Renee Brown teaches 8th grade ELA south of Pittsburgh, PA. She is a new member to the CAPTA board, serving as the middle school representative.
Susan Frenck teaches 7th grade English at Irving Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is the director of the newly founded Irving Middle School Writing Center and the CAPTA board treasurer.
The opportunities for middle school students even to attend a regional conference, let alone to
present at one, are exceptionally rare. However, CAPTA offers just such a unique learning experience to middle school students through “Snapshot Sessions.” These are 10-minute presentations given by one or two middle school tutors; each Snapshot should focus on a single issue of relevance to middle school writing centers. This begs the question, how do I help my tutors create a Snapshot Session for this conference. Susan and I are both middle school teachers and WC directors who are facing that exact task as we write this post. In the hopes of encouraging other MS directors, here are some snippets of our processes and what we hope are helpful insights.
Renee: My middle level WC is based on conversation: conversations between students around writing and conversations between me and the tutors about their “coaching.” So, it made sense that I started my search for a presenter with a conversation. I spoke with students who are not only strong tutors, but those tutors who are also strong public speakers. While you may consider having this chat with all your students together, I prefer more individualized discussions. One-on-one, I explained what the CAPTA conference is about and what it offers. I then sent the students away with a page full of questions to consider: What do you do when X type of kid comes to the WC; What do you do when X happens during a tutoring session.
Wait time is important at this age, so I gave my students a few days to ponder the questions related to the conference theme. The next conversation with those students asked what insight they have to give to other MS tutors based on the work they have done. I asked questions like, “What are the best/most successful/most difficult sessions you had this year.” These conversations varied in length, but talking about what each tutor saw as his/her expertise was vital. Based on these conversations, each potential presenter can craft his/her proposal. It’s a bit cliché to use the “think-pair-share” model, but that’s essentially the format that is currently helping my tutors to draft a proposal for the Snapshot Sessions.
Susan: The writing center at my school uses Google Classroom as a way to communicate and collaborate. I plan to use the platform to help my tutors generate Snapshot session topics. By using question feature, I can ask the tutors to reflect on their experiences and provide answers that will be displayed for the group. Some questions I will ask include (1) “What is something that has surprised you about your work in the writing center so far?”, (2) “What is something you think the students at our school would like to experience in the writing center?”, and (3) “If you could share one interesting idea or lesson with other middle school tutors about writing centers, what would it be?” I expect that those answers will provide solid starting points from which we can create excellent proposals.
Since the Snapshot Session format was inspired by Ignite sessions, I plan to share some effective Ignite examples with the tutors (http://www.ignitetalks.io/). The emphasis in showing Ignite sessions will be on the length, focus, and variety rather than on the specifics of the Ignite presentation format. Once the students see how a single good idea can become an effective, albeit brief, presentation, the tutors will have a better frame of reference and feel more comfortable with the idea of crafting their own presentations for CAPTA 2017.