Name: Jennifer DeBortoli
Grade(s) taught: 2nd and 3rd Grade
Subject(s) taught: Multiple Subjects
School/district: Barrett Ranch Elementary/Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District
Local writing project: Area 3 Writing Project (A3WP)
Website: Ms. DeBortoli's Class Website
Awards & Recognition
- A3WP Teacher Leader
- Placer County Teacher Who Makes a Difference, 2002, 2010
- Seeds of Literacy Award, 2013
The Area 3 Writing Project has had a tremendous impact on my teaching. When I was a beginning teacher I was fortunate to teach next door to Karen Smith (the current A3WP Director). She always included me in Writing Project events like workshops and book studies, just to name a few. In 2009 the timing was finally right for me to attend the Invitational Leadership Institute in the Teaching of Writing. It changed my life. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and stretched my thinking about what effective writing instruction looks like, sounds like, and should feel like. It introduced people to me that have influenced all areas of my life. When I was asked back as a coach in 2014 and led a new demonstration lesson, it was extremely clear how much my fellow Teacher Consultants of 2009 were evident in my teaching.
Even though I have always been a passionate teacher of writing and I had written a hundred-plus page thesis/project over the previous two years, before the Invitational Leadership Institute in the Teaching of Writing, I would not have said that I was a writer. When I finished the Institute this is what I wrote: "I am a writer because I am starting to think of writing ideas while driving in my car, lying in bed, walking around the block, standing in line at the grocery store, listening to other people’s conversations, and everywhere in between. I am in the beginning phase of being in a state of constant composition. I am a writer because I am looking back at past things I have written and I am trying to make them better. I am thinking about audience, purpose, and form. I am a writer because I am reading books in a new light – thinking about how the author crafted their story, pondering where their ideas came from, what structures they used and why they were successful. I am thinking about the craft of writing and the choices that my favorite authors make. I am a writer because I am becoming braver in sharing my writing, by putting it out there for others to read, to respond to, and even critique. I am a writer because I am beginning to realize that my writing does not have to be like everyone else’s writing – does not have to be as descriptive, or flowery, or even as poignant. It just has to be REAL, to come from me... to come from my heart."
The Area 3 Writing Project has given me the confidence to be a teacher leader of writing. I helped lead our school through a book study with Regie Routman's book Writing Essentials: Raising Expectations and Results While Simplifying Teaching, and provided model lessons and training for staff. I have also done several other trainings for A3WP, including a series on Writer’s Workshop. My favorite thing that I do annually is lead a Family Writing Night where my school’s diverse families come and write together. There is a theme for the night and families leave with a bound book of what they wrote with room to do additional writing at home. I love wandering around the room watching 200+ people writing, laughing, sharing, and creating memories together.
Building a writing community from the first day of school where students are excited about writing, are confident in their writing, and feel valued as a writer is vital. One of my core beliefs is that students need authentic reasons to write every day, and they need to be provided with choice about what they write. Exposing students to as many quality mentor texts as possible and them learning how to read text like a writer helps in their writing development. Discussing purpose, audience, and form are essential even in the primary grades.
How do you possibly only pick one? Donald Graves, Lucy Calken, Ralph Fletcher, and Regie Routman have all had a profound affect on my teaching, but if forced to pick one book that had the biggest impact it would be Megan Sloan's Into Writing: The Primary Teacher's Guide to Writing Workshop. Prior to reading this book I was struggling with certain aspects of using a writer's workshop model in a second grade classroom, especially publishing. Trying to publish every piece of writing was overwhelming no matter how “low key” I tried to make it. In her book she states, “I believe that primary students need lots of drafting time, followed by small segments of practice with revision and editing. They need to work in their own way, spending lots of time writing about different topics. I believe older primary students should pick the pieces they feel the most passionate about, the ones they revisit most in their writing, to revise, edit, and publish.” After reading this I followed her advice, and every 6-8 weeks I have students pick what they believe is their best writing and then we take that piece through the revision, editing, and publishing steps. Students take great pride in taking their published stories home and sharing with their families. These books are then placed in a special section of our classroom library.