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The Big Fresh September 22, 2018 Sometimes We Should Just Clap

Brenda Power

There is no wine in the world as heady as applause; and it has the same effect. It temporarily subdues anxiety and restores confidence.

                                                                            Khushwant Singh

The circle created by the writers gathered together really looked more like a rectangle.  There were over 30 writers around the table, each a teacher who writes. The room held a variety of educators from different grade levels and positions; each of the writers brought a different amount of experience to writing.  Everyone was welcome at the table, where our goal was to write a reflection piece that could be published as an article with a social justice lens.

The leader of the group tried to quiet the chatter and announced, “Today we are going to go around the room.  I’d like everyone to share one, and just one, paragraph from your piece with the group.” The first writer paused to find her voice to share a snippet of her writing with the group.  When she finished, everyone clapped. The floor was then turned over to the next writer, who found his spot and began to read from his piece. When he finished, everyone clapped. Writer after writer shared, and each time everyone clapped.  There was no evaluation of the writer. No asking the group for one suggestion they’d give the writer. No judgement of the piece. No feedback, positive or negative. Just clapping.

As an adult writer, I listened as each person read and everyone clapped.  I couldn’t believe the writing in the group, and though everyone certainly had their own style and voice, there was something that grabbed me about each piece I heard.  Each of the 34 writers shared, and every single time the group clapped. As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice how affirming the clapping was. It was as if everyone was saying, “Thank you for taking the risk to put your writing out there. Thank you for sharing your words with us. Thank you for the gift you’ve just given.”

For us as classroom teachers, affirming a strength and then providing a next step becomes natural practice. In our classrooms, we often teach our students to provide this same critical feedback to one another. There certainly is a place in our classrooms for critical feedback; in this writing group I had joined, there were those pockets of time when we provided this for one another.  However, as we moved around the room reading and clapping, reading and clapping, I couldn’t help but wonder if sometimes in our classrooms, we should just clap.

This week we look at student-led minilessons and discussions. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Cathy Mere
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Cathy Mere is a literacy specialist in Hilliard (Ohio) City Schools. She is the author of More Than Guided Reading. A trained literacy coach and former Reading Recovery teacher, Cathy leads professional development workshops and presents at state and national conferences. She blogs at Refine and Reflect.


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Gigi McAllister tries student-led discussion groups in her fourth-grade classroom, with disastrous results. She regroups the following year with multiple lessons, anchor charts, and preparation to ensure success:


Jennifer Schwanke and Franki Sibberson share four perspectives on student-led conferences -- teacher, principal, student, and parent:


Snowballs, pinwheels, and stoplights, oh my! Here is a quick summary of 10 popular strategies for student-led discussions:


Check out our new online courses for teachers and literacy coaches! In the next month we're featuring 12-day self-paced classes from Katherine Sokolowski on student research projects in grades 3-7, Christy Rush-Levine on quick and meaningful reading conferences in middle school, and Jennifer Schwanke on better outreach to families. Courses include three-month trial memberships to Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy, screencasts, videos, articles, and personal responses from the instructor to your questions. Explore detailed descriptions at this link:



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Franki Sibberson initiates student-led minilessons, and finds the process takes her literacy workshops to a new level of independence and energy:


In this week's video, Franki helps Lucas plan and design a minilesson on connecting facts from two different sources:


You can also view Lucas presenting the lesson to his fifth-grade classmates the next day in this bonus video:


One student's request to lead a minilesson is a catalyst for Mark Levine to see the value of student-led minilessons as an assignment for all in his middle school classroom:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.