Tag Archives: @writeguyjeff

Learn, not memorize (within playing with sentences)

Playing with sentences begins with witnessing writing as performance. It’s a concrete way to reach out and engage our audience’s eyes and ears. (Anderson, 180 pag.)

Intent on learning more about sentence variation, my feedback partner helped me notice that I begin many of my sentences with nouns. Challenged to play more with my writing, I assigned myself the task of writing an 11 sentence paragraph using each of Anderson’s 11 Sentence Pattern Options from Chapter 8, Energy.

As a young learner, I was a memorizer. Doing what was expected of me, I learned the rules required for “the test”. Relieved and exhausted, I promptly forgot them. As concepts became more complex, my workload and anxiety increased. My favorite professor, Allen Smithers, noticed my lack of understanding. Dr. Smithers, patient and determined, challenged me to develop conceptual understanding. He challenged me to learn – not memorize. He expected me to confirm my understanding using drawings, graphs, tables, and equations. I grew as a mathematician, confident and capable. I learned, deeply. I am grateful.

Here’s the breakdown:

I know that I ended my sentence with an adverb instead of an adjective, but I choose to leave it as is.

Playing with sentences and ideas, I tried again.

As a young learner, I was a memorizer. Doing what was expected of me, I learned the rules required for “the test”. Relieved and exhausted, I promptly forgot them. As concepts became more complex, my workload and anxiety increased. Jill Lovorn, mathematician, was lost yet lucky. Success, assumed and shown, was shallow at best. Rote memorization – pages and pages of hidden work – masked missing conceptual understanding. I could use procedures, theorems, techniques, and algorithms. I got the right answers, mysteriously and remarkably.  No one knew, sadly. I survived.

Still ending that sentence with an adverb, I enjoyed playing with ideas and with sentences. Here’s the structure with a sentence checkup.

What do you think?


Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Mentor Sentence: Notice, Emulate, Learn #LL2LU

As part of our Embolden Your Inner Writer course, Marsha and I drafted a learning progression for each chapter to help our writers when they feel stuck or need a push. However, these are just drafts. In order to feel confident, to have the courage to use them, we must use them ourselves, share them with learners, and seek feedback.

I’m trying out the following learning progression for Anderson’s chapter on Models, Chapter 2.

I can strengthen my craft, word choice, and mechanics by applying techniques from models and mentor texts.

Enamored with Daniel Coyle’s writing, I picked up my copy of The Talent Code, and found the following sentence.

The goal is always the same: to break a skill into its component pieces (circuits), memorize those pieces individually, then link them together in progressively larger groupings (new, interconnected circuits). [Coyle, 84 pag.]

Noticing the colon, I wondered if I am skilled at using them, knowing when to use them, and using them correctly.  (Ok…I’m not, but what can I learn?)

Another  Coyle book, The Culture Codeoffers this gem using a colon.

One pattern was immediately apparent: The most successful projects were those closely driven by sets of individuals who formed what Allan called “clusters of high communicators.”[Coyle, 69 pag.]

And, in 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Knowour anchor text,

Students need to know the truth: writing is cumulative. [Anderson, 9 pag.]

If I read and observe how these authors use a colon, I think I can use it myself to imitate the great writers.

Perseverance calls for action: show an attempt to think and question, ask and seek clarifying questions, try again with new information and actions.

What do you think?

I’m not sure I “read like a writer” as stated in Level 1, but I annotated well. I could find sentences that helped me think about using a colon. Maybe I read more like a writer than I thought. Hey, that’s one of the tips!  Then, I collected and recorded examples to imitate as suggested in Level 2. Curiosity caused me to want to know more.  I have asked questions, and I love how Jeff Anderson, in Mechanically Inclined, offers notes and a visual.

And, then…boom! I was struggling with a sentence in my previous post when it dawned on me: Use a colon! Here’s what I wrote:

The editor in my head – no, not the editor – the critic in my head convinces me to wait: wait until I know, wait for someone else, wait.

While I think I’m currently at Level 3 (maybe Level 4 when I press publish), I have more to learn and more work to do to be confident that “I can strengthen my craft, word choice, and mechanics by applying techniques from models and mentor texts.”

I do have the courage to continue.


Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Anderson, Jeff, Vicki Spandel. Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Fear of imperfection; deep practice; just make a mark

Do you know any learner’s that are stuck?  Are they convinced that they can’t?

“Fear of imperfection keeps us perched on the edge, afraid to dive in and start writing. If we sit and wait for the perfect words, they don’t come. Inertia sets in. Our mind halts. The clock slows. Much like hesitating at the edge of the ocean, afraid of the shock of cold, we wait. And in waiting, our anxiety spins.” (Anderson, 9 pag.)

Hesitating at the edge, afraid, we wait. How might we develop brave, bold learners who wonder – on paper – what they are thinking so that they might see it? What do we do to overcome the fear of the blank page? This fear, as real as it seems, is just a doodle away from getting your feet wet, right? The editor in my head – no, not the editor; the critic in my head convinces me to wait: wait until I know, wait for someone else, wait. What force is needed to overcome inertia? Is it just as simple as a doodle?

Are math and writing this closely related? Wow! Far too many students will not write the first step in math because they are not sure if they are going to be right? If they are going to be right, are they learning anything?

In Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code,” he writes about deep practice, working at the edge of your ability so that you make mistakes, learn, and repeat.

Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways — operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes — makes you smarter.  (Coyle, 18 pag.)

The second reason deep practice is a strange concept is that it takes events that we normally strive to avoid —namely, mistakes— and turns them into skills. (Coyle, 20 pag.)

In SMP-1, “I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them,” the first level asks for a visible attempt to think and reason into the task.

Are our young mathematicians and writers stuck due to inertia? Is it blank page fright? Is there space in class to draft and redraft, making revisions as you go? Are missteps celebrated and seen as opportunities to learn?

How can we help students dive – or tiptoe – in to get their feet wet? What if encourage learners to just make a mark and see where it takes them?

It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time… or does it?


Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Reynolds, Peter H. The Dot. Library Ideas, LLC, 2019.