The Best-Kept Teaching Secret

The Best-Kept Teaching Secret
How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, Grow Fluent Writers . . . K-12

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© 2013 | 248 pages | Corwin

Your fast-track to student engagement
Everywhere Smokey Daniels goes—every school he visits, every workshop he leads, every keynote he gives—there’s one teaching strategy that teachers embrace above all others. That single method for transforming students from passive spectators into active learners . . . for evoking curiosity, inspiring critical thinking, and building powerful writers along the way.

Now, with Elaine Daniels as Smokey’s coauthor, that best-kept teaching secret is revealed to teachers at large: Written Conversations.

Just what make Written Conversations so potent? An ongoing, thoughtful correspondence between students, and between students and their teachers, Written Conversations, above all else, catch and ride the wave of social interaction, which in turn makes school matter to kids. It’s that simple. Structure by structure, from beginning to end, Smokey and Elaine describe four variations of these “silent writing-to-learn discussions,” during which all students in a classroom think and “talk” at once in writing, instead of one at a time out loud.

How Written Conversations Work

  1. It all starts with mini-memos, short student letters that teachers use to introduce, extend, and assess class work.
  2. Then come dialogue journals, where pairs dive deeply into academic subjects.
  3. Next, groups of three or four students join in extended written discussions called write-arounds.
  4. Finally, kids take their thinking online, where they enjoy digital discussions with partners from their own classroom—and with kids from around the world.

. . . all the while, you are supported by detailed descriptions of each structure, lessons, and annotated student samples—making this the most practical teaching book in recent memory.

What kid wouldn’t want to refine written argument skills, clarify a point, or defend another’s viewpoint, when the “audience” is people who matter? And Yes, Written Conversations align with the Common Core Standards for writing, reading, language, and speaking and listening, taking students well beyond the standards themselves.

See Smokey reveal his best-kept secret to Ellin Keene.
Chapter 1. Letters Leverage Learning
A New Old Idea  
Those Letters Are Cute, But . . .  
Kid-to-Kid Letters About the Curriculum  
Meeting the Common Core State Standards With Letters  
Engagement, Best Practice, and Written Conversations  
How the Book Is Organized  
Let the Student Samples Teach You  
Chapter 2. A Community of Correspondents
We've Got Mail  
Back-to-School Letters  
Parent and Kid Letters  
Message Boards  
Classroom Stationery  
Topic Journals  
Classroom and School Mail Systems  
Teacher-Student Friendly Letters  
Student-Student Friendly Letters  
Kid-to-Kid Friendly Letters  
Multi-Age Friendly Letters  
INTERCHAPTER: Prompts and Stems for Written Conversations
Chapter 3. Mini Memos
Quick Look: Exit Notes  
Launching Lesson: Admit Notes  
Morning Message  
General Instructions for Mini Memos  
Start-Up Notes  
Admit Notes  
Writing Breaks  
Exit Notes  
INTERCHAPTER: Is There Time for This?
Chapter 4. Dialogue Journals
Quick Look  
Launching Lesson  
General Instructions for "Live" Dialogue Journals  
Adjustments for "Takeaway" Dialogue Journals  
Teacher-Student Dialogues  
Student-Student Dialogues  
Dialogue Journals Across the Curriculum  
Feedback Loops  
Teacher Response to Student Writing  
Multi-Age Dialogue Journals  
Management Tips for Dialogue Journals  
INTERCHAPTER: The Assessment of Written Conversations
Chapter 5. Write-Arounds
Quick Look  
Launching Lesson  
Drawn Conversations  
General Instructions for a Write-Around  
Silent Literature Circles  
Content-Area Write-Arounds  
Text on Text  
Management Tips for Write-Arounds  
Chapter 6. Digital Discussions
Quick Look: Texted Discussions  
Launching Lesson: Photo Journals  
General Instructions for Digital Discussions  
Lab Letters  
Online Partnerships  
Email and Farewell  
Management Tips for Digital Discussions  
Works Cited

“Engaging, enchanting, elegant, and totally practical. This little book is a gift to any teacher or school who wants students to write and think and communicate more--instantly. The tweaks to the written conversation strategies are fresh, stimulating, and easy to implement. Open it and start the conversation.”

Jeff Anderson, Author of Ten Things Every Author Needs to Know and Mechanically Inclined

“Smokey and Elaine pave the way to increasingly sophisticated communication and thinking by cracking open their secrets for successful written conversations. This book is loaded with fabulous student writing samples, tips for instructional success, and so many great ideas that you won’t be able to resist making written conversations an integral component of every learning day.”

Linda Hoyt, Author of Revisit, Reflect, Retell and Coauthor of Nonfiction Writing

“Smokey and Elaine Daniels let the secret out: when students participate in written conversations, they generate new and deeper thinking. The easy-to-implement strategies found in this book place writing where it belongs— in the forefront of the classroom— and in doing so ensure your students will be involved in active, engaged learning. Better yet, your students will actually look forward to writing. And reading, too! I recommend this book for all teachers looking for ways to deepen their students' thinking through writing."

Kelly Gallagher, Author of Write Like This and Deeper Reading

“Simple and brilliant! Smokey and Elaine invite us to capitalize on kids’ natural urge to write to each other.  The tactics they describe in this book are easy to implement and will have a huge impact the minute you deploy them. The book is brimming with examples from preschoolers to college English classes. You will laugh out loud when Marco writes ‘Am I a plant?’ and covet comments like ‘I would be excited if we did more things like this’ from a high schooler!”

Ellin Keene, Author of To Understand and Coauthor of Mosaic of Thought

"Written in a light conversational style, The Best-Kept Teaching Secret brims with jottings written by children and with an armful of ways you can use letter writing to revitalize your teaching. Readers who have come to trust Smokey's grounding in classrooms will find that once again, he draws upon a rich repertoire of stories and methods drawn from the hurly burl of classrooms."

Lucy Calkins, Author of Units of Study for Teaching Writing and Coauthor of Pathways to the Common Core

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1. Letters Leverage Learning

Chapter 4. Dialogue Journals

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ISBN: 9781452268637

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