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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tired of Crazy Writing Time? Take Time to Pause.

Last weekend I went rollerskating. I love rollerskating, and I never worry about being on wheels. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve laced up skates, muscle memory kicks in and I’m flying around the rink. My kids are always impressed.

This time it was different. My wheels didn’t spin. My skates didn’t glide. The rink was pitted and sticky in places. Whenever I pushed off on my left skate, it stuck.

I stumbled. I ran into a wall to avoid a little girl. I pulled a muscle.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t make rollerskating work for me.

It reminded me of writing workshop in December.

Things shift in December. There are jingle bells and Santa cookies. There are music concerts and canned food drives. There are sing alongs and elves watching. All of these things are good things, but they can wreak havoc on a schedule.

What I should have done when I realized things weren’t working when I was rollerskating was paused. I should have exchanged my skates for a better pair. I should have considered the rink conditions and made mental notes of where it was not ideal.

I didn’t do these things.
I was too busy pressing through.

In writing workshop, when things become not ideal, it is best to pause. Take some time and remember the conditions matter to writers. Think through the purpose and the routines that are missing because of the shifts from the season.

Sometimes it seems like we don’t have time to pause.

I wish I would have paused and changed the conditions while roller skating.
Then I wouldn’t have slipped and flew and landed hard.

My daughters laughed. I did too. “You looked like a cartoon!” Martha giggled. They helped me up. The world was spinning. I couldn’t see straight. My head thumped. So did my shoulder and my hip and my knee.

We have time to pause and set the conditions necessary for writing workshop.

No matter how busy December becomes, we can pause and return to the basics.

  1. Time to write.
  2. Access to materials to write.
  3. Choice in what to write.
Pause now and consider how to wrap strong arms around writing workshop and protect it from the busyness of the season! (Click to tweet.) I’d love to hear what you realized when you paused. Leave a comment and let us know!

Don’t forget to register for the free online workshop, Quick and Meaningful Writing Assessment. Join the 250+ other educators who are lightening their grading load!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Happy Teaching! {CELEBRATE This Week 169}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


Guys! I am so excited to share this with you -- I've taken a giant step toward my long-time dream of offering online workshops (or courses) for teachers of writers. I expanded my website to include a new resource. It's my pleasure to announce...

Happy Teaching with Ruth Ayres

Happy Teaching with Ruth Ayres is a home for online workshops to help teachers (and coaches) make teaching writers manageable and enjoyable. Imagine getting cutting-edge professional development for writing instruction without making guest teacher plans or traveling to a conference or dressing in school clothes! It's self-paced and once you register for a course, you have lifetime access.

I believe in making the world better through story -- listening to stories + telling our own + researching to know the story behind information. It's necessary for kids to learn to write well and to use their voices to impact the world. That's why I made this space -- a place for teachers to learn how to make teaching writers manageable and enjoyable. Because, after all, it will be teachers + stories that save the world.

I'd love your input about what kinds of courses to create. The next course will be Keeping (& Using) a Conference Record System. It will launch in February 2017.

Will you leave a comment and let me know the answer to this question: 
If I gave you a magic wand, what would you want to change about your students as writers OR about your writing workshop?

Also -- and this is EPIC (as my kids tell me is the replacement for "cool") -- to celebrate this next step, Andy and I have decided to give away a FREE course

Quick & Meaningful Writing Assessment

It's totally inspired by my grading nightmare that I shared in my vlog earlier this week. It's a 5 session, video-based course with a few PDFs and a general grade sheet.

If you aren't already on my email list, we will become official Email Pals. If you are an Email Pal, still enroll. (No worries, you won't receive duplicate emails -- my email service provider is awesome at taking care of those kinds of details.)

So there's my more step toward a big dream of making teaching writers manageable and enjoyable. Share your celebration below.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A True Confession about Grading Student Writing

Here's a BIG FIRST...I created a vlog! I hope you enjoy it. Let me know in the comments one of your grading nightmares, I mean stories, or  your current status when it comes to grading student writing.

Also, I'm putting together a free mini-training called QUICK & MEANINGFUL WRITING ASSESSMENT for my Email Pals. If you don't get notes from me delivered to your inbox, sign up with the form below. Plus you can check out a lot other awesome resources I've created to help make teaching writers manageable and enjoyable. Don't worry, you'll only be added to the email list once, no matter how many great resources you grab.

Don't forget to comment with a grading story of your own!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Full of Thanks {CELEBRATE This Week: 168}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


I wrote these words on Thanksgiving:

It is Thanksgiving, and I am brave enough to celebrate.

Choosing celebration is a courageous act. The whispered-truth is part of me wonders if I have the energy or the courage to choose celebration.

Hope takes bravery. (Click to tweet.)

I breathed in deep and decided to live as one who is full of thanks.

The circumstances of the day were not what I would have chosen, if I ruled the world. Since it is my actions that I have control over, I made the tiny, but  mighty choice to be grateful.

It's easy to miss the mighty strength in a tiny act of gratitude. 

Because of this act of gratitude over disappointment, waves of blessings rolled in, crashing around our little family as powerful waves, abundant in their goodness. 

Thanksgiving 2016 was the best day of the year.

This isn't flippant and it isn't overdramatic. It is true.

A day set up for strife was flipped to one of goodness because of a brave choice to celebrate. This is the power of celebration.
I am grateful to know it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Make a Plan? Teach Student Writers to Think in Parts

When I was a little girl, my dad let me help him plan our route for family road trips. I slid the heavy map out from under the couch and Dad wiped the dust from the cover of it. Lying side by side on our bellies, we opened the map to Indiana. I  put my finger on our town. Dad opened his pocket notebook and we began planning our route, step by step.

Today I don’t plan the route for road trips. I just open my map app, type the name of the place I’m going (I don’t even need an address) and push “Go.” The route choices appear and I tap the one that will take the least time.

It reminds me of the way students “plan” their writing -- whatever is going to take the least amount of time.

Lots of students don’t need a plan in order to write a draft. In fact, sometimes a plan hinders the draft. I watch others make “plans” after they write the draft, and then pass the plan off as “prewriting” to their teachers. All of this makes me question the planning phase of the writing process.

There is no doubt, planning is essential to writing well. The question becomes --
What kinds of planning strategies help students write well? I think the key is this...

Writers think in parts.

Tweet: Writers think in parts. Find out how to help students plan their writing, and get 5 FREE storyboard templates.

Narrative writers think in scenes. Non-narrative writers think in subtopics. Poets think in lines and stanzas. The most effective planning strategies scaffold students to think in parts.

Here are two lessons to help students think in parts.

  1. Storyboards (4:34 introduction to storyboards)
  2. Oral Storytelling (video lesson)

(Don’t forget to check out the resources for each of the lessons. The link is in the description of each video.)

The storyboards lesson is designed for older students and the oral storytelling lesson for younger students. However, both can be adapted to all experience levels.

If you’re looking for a techy option for planning, I’ve had lots of success with Google Slides. The slides automatically set students up to think in parts. Each slide is a different part.

The important part of planning is students take a little time to think through the parts of their writing. It doesn’t have to be elaborate and it doesn’t have to be lengthy.

It does need to be thought through!

Add a comment to join the conversation and let me know how you help students plan in parts. I'd also love to hear how you use the storyboard templates.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Stories Connect Us [CELEBRATE This Week 167}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


Franki Sibberson & Katharine Hale

I'm tattered. Things have been rough in my momma corner of the world, but this is the time of year for my favorite conference of all -- NCTE.  

I cried while packing. I took a photo of packing, posted it on Instagram, and then sat on my bed and sobbed.

"What's wrong?" Andy asked, surprised when he walked in the bedroom.

"I don't know," I answered. "I love NCTE. I love the people. I love the sessions. I love presenting. I don't know what's wrong."

"It'll be fine," Andy said before slipping out of the room.

The idea of venturing out, putting forth the energy of connecting, and staying focused on professional work is a little daunting. 

I finished packing and made a choice to claim joy. I didn't feel like choosing joy, but I did it anyway.

I'm grateful for this choice. I folded up my guilty feelings. I put away feeling like I didn't measure up. I quit worrying about the schedule.

I decided to relax and just enjoy the experience.

I have been so blessed.It's a little unfair to pick one photo, because my celebration is the collective whole.  It's the goodness of people that I'm celebrating. I love the way paths cross and there's a hug and a hello. I love the diversity of friends and the way our professional work webs together.

I feel connected.

This feels like an extravagant gift, worthy of a celebration. Because of our intense parenting season, I haven't been able to keep up with connections like I would have liked. 

I love stories. 
I love people.
I celebrate the ability of story to connect us and the strength of those connections to sustain us.

If you're at NCTE, I sincerely hope our paths will cross. Let me know how to make that happen through Twitter. And if our paths have crossed, thank you for your sweet hello and hug. Your kindness makes me smile.

PS -- I made a free video mini-training. It was super fun, and I think you'll like it. You can get it by signing up below. Happy teaching!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How to Make Student Stories FUN to Read [+ FREE Video Training]

Books to teach students that stories have struggles.
Check out the special video below to see how to use
these books to help students understand:
No Struggle = No Story.

I am enamored by any person (whether 4 or 44 or 94) who is willing to unfold a story word by word. I know the epic battle it takes to write our stories and share them with others. Because of this, I consider each story I read to be a gift from the writer to me.

I tend to love reading student stories. I’m good at finding the glimmers of writing within each story. I like to celebrate alongside young writers (and grown up writers too) about the powerful parts of their stories. I’ve read more than my share of student stories. As a former 7th grade language arts teacher (with 100 + students each year) and a district instructional writing coach, student stories are as much a part of my day as breathing air.

To say I’ve read a lot of student stories is an understatement.

So this next line is brutal truth.

There are some days when I don’t love reading student stories.

Please tell me I’m not alone. It’s not because I don’t love young writers. Rather, it’s because too often student stories are not very much fun to read. They can be boring, confusing, and frustrating.

Rather than dreading student stories, I think it’s important to learn to embrace student writing by giving kids the knowledge they need to write strong stories.

Tweet: Rather than dreading student stories, let's learn to give kids the knowledge they need to write strong stories.

Here is the best game changer for turning student stories from boring to brilliant.

No Struggle. No Story.

This one rule has a remarkable positive effect on student stories. It is a truth of all strong narratives. Every story has a struggle. It’s true for life and it’s true for the stories we write.

No Struggle. No Story.

If every story a student writes (whether it is a true life story or a fiction story) has a struggle and at the end the struggle is overcome, then the story becomes more enjoyable to read.

This is true for most stories. They have struggles. Think about your favorite narrative books. They have struggles. Consider the stories you read to your class today. I bet they had struggles.

It’s a concept our youngest writers can understand. Ask them.

Hold up a book you’ve just read aloud and ask them, “What’s the struggle?” They’ll know.
Then teach them that all stories have a struggle. If there’s no struggle, then there’s no story. They’ll be able to remember this concept. I often make it a chant. The teacher says “No struggle,” and students respond with “No story!”

It’s a concept we can expand and deepen for older students. There are different kinds of struggles. There are external struggles. (Man vs. Man and Man vs. Nature for secondary students.) These are struggles that are happening outside the character. There are also internal struggles. (Man vs. Self for secondary students.) These are struggles that characters face within their own hearts. Often characters face more than one struggle in a story. As students recognize this, they can begin applying different struggles to the stories they are writing.

It’s time to  add this key lesson to your writing instruction. The enjoyment student have for writing skyrockets when they know this. This makes the stories more fun to read, too!

No Struggle. No Story.

Trust me, you will see instant improvement in student stories. If you'd like to know a little bit more about teaching students that all stories have struggle, I created a little video training for you. Just fill out the form below and you'll get access to the video + links to 3 minilesson videos that help students develop craft strategies to improve their story writing.

Friday, November 11, 2016

i get to be their momma {CELEBRATE This Week: 166}

I'm glad you are here to celebrate! 

Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter. Check out the details hereCelebrate This Week goes live on Friday night around 10(ish). Consider it as a weekend celebration. Whenever it fits in your life, add your link. 

Please leave a little comment love for the person who links before you.


These are my kids. 
None of them grew in my belly. 
All have histories that don't include me.

Let me introduce them, starting at the bottom of the photo.

Jordan is 11. He joined our forever family in 2013, when he was nearly 8. He lived for more than 7 years in foster care. You want his eyelashes, I promise. He has a contagious smile. He loves football. His strength is his resilience.

Sam is 10. He was our first child, adopted at birth in 2006. I cut the cord. He has an obnoxious amount of knowledge about trains. His strength is his ability to love people when they are hard to love. His favorite thing to do is have fun and makes sure everyone around him is lighthearted and laughing.

Stephanie is 12. She joined our forever family in 2008 when Sam was 2. She's a beast on the basketball court. She's creative and independent. She takes care of herself. Her strength is her resolved to overcome.

Hannah is 15. We adopted her at the same time as Stephanie; they have been together their entire lives. Hannah loves to read, especially historical fiction and greek mythology. She is an old woman trapped in a teenager's body. Her strength is her commitment to grow into the best version of herself as possible. She is a beautiful mess.

My celebration is I get to be their momma.
It's not an easy gig.
Motherhood never is.

This week I wrote about a key feature of stories.
Stories have struggles.

It is a truth that stabbed my heart. It's one thing to know this as a technical part of writing. If your story doesn't have a struggle, then it's not really a story anyone wants to read. Fiction writers ensure their stories are ones people want to read by plunging their characters into struggle after struggle after struggle.

For Stephanie, her storyline is plunging into struggle after struggle after struggle. Andy and I, as her parents, aren't stopping the struggles.
It's not an easy gig.

If we only look at the slice of a story that is the struggle, we wouldn't like the story very much. Strong stories have struggles not because readers like a struggle, but because we like it when characters overcome a struggle. The more dire the struggle, the better the story. 

Sometimes we're not sure a character is going to overcome the struggle, but we don't quit reading. We keep going. We press on. We trust that good is going to overcome the struggle.

The same is true in life. If we take just a slice, there is often cause for alarm. It is cause for alarm if we just look at Stephanie's current storyline. The thing about life is we don't quit when it gets hard. We keep going. We press on. We trust that good is going to overcome the struggle.

And so I celebrate that I get to be a momma to these kids. 
The ones who struggle. 
The ones who fail. 
The ones who have been scraped by the ugly of the world. 

They are the ones who fight the good fight and write an impossibly beautiful ending. 
I celebrate that I get to be along for the ride.

Here's to celebrating, even when it's hard. Share your links below.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How to stop hearing I CAN'T WRITE from your students

“I can’t write!”
“I don’t know how!”
“I’ll never be able do this!”

These aren’t the usual quotes to inspire teaching students to write. I could share adorable student writing samples. I could tell stories of successful writing experiences with kids. We could celebrate the small gains of less experienced writers.

None of that changes the fact that more than likely, you still encounter I CAN’T writers.

They might be lurking in the corner of your writing workshop. Maybe they’ve been putting on a good show, but their stamina is waning and they refuse to write sometimes. Sometimes the I CAN’T writer is loud and is looking for others to join the protest.

No matter their modus operandi, all I CAN’T writers need the same thing.


When students refuse to write, it is because they lack confidence in themselves as writers. It is easy to pinpoint students who need confidence as writers, however, it isn’t always an easy need to fill.

We build confidence in students as writers when we build on their strengths. Sometimes this is a tall task, because most I CAN’T writers are a hot mess when it comes to writing. How do we build on strengths when the strengths are non-existent?

Tweet: "We build confidence in students as writers when we build on their strengths." Ways to boost student writers.

Shift Your Mindset

Look for what students are almost doing as writers. Does the I CAN’T writer have some supplies out and ready to use? Is the I CAN’T writer sitting in a good writing spot? Does the I CAN’T writer make it easy for other students to work as writers? Has the I CAN’T writer written a handful (or one or two) words?

When we begin acknowledging the small steps of student writers, we build their confidence. Rather than seeing how far they are from grade level, begin to train yourself to see the things they are doing to position themselves to learn to write.

Take Off the Pressure of Words on the Page

In today’s world, writing is more than words on the page. With more multi-modal messages, students must learn to write using words, images, and sound. Sometimes I CAN’T writers struggle writing words, but they are able to articulate their stories or articles orally. Many I CAN’T writers are willing to sketch an idea and get their thoughts in order. When a student tells me “I can’t write!” I often ask them to talk or sketch their ideas instead. It is always easier to help a student write words when we’re working off of something concrete than when the idea is floating around brain space.

Instead of seeing I CAN’T writers, let’s start seeing NEED A BOOST writers and do things to build confidence. The more confident students become as writers, the more they are willing to write.

I’d love to hear what you do to boost confidence in your student writers. Join the conversation here!