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I read the first edition of Fletcher’s What a Writer Needs prior to my participation as a UIWP Fellow in 2010.  I enjoyed the book at that time. The chapter that really spoke to me at that time was the first chapter, Mentors. Interestingly, the chapters I find most valuable in the second edition are the first chapter, as well as both new chapters and the culminating thoughts.

Chapter 1, Mentors. Fletcher continues to hit the nail on the head with a few significant statements.

  1. Too often we minimize the essential role mentors play in development of passions, interests, and habits of thinking.
  2. Predictability and consistency are essential.
  3. Social interaction is often pivotal in mentoring relationships.
  4. Mentors hold themselves to high standards, thus setting an example for those they mentor.
  5. Mentors build on students’ strengths.
  6. Experimentation is key in the development of everyone.
  7. Passion remains the most important quality the mentor has to offer.
  8. Mentors need to be gentle. Those they mentor are deeply vulnerable to their appraisals.
  9. Those of us who have been mentored have some responsibility to do likewise for the next generation.

Chapter 13, Writing Fiction, is the first of the new chapters. Fletcher makes a view obvious points that are essential for those of us who write nonfiction.

  1. The writer must have something to say. Pretty obvious, but not always the case!
  2. Quality nonfiction often includes an arresting lead, strategic quotes, precise details, vivid descriptions, plus a striking use of verbs.
  3. Fletcher’s best subjects seem to be those that anger, appall, baffle or exasperate him.
  4. Too much knowledge of a particular subject typically produces the worst writing in technological subjects (e.g. manuals for cameras, computers, or insurance).
  5. Ignorance of a subject keeps you honest and humble.

Chapter 14, Revisions, is the second of the two chapters. A few significant points from the chapter follow.

  1. The decision about whether or not to revise is one of the choices every writer must make. If not invested in a piece of writing, revision is a waste of time.
  2. Revision is not about fixing a broken piece – it’s a way to honor a strong piece that has real potential.
  3. Writing is very personal. Don’t take suggestions from just anyone.
  4. Editors wield greater power than an author.

The final chapter, Un-final Thoughts, closes the second edition beautifully.

  1. Don’t be afraid to live like a writer. Writers explore.
  2. Writers don’t shy away from new experiences.
  3. There are poems, plays, stories, articles, novels, everywhere, right under your feet. Open your eyes and the rest of your senses.
  4. The best things to write about are often the tiniest things.
  5. Listen to people. Listen to their stories.
  6. Have courage. Speak up. Let the voice in your writing be heard.

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I think the 2012 UIWP Summer Invitational Institute has gone very well.

It has become clear to me that the selection of our first book really sets a tone for the next four weeks.

In 2010 we read Ralph Fletcher’s “What a Writer Needs.” It really set the tone for the teacher as a writer. The daily “I am a writer” mantra, trite as it was, reinforced our primary focus. Books two and three dealt with different aspects of writing and writing instruction. I liked being able to select my own focus within the holdings of the UIWP library. Our book discussions centered around book information and our experiences from the perspective of a teacher, as well as a writer.

In 2011 we read “Teaching the New Writing.” The focus of last year’s participants was exploration of various technologies and integration of those technologies into our teaching. The daily “I am a writer” mantra disappeared. We had a great deal of teaching level and subject diversity in our audience, which gave us a broader view of how others worked with various ways of writing in their classrooms.

This year we read “The 9 Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers.” The participant pool was more homogeneous, being comprised largely of elementary school teachers and writing studies doctoral students. The focus moved more toward a singular writing instruction focus than was the case during the previous two years. Many of the teachers came to us with a broad background in writing instruction already. They tend to pursue writing instruction in their professional development. I wonder if we replicated some of their experiences during the four weeks…

My inclination would be to see us move next year’s initial focus back to the teacher as writer. We could bring in a local author like Alice McGinty, whose experience as an author who has successfully broken into the world of publishing would be broadly applicable to all. I suggest we scale back the number of reading days to set aside designated time for the writing groups to meet each week for an hour during the early afternoon. We may want to consider reducing the stipend to partially cover the cost of attending the All Write 2013 conference. Wendy attended the All Write 2012 conference this year. A quick read through her blog will give you a pretty good sense of the breadth and structure of the conference.

Aside from that, I think all went very well. In spite of the fact that we all had expected and unexpected occurrences, we were consistent in our presentation and the fellows did have a number of opportunities to write using a number of different media forms, and to gain ideas they can use in their own instruction.

In addition to the value gained in moving toward each participant using their own computers, it would be equally valuable to move toward having each fellow use a personal or school video camera for all of their videotaping. Uni High will be glad to again supply the Flip cameras used this year, but the audio and visual quality of the Flip output is mediocre at best. I hate to see access to convenient technology override the opportunity to produce good quality work.

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. It certainly has been a lot of fun!


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 Field Notes on Nature and Science, written by Michael R. Canfield is an extraordinary work that introduces readers to the wide variety of different field notebook-keeping approaches used by prominent individuals whose academic discipline requires a considerable amount of fieldwork.

Each of the twelve chapters, written by a single individual, provides insight into that scientist’s thinking and how they came to use their current field note-taking methodology. Though focused on field biology, the book includes chapters dealing with paleontology and anthropology.

The book begins with an excellent overview of the history of scientific field notes and provides a variety of figure showing actual pages from a number of historical works.

Noteworthy points from various introductory sections and chapters follow:


  • Pirate-naturalist William Dampier, late 1600s, traveled with a pirate band that ransacked villages and plundered merchant ships.
  • Excellent notes in plants, animals, meteorological observations, published “A New Voyage Around the World.”
  • The value of taking field notes lies both in the actual information that is recorded as well as what is gained in the process of recording itself.
  • Meticulous and organized records form the foundation science, and, like laboratory notebooks for our indoor relatives, are the most basic tool for the study of nature.
  • Although the content of field notes has incredible value, the act of recording field notes has benefits that are less apparent and often underestimated.

The Pleasure of Observing  (George Schaller)

  • Schaller focuses on the value of meticulous note-taking, including time of activities and drawing, that has contributed to a better understanding of behaviors and interspecific interactions
  • Schaller maintains a personal journal as well as a scientific journal.
  • The personal journal contributes to later popular writing and provides empathy between the reader and the animal, something that is key in his work as a conservation biologist and one whose work provides funding for initiatives involving charismatic megafauna.
  • Notetaking is done in longhand, though he does rely on technologies including GPS and radio-telemetry.

Untangling the Bank (Bernd Heinrich)

  • Heinrich’s notes are less structured than those of many others.
  • Notes range from ideas to quantitative data. This helps him identify themes and patterns.
  • His journals are not meant to be seen or read by others.

One and a Half Cheers for Listkeeping (Kenn Kaufman)

I went into this chapter with an extraordinarily strong positive bias. One of his books, co-authored with Eric Eaton, is certainly one of the three books that I use most regularly.

  • Kaufman introduces the opposing ideas of the scientific act of keeping field notes and the game of list-chasing, a common birding practice made public in The Big Year.
  • He nicely contrasts the focused Breeding Bird Survey with the frenetic Big Day.
  • He clearly has a bias against list counting, though he does see it as something that draws people into nature and field biology.
  • He ends with discussion of eBird, a massive database compiled by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society and its use of ‘birder psychology.’ The Welcome screen includes a “life list.” Participation in eBird has increased significantly since the inclusion of this feature…

Why Sketch? (Jenny Keller)

  • Drawing makes you look more closely at your subject. The simple act of drawing makes you focus on each and every part of your subject (e.g. toes).
  • Colors in photography are often distorted, proportions are distorted, and key features may not be recorded clearly.
  • Certain parts are often missed in photography (e.g. the underside of a leaf or a tail).
  • Sketching makes you think visually about the publishing stage of your research. The time you take to think about how you want to portray your research in the early stages is critical.
  • The act of making sketches makes one better at interpreting and understanding other visual references such as photographs.
  • The chapter includes lots of good instruction regarding drawing, color and shading, and drawing shortcuts (e.g leave the drawing unfinished, don’t draw forms, details or colors that are repetitive, trace outlines, and just draw one side of bilaterally symmetric organisms).

Note-Taking for Pencilphobes (Piotr Naskrecki)

I went into this chapter with an extraordinarily strong positive bias. Two of my favorite nature macrophotography books (‘The Smaller Majority’ and ‘Relics’ http://www.amazon.com/Relics-Travels-Natures-Time-Machine/dp/0226568709/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_4) are written by Naskrecki.

  • Naskrecki developed a single, centralized system for his behavioral observations, taxonomic information, references, measurements, photographs and sound recordings.
  • Mantis, free!
  • This database stores essentially a roomful of resources on a single thumb drive.

Why Keep a Field Notebook? (Erick Greene)

  • Field notebooks allow you to record and organize your data.
  • They also serve as an incredible incubator for ideas and observations.
  • Allow you to relive special experiences.
  • Considered absolutely essential during the 18th and 19th century. These field journals were often published.
  • Has a great assignment for his upper level ecology class. I need to check this out prior to the start of the school year.
  • Laboratory scientists are better notebook keepers than field biologists.
  • Field notebooks range from personal journals that document observations and experiences to formal notebooks that use the Grinnell System (lack  personal observations, musings and peregrinations of the author).
  • Gives you a chance to revisit corners of nature and remind you of the sorts of events that are meaningful to you.
  • They allow you to document change. Dave Bertelsen has noted that 15% of plant secies in the Catalina Mountains have moved up 1000’ in elevation over the past 20 years.
  • Will Kerling’s notebooks led to Missoula, Montana buying private land on Mount Jumbo because of it biodiversity. Mount Jumbo is now a cherished crown jewel of Missoula’s open spaces.
  • Summary of the two greatest benefits: 1) Allows you to go back and remember details of observations and studies and 2) if you record more information than you think is important, it will allow you to go back and study them later.

Best practices

  1. Use a hardbound notebook.
  2. Keep your contact information in the front.
  3. Write for yourself and posterity.
  4. Write pertinent information with every new entry.
  5. Add information on your location.
  6. Record your methods.
  7. Make backup copies.
  8. Make sure abbreviations are in a key in your field notebook.
  9. Don’t leave home without it.
  10.  Form a writing habit.
  11. Set up a structure to your field notebook.
  12. Create an index.
  13. Treat your field notebook like a scrapbook. Include everything.


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Writing Prompts

Monday, June 25, 2012

Respond to each statement in two sentences or fewer. Limit response time to five minute. Submit your response as a blog entry.

  1. What have you learned during production of Video #2?
  2.  What are the major challenges you encountered?
  3. What are your plans for the evening?

I suspect you’ll enjoy looking back at your responses at the end of the Summer Institute, and may even find them helpful when assigning projects to your students!

Monday. July 2, 2012

  1. Which piece of writing produced thus far (either text- or video-based) do you anticipate submitting to e-Anthology 2.0 (http://connect.nwp.org/e-anthology)?
  2. Why are you considering that particular piece for submission?

Submit your response as a blog entry. Be certain to indicate which piece(s) you submit in your e-portfolio.

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Q. What in the chapter do you agree with – or not – and how might your thinking here inform your own literacy practices and teaching?

A. The Discussion ends with a statement regarding how Scott’s writing for the web made him better able to read Web-based material. I agree with the statement, but I think it ends too simply, focusing on Scott’s newfound knowledge largely as a result of self-discovery.

I think we need to go beyond this in training of teachers, with specific knowledge being shared regarding how search engines work and why you get different results when you use different search engines.

I also think there should be establishment of professional guidelines regarding how digital writing is presented. Rationale for selection of background color and images, fonts, scrolling or non-scrolling, and handicapped accessibility are just a few topics teachers need to understand to be truly effective in being effective digital writers and effective digital writing teachers. Both design and content are significant when producing web documents.

A next step for the National Writing Project?

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Physical Therapy Protocol for Extracapsular Repair for a Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury (say that fast 5x)

Repair June 26, 2012, 12 week repair protocol

Week 1

  1. Restrict to ex-pen
  2. Walk on leash for urination and defecation only
  3. Massage muscles of leg and back for 5-10 minutes
  4. Ice pack the knee 3 to 5x daily for 5-10 minutes

Ringer’s quite a trooper and it’s summer vacation. So far, so good!

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I’m a lucky guy. I work in a situation that suits me in every respect. I teach children who are caring, respectful and willing to follow my interests, passions, and involvements wherever they lead.

In early August our department head retired. The department members determined that we would rather volunteer to share the department head position and add another advanced science class rather than allot salary to administration. We’re an independent lot that doesn’t see a need for excessive layers of administration.

Six weeks into the fall semester, the Office of the Provost and the Director came to agreement that the high school needed to add a new position so that the Director could focus more of his efforts on fund raising. A second Assistant Director position would be split between three teachers.

The three teachers who would share those responsibilities were called into a meeting and asked whether they were willing to take on additional responsibilities. Ironically, two of us were science department members. Because all three of us chaired committees involved in many of the designated responsibilities already, being asked to take on those responsibilities wasn’t unreasonable. We suggested there be no titles for these positions, though the reality is that titles make clear within the school and to the outside world where responsibilities, and ultimate responsibility, lie. There was no conversation of extra compensation at that time.

The rest of the teachers were called into small group meetings each period throughout the following day to learn of the administrative changes that were about to take place. The three teachers assuming new formal responsibilities did not take part in those meetings.

My encounters with my colleagues the next day were awkward and occasionally frosty. Some teachers congratulated us, while others were clearly uncomfortable with our new roles. Few asked us how this came to be, and why WE were elevated in status, though it was clearly foremost on their minds.

The breadth of our responsibilities increased over the first month. The unexpected midyear retirement of the full time Assistant Director added further to our responsibilities and challenges.  We were able to successfully respond to a number of challenges, which allowed us to better see direction of responsibilities for incoming permanent administrators. It worked well, really well, though it was clear to the three of us that our interests were in the classroom.

The social aspects of the teaching life I’ve experienced over the past twenty-eight years changed overnight. Some teachers who I had seen as independent, self-directed individuals were suddenly more needy, and often felt more entitled, than I had ever perceived. Small classroom sharing issues that I would have never seen before became issues that I had to deal with immediately. Entering the Teachers Lounge to check my mailbox sometimes resulted in a sudden silence, while other times I was besieged by those wanted to discuss new issues. Some of my colleagues were more guarded in what they shared, whereas others saw my past relationships as something they now could use to leverage school change.

In April the school began advertising for two administrators to take on the responsibilities the three of us shared on a part-time basis. When asked if we were applying for either position, each of us made clear where our interests continued to be. We all wanted to go back to the classroom.

Suddenly our interactions with our colleagues moved back to the way they had been in the past. We’re back to being teachers again and, for the most part, our collegial relationships have got back to the way they had been. The irony is that all three of us will likely be working with the new administrators quite a bit on a volunteer basis during the next year as the these new individuals acclimate to the school. We may spend almost as much time in the new capacity as we spent in our former part-time administrative positions. No one seems terribly concerned about this because we will not have formal titles.

Without formal titles, we will return to our former teacher capacities.  Our colleagues already are accepting us, confiding in us, and treating us as colleagues again. I hope I can do the same, forgetting the slights, the efforts of some to misinform others regarding our motivations, and the interfaculty conflicts I dealt with during the time I had my temporary formal title.

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