Doug was asked why he didn’t need more, he responded, ¨We invented technology to increase communication between thousands of miles.  I would never put it between you and me in this room.¨

Is that what I was doing?  Putting technology between me and the kids?  Building a barrier?

¨We invented technology to increase communication between thousands of miles.  I would never put it between you and me in this room.¨

-Doug Engelbart

Decidedly, yes.  That is what I have been doing.  Because while I have spent hours and hours making perfect power points, what I have missed out on, is the real work of doing the writing.

This harkens back a quote by Amy Poehler that I think of often.  In her book Yes Please, during which she spends quite a bit of time complaining about how difficult it is to write, Amy declares, ¨You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

The making of the power points is not the thing. The writing is the thing.

The kids don’t need to be told the teaching points, they need to see the teaching points authentically demonstrated before them.  They don’t solely need to read and analyze mentor texts, they need to see mentor texts being written in front of them.

As their teacher, it is my job to demonstrate this for them.

So, as I prepare for the year ahead, gone will be the perfectly organized power points.  Instead, rather than spending my time on making slide shows, I am going to spend time on writing.

For this is where the real learning will take place.

Reflecting on it,  this type of preparing- doing the writing itself- sounds way better than making power points anyway.


To read more about my experience at the Teachers College Training, read here and here.

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4 thoughts on “The Writing is the Thing

  1. Jen

    If I’m being honest with myself, I confess that I have developed and used presentations as an informal script to help me stay on point. I’d like to think is also has the side benefit of providing another representation for students who learn best by seeing, hearing, and doing. That being said, if you don’t need the script that has made me comfortable, by all means, do what works for you and your students. If spending more time doing your own writing–both with your kids and beyond your classroom–strengthens your teaching, that’s definitely your best choice. Godspeed!

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  2. Niki

    I’m going to be honest and say that I felt Mary’s comment was incredibly judgmental. Hers is just one opinion, and I believe there are many others. She has weight that demonstrating the writing with the kids is powerful and intimate. I get that.
    I think as teachers, we need to both do what is right for our own groups of kids, but also create balance in our own lives. If the PowerPoint slides work for you and your kids, do it. You guys have those great document cameras that allow kids to see your writing anyway…we don’t. Sometimes the easel anchor chart just ain’t practical for a big class.
    If it allows you more time to spend on other parts of your class or the writing process, do the PowerPoint. Heck, it may even allow you more time to spend on yourself. Do what you need to do as a teacher. The PowerPoint will not harm the children, or make you a bad writing teacher.

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  3. As you write, Niki, I think that at the heart of Mary’s words is the reminder that demonstrating our writing is the teaching that is most powerful for the kids. Additionally, as you mention Jen, I think presentations can be a powerful tool to help teachers stay on point and hold us accountable for the specific, transferrable skills we are teaching.

    For me, the presentations I’ve developed in the past helped me ensure that my teaching point, the students’ goal for the day, and the share at the end of class are all tied to to the same skill. Now, I feel like I have internalized this framework. This year, I want to focus on demonstrating the writing skill more fully in my own writing, rather than making a PowerPoint explaining the skill.

    For me, it’s not a question of whether PowerPoints are good or bad. It’s a question of where I think my time will be best spent. Right now, for me, that’s with the writing.

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  4. Pingback: Problem Solving with Agency – Musings

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