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Barry Lane

Below is the transcript from my live chat, on September 15th, 1999, with Barry Lane, author of After THE END. For more information on this title, or his other books, click on the book's cover or title. Then, use your browser's back button to return here to continue reading. If you decide to join our group, send an email to me at readinglady1@yahoo.com.
After the End:Teaching and Learning Creative Revision
by Barry Lane
The Reviser's Toolbox
by Barry Lane

Compliments the ideas found in After THE END. This is a book of pages, which can be used to teach the lessons in After THE END and much more.
 Discovering the Writer Within: 40 Days to More Imaginative Writing

by Bruce Ballenger, Barry Lane
 For adults - Fantastic book for the person who can hear the writer inside them saying, "write something, write something..." but need a place to begin.
 Laura: Many of us are struggling with our writing workshops. The problem is the children that don't know what to write. How can we move them towards independence and hopefully make our conferences more effective in the process?

Barry: Well the best thing I know to do is to give them choices and a strong sense of the craft of writing. Independent writers read like writers! What do you do help them find subjects?

Laura: Conferenced with them to try to find their interests. We made a list of things they wondered about. I teach 2nd grade and have several that are still in the driting stage. They are so dependent and the progress over the past year has been slow.

JMARMS: I can tell your what I do. I have them think of topics that they are interested in. Topics that they will know enough about in order to write about them.

Barry: Good. Do they have writer's notebooks? Do they make lists with each other? The process can be slow but it gets faster the more we can hand over to them!

Laura: Yes - they have writer's notebooks. It's very hard to work with the others when some are so dependent. Left alone they write nothing the whole period, very frustrating. I've been using Calkins ideas from The Art of Teaching Writing.

Barry: Sometimes it's like tossing stones in a pond and waiting for the ripples to reach everyone. They can toss too. I think it's ok to teach, to give models. I don't think you have to be totally hands off.

JMARMS: Mine have notebooks too. They can always go back and pick a topic from an ongoing brainstorm list too. My question is how do I spark a sense of "I can't wait to write more!" The question I hear repeatedly is "Is that enough?"

Barry: That's what I call digging potatoes. That sense that you can't stop writing. I think it sometimes comes when a kid finds the right subject or angle. Sometimes a certain story or poem can spark it, too.

Laura: How do we move towards more hands on - I like, and have used your idea about writing and saying that's it. They had so many questions.

Barry: Questions are the answer. When we write well we are driven by an eternal curiosity.

Laura: What about the children that freeze or cry when you try to revise their work? How do you get them past this?

Barry: This is so individual, but in general, the goal is to get them to revise their work.

Laura: What about the little ones - K and 1 - how much revising do you think is appropriate in those grades?

Barry: At that grade the goal is promote concepts of craft like detail or specificity. You don't have to re-do a draft to call it revision.

Laura: That's good because they are so turned off by the thought of rewriting the drafts.

Barry: Nobody likes to redo it.

JMARMS: How do you feel about having students working on all different types of writing at the same time. Isn't it hard to help each child when some may be writing poems and others writing stories?

Barry: Have you tried the status of the class chart? This can really help keep it tidy for you. Yes it is hard, but wow, you can do it!

DI33: My question is should we focus on one area at a time or do major revision work each time. For example, should we revise to add more descriptive language while at the same time revising for capitalization?

Barry: I'd separate editing from revision to eliminate confusion.

Deb: I am so glad you separate revision and editing! My question is what specific revising techniques are working in the early/emergent writers or are your techniques aimed more at beginning fluent writers?

Barry: My ideas in After THE END on detail work well with early/emergent writers. I love teaching a passion for detail at that age. I've seen a kindergartner lecture for a half-hour on a squiggle on the page. As a teacher I can say - Do you want to add some of that to your story?

Deb: How do you move the writers from lists of adjectives to truly writing descriptive pieces? When I talk to the kids about details, I get the big, black hairy dog....

Barry: Good question. I teach kids to select the details, which stick with them. Sometimes through reading. One idea is to take a blurry sentence like - He liked crazy clothes. The kids come up with many details to make the sentence come alive. Then we pick the best ones. When you read to them ask; What sticks with you in this description? There is also the verb and noun thing. Write with verbs and nouns and you can hear the difference in the detail.

Laura: Barry - for those who have been using the ideas from Calkins work - what is the main difference between your work and hers?

Barry: I think my work is more about the craft of writing and less about setting up writing classroom. Lucy Calkins book is a wonderful guide in that area.

Laura: For those who do not have your books, could you explain what each book targets - The Reviser's Toolbox - After The End, etc.

Barry: For my books, I'd start with after THE END or The Reviser's Toolbox. Both books teach revision in a very practical but not formulaic way. I believe that revision is an ongoing part of the writing process, not a stage.

After THE END is a book of mini-lessons, which help students, develop concepts of craft to encourage independent revision of their work. The Revisers Toolbox is a very practical supplement to After THE END, aimed at students 2-12. This is a book of pages, which can be used to teach the lessons in After THE END and much more.

DI33: Would your work apply to adults interested in writing as well or is it pretty focused on teaching kids to write and revise, etc.

Barry: I've written 2 books on writing for adults. Discovering the Writer Within and Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery. The first is a 40-day guide to finding your inner writer; the latter is a guide for finding your big potatoes. Both books can be used with children too but the teacher would have to select portions.

JMARMS: Thanks for your advice. I look forward to digging into your books!

Barry: Thanks.

Deb: Explain "potatoes" for those who haven't read your books yet. :)

Barry: I was waiting for that. A potato is a metaphor for the things we want to dig up as a writer. When you have a potato you don't look up when the bell rings.

Laura: Could you briefly explain the difference between revision and editing?

Barry: Revision is about adding or shaping the information in a piece. Editing is more grammar punctuation and sentence level language.

Laura: Do you recommend making this distinction with the kids?

Barry: Yes, I think it's important to focus on either grammar or meaning, though they do overlap.

Deb: I agree. I do "cups" -- capitals, understanding, punctuation, spelling -- after the kids writing time is done.

Laura: Barry this comment was just sent to me from a 3rd grade teacher in IL:

As children get into the upper grades it seems we as teachers are expected and held accountable for teaching these kids how to write to a prompt. The higher the child is in school, the more we feel the need to teach those focused writing lessons. What are your comments on this?

Barry: In my book Revisers Toolbox--page 140 I wrote about Fake Writing Day. Let's not make it fake writing year or decade.

Laura: But what about the tests, how do they ensure they are preparing the children for these fake as they are standardized tests?

Barry: If you teach best practice. If your kids love to write and do so regularly, don't spend a lot of time drilling them with bonehead writing assignments for the test. They will do just fine. I have evidence.

Laura: I think the concern is - free writing as opposed to focused or writing to prompts, which is the format of most tests. Will they be able to transfer this enthusiasm over to the testing format and will those who grade the tests recognize the work put into the piece by the students?

Barry: A student who loves to write will know how to make a dull prompt exciting, but you are right, it may take a bit of practice.

Michael: Perhaps the idea is that you develop good writers--and good writers write well in many genres.

Laura: I agree. I just wish there wasn't such emphasis on these tests.

Barry: This varies from state to state. I just got back from Texas. The news there is that the test scores went up last year because George W. decided to run. One genre is this dumb test.

Laura: Unfortunately. They are now giving a writing test in 2nd grade in NYC, and the scoring is so subjective

Barry: Fake writing is not cynical though; it's truthful. I think psychometricians love uniformity. Teachers seek diversity. The goals of testing often conflict with the goals of education.

Laura: Yes; yet they keep advocating for more standardized testing to fix the problems in education. We have tests for everything, but no solutions for the results obtained.

Barry: You don't fatten the pig by weighing.. it do ya!

Laura: So do you teach the test as a genre and do minilessons on how to write for it?

Barry: I think we need to keep our eye on the ball. Teach Teach Teach. Tests promote fear. I'm writing a book on persuasive writing as we speak. The book has mini-lessons, which make learning it fun and inductive.

Laura: When will it be published?

Michael: If your enthusiastic about writing the test becomes just a format not the basis of what the student knows.

Barry: The name of it is Back Talk Teaching The Art and the Craft of Persuasive Writing. Spring 2000.

Laura: We'll look for it.

Barry: I agree with Michael, the test is just a hoop, even better assessments like portfolios fall prey to cookie cutter minds.

Michael: Your books provide powerful tools for students in writing. I have tried many of them and have found many successes.

Barry: Thanks. I hope I said something useful to you. Visit me at my website www.discoverwriting.com I have lessons there too.

DI33: Thanks for all your good ideas. I look forward to getting your books--both those for teaching kids and for writing myself. I'm glad I hooked up with this tonight. Thanks to all! Glad to see your website address, too!

Barry: Stay in touch.

Laura: Barry - where is the schedule of your workshops on line for anyone who is interested in going?

Barry: Go to my website at www.discoverwriting.com Click on the seminar button. You can also see my pictures from South Africa and sign up to have your class correspond with a class there.

Laura: Off topic - but have you seen the live camera in Africa? We've caught some nice stuff on that site.

Barry: No I haven't. Send it to me as an e-mail.

Laura: I'll send you the link. The camera is at some watering holes in Africa and at certain times there is a lot of action.

DI33: Laura--Please post it on the mailring too. Sounds great!

Laura: If you could talk a bit about word boxing I'd appreciate it. I haven't tried it yet and it sounds interesting.

Barry: This is a cool idea. Just chop up a bunch of words, stuff them in a box and you are ready to go. Everyone takes a handful and starts making poems. It's very liberating because you only have certain words. It's like magnet poetry, I guess.

Schoolchick: I know I am joining the conversation late, but I'd like to make a thoughtful comment. Rather than focusing on explicit reading and writing instruction, perhaps we should, instead, teach them how to think.

Barry: I agree

Laura: Barry - thanks so much for coming tonight.

Barry: Thanks Laura and good night all!

Laura: I hope you'll stop by again when Floyd has blown out to sea. There were many that wanted to be here tonight. I will post the transcript for them and they can visit your site.

Barry: Thanks.

Laura: Goodnight and keep writing!!

Barry: My pleasure.

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