Procrastination be damned. Also, Penny Kittle!

Whoops. Left the blog behind for a while, didn’t I?

One of Penny’s books. Want!

Penny Kittle came into town on a cold February day and I anticipate that it will be one of the most memorable PDs I will ever attend, mostly because of all the crying experienced by its attendees! Between reading heartrending texts and doing some of our own intimate, personal writing, there certainly were many tears shed. I think I cried a minimum of five separate times. You know you’re at a good PD when…!

Penny is a teacher and author who specializes in literacy development and English Language Arts. I first heard about her from my friend, Erin, and heard of her again from Kelly Gallagher, who is basically one of my educational heroes (and whose PDs also always make me cry). I looked so forward to spending a day inside Penny Kittle’s brain and was even more jazzed when I got there because I found myself sitting at a table of incredible educators and friends.

To be honest, I think the document of notes (completely disorganized notes, alas!) I took speaks much more to the awesomeness of the PD session than anything I might cobble together now, but these are four things that really stuck with me from Penny’s day with us.

1) The act of giving a kid a book can make them want to read it. I did this with one of my grade eight girls last year. I handed her The Book of Negroes, which some might feel is too advanced for a kid like her, but she fell in love with it.

2) The use of the classroom writing notebook as a catch-all scrapbook/journal/idea explosion. Penny’s got some amazing, creative ideas for quickwrites and activities.

3) Escalating texts. Using multiple texts surrounding the same topic/issue and reading them in sequence, increasing with “intensity” so that kids form first impressions and dive deeper. Seriously, when Penny did this with us in the session using three texts revolving around 9/11, there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire room. (Insert tangent: I don’t even know how she managed to read one of those texts aloud to us without crying herself. I don’t think I could do it. I know there’s got to be more teachers who end up teaching through their tears besides me, right? Right? Up! as a film study, anyone? That montage gets me every. single. time.)

4) Writing conferences. Penny’s got some great leading phrases and approaches in writers’ conferences that don’t have anything to do with grammar/spelling. She really latches on to the idea of teaching kids to write, as in creating ideas and shaping worlds and painting characters. She gets them to expand their ideas rather than quibbling over homophones when she meets with them. It is expected that they go back and check their conventions later, so the writing conference is spent more productively. After all, a flat story with insipid characters is not improved by perfect grammar. In the same way, a truly riveting tale with engaging and charismatic characters nonetheless draws readership even with the odd spelling error.

In case you missed the link a few paragraphs ago, I’ll redundantly stick it in here again. Sorry again about the here-and-there formatting of the doc, but I couldn’t bear to sit on it anymore! What’s nice is that where possible, I tried to include links to texts and resources Penny mentioned throughout the day, so hopefully they can lead you to peruse even more avenues of thought regarding your classes. Please enjoy and share alike!

Other great Penny stuff:
Penny’s online PDF notes that accompany her book, Write Beside Them are available here.
Her site, chock full of resources and things to think about.


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