Professional Development

“Nobody ever taught me how to teach students to write!” I hear this comment again and again from teachers of all grades, and I immediately empathize with them. Nobody ever taught me how to teach writing either, especially not creative writing. In fact, it was while trying to teach my students to write and produce good narrative pieces, that I first began to dabble with words. I began to write alongside my students in an effort to gain insight into the writing process. What could be so difficult about producing good narrative pieces? Little did I know!

Not only did I discover that writing wasn’t easy – it isn’t supposed to be easy – but it was also very time consuming. However, I also learned that if you did it well, it could be incredibly rewarding. As an author, I could control my reader’s feelings, direct their emotions, make them see and experience what I wanted them to. What a power trip! And to do it with words – that was the best thing of all. I began writing more seriously and experienced an epiphany of sorts – I didin’t write the way I taught my students to write. As I became more adept as an author, I decided to approach the teaching of writing in what I saw as a more natural manner. The result was infinitely more successful than my original attempts to teach writing.

While doing writing workshops with students, I realized that I still hadn’t necessarily addressed the teaching dilemma. How does a teacher learn to teach writing? I thought that rather than reinventing the wheel, teachers might benefit from the knowledge I’d acquired through a unique combination of my teaching and writing. My professional development workshops do not present a “canned” writing program. Appreciating that many teachers are already doing things that work exceptionally well in the writing classroom, I prefer to present specific skills and strategies to facilitate writing, and practical ideas to integrate these into any classroom. Knowing also that instructional time is limited and that there is no shortcut for time in the writing process, I have developed short, fun activities that promote the development of these skills, firmly believing that writing is like basketball. You can’t play the game until you know the skills, but if you practice the specific skills, and are aware of the game as a whole, everything will come together. At the same time, I promote a literature-based writing program,so that students can become cognizant, with teachers’ help, of what good writing is. Although I have studied the theory behind teaching writing, I tend to offer teachers what I wanted most as a teacher – practical ideas that I could implement in the classroom tomorrow.

One of the most wonderful things about writing is that the skill set for any age is universal. Skills are developed and enhanced as students mature, but the foundation remains the same. Therefore, my professional development inservices are designed for all staff members – teachers of all grade levels, teacher aides, resource teachers, etc – and are easily adaptable.  For more information about professional development opportunities, please contact me directly.

Workshops:

Professional Development: Cathy is available for professional development seminars and is able to present to large or small groups. She often presents at teachers’ conventions and can utilize either a workshop or presentation mode. Cathy’s professional development inservices generally focus on methods to strengthen student writing, generate great stories or develop school-wide strategies and continuums to achieve writing goals.

Generating Authentic Writing Tasks: Drawing on her extensive development of creative writing projects and her exposure to balance inquiry-based learning, Cathy is available to help teachers facilitate and design their own writing programs based on broader questions or specific curriculum content. She works with grade teams to help teachers weave writing into their year-long plans in a meaningful and enjoyable manner.

 

Writing Workshops

Cathy in a writer's workshop

Workshops:

Cathy offers a wide range of writing workshops for students in elementary and junior high school, and strives to tailor all workshops to student needs and levels. Cathy offers both writing residencies and individual workshops to schools and is happy to explore many different forms of writing from narrative story to creative non-fiction to non-fiction. Some of her most popular workshops are described below. All workshops can be modified to any grade level. Teachers are encouraged to email her with specific requests.

Curriculum-Based Writing: Cathy greatly enjoys the challenge of weaving writing and curriculum to discover, extend or reinforce education concepts or larger inquiry-based questions. She works with teachers to plan and create authentic writing tasks that tie in to specific curriculum goals, and guides students through the process to create strong compositions that are both engaging for students and rich in writing process techniques. These “projects” may take many different forms and often include narrative or creative non-fiction writing – sales pitches, fairy tales, poetry, historical fiction, field guides, legends, contest entries, travel brochures, field guides, tweets, etc. The possibilities are endless! These workshops generally require more than a single session with students.

Strengthening Student Writing: This workshop focuses on the concept of strong writing, defined by its impact on the reader. Students are introduced to the S’s of Strong Writing, specific strategies that students can employ again and again, which are closely linked to both purpose and audience. Students participate in a variety of enjoyable activities designed to reinforce these strategies in short, manageable ways, and learn how to evaluate the strength of their writing by keeping the reader central to their purpose. With younger writers, Cathy often introduces S’s using fun, oral techniques.

Scene Writing: In this workshop, students are introduced to story writing through scene writing. Cathy guides students through various prewriting and planning strategies that enable them to create short, powerful scenes. Prewriting tools may include sensory webs, guided visualization, dramatization, questioning, popcorn, four-framing, etc as students discover the methods of idea generation that work best for their learning styles. Cathy focuses on using DATS to blend description, action, thoughts and speech and create great scenes that have the desired impact on the reader.

Story Planning: The workshop introduces students to a narrative story plan that utilizes problem and solution as its framework. This plan is Cathy’s own design and is the same one she uses when she writes short stories. This workshop looks specifically at using emotion to frame a story and engage the reader. It also introduces students to various techniques to write successful beginnings, middles and ends while guarding the shape of the story that engages the reader. With older children, Cathy focuses on guiding students to discover the criteria for solutions that truly satisfy the reader and looks at how to spin apparently “lame” and “ridiculous” ideas into satisfying solutions. With younger children, Cathy often writes class stories, where she, with the students’ input, creates the beginning and end, while each student writes a page in the middle to create a beautiful classroom book.

Character Creation: The focus of this workshop is engaging character creation. Cathy takes students through the same process she uses to create characters who tug at the reader. She touches on names, appearance, backstory, character flaws, dreams, family, friends, etc and ultimately moves into conflict, the heart of story. Characters range from realistic characters to animal characters to superheros.

Creative Currents: This workshop is all about inspiring creativity in thought and composition. Cathy asks students to examine the nature of both creative and critical thought and then encourages them to test their creativity parameters – flexibility, fluency and originality. Finally, she looks at the connection between creative and critical thought, as it pertains to life, problem solving and written composition.

Professional Development: Cathy is available for professional development seminars and is able to present to large or small groups. She often presents at teachers’ conventions and can utilize either a workshop or presentation mode. Cathy’s professional development inservices generally focus on methods to strengthen student writing, generate great stories or develop school-wide strategies and continuums to achieve writing goals.

Generating Authentic Writing Tasks: Drawing on her extensive development of creative writing projects and her exposure to balance inquiry-based learning, Cathy is available to help teachers facilitate and design their own writing programs based on broader questions or specific curriculum content. She works with grade teams to help teachers weave writing into their year-long plans in a meaningful and enjoyable manner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alberta teachers may also book workshops in October through the Young Alberta Book Society.


Author Visits

Over the past decade, I have had the pleasure of speaking to students across Canada. Because my books are intended for children ages eight and up, I usually conduct book talks with grades three and up. I am available for author presentations and writing workshops throughout the year. Each October, I travel with the Young Alberta Book Society on their Taleblazers campaign. If you are from an Alberta school, this organization can greatly assist in the expense of bringing an author to your school, so please check them out.

During author presentations, I provide students with a glimpse into my books and the writing process. I use a combination of readings, stories and visuals to reveal the stories, without giving them away and like to make these presentations as interactive as possible. I am happy to speak to groups of up to 75 students, providing that the facility will accommodate everyone in a comfortable manner. Sitting on the floor is fine as long as there is room. My presentation is very portable, and all I require is a wall or whiteboard or flip chart on which I can tack up some posters and a small table or chair for a number of objects. These presentations are best scheduled for an hour block as that gives me time to tell students about the writing process and answer questions, but I can accommodate school schedules as well.