On Saturday afternoon I attended a presentation by Lester Laminack. Wow.

(As I’ve said in my previous posts on the conference, these notes are from my notebook–no apparent order on their own. These notes are not necessarily quotes; sometimes I had to paraphrase. Some are even my own thoughts as they occurred.)


Before I go into the afternoon session, I want to write about what I heard on Saturday morning during the tail-end of Lester Laminack’s morning presentation. I didn’t get to hear all of the presentation, but I’m glad I made it for the end.

The gist of the presentation (as well as its title) was Reading and Writing and Teaching and Learning: What Happened to Common Sense? To listen to this man expound on that idea was incredible. He didn’t necessarily denigrate the current educational environment (teaching and testing programs) but he seemed to ask, “Why do we need them?” He developed a powerful metaphor using a doctor’s procedure to treat an illness. Here is how I remember it:

Imagine yourself going to the doctor with an unspecified ailment. As you meet with the doctor, she is going to do a number of things to “cure” you of your ailment. She’ll gather information through questioning and physical interaction with you (poking, prodding, etc.). She might run a simple (or not so simple) series of tests to gather more information. It’s possible that she’ll consult with colleagues or reference materials to sharpen her focus. Finally, and most importantly, she’ll draw upon her education and experiences with similar ailments to narrow her diagnosis to just a few possibilities. She’ll most likely write a prescription, and will then send you on your way. It didn’t work? You’re still not better? She’ll look back at that short list of possibilities and try what comes next on the list. Is she guessing? No, she’s methodically working through a process that will eventually heal you.

Teaching is oftentimes the same way: we have students with “ailments” and we use a similar process to enact a “cure.” I couldn’t begin to adequately represent the power of Lester’s words, but he did, of course, speak of the “bedside manner” that a teacher would have (I don’t think he used that idea, but it seems to work for me). I left his presentation with an overwhelming awareness of the fact that we are working with people–not numbers.

He also spoke of where teaching seems to be going (though, of course, not at “your school”). To continue with the metaphor above, he said that teachers are becoming pharmacists. Despite their education, they don’t diagnose, they simply dispense a cure. They take a program, read a script, and watch (and hope) for a cure. (To try to be completely fair in my recollection, Lester was clear that he understands that not all teachers are free to work as they wish; his goal was to encourage, not chasten.)


On to the afternoon presentation…

– When we think of craft, we often think of two areas. The first is word level craft (or wordsmithing) which is choosing and editing our words to come up with what we want to say. The second is structural craft which is how the text is organized. Lester put forward two new lenses: audible and visual craft. Audible craft is just that–what the reader hears in his mind. Visual craft, however, is not plainly evident to the ear–it is how the text is physically arranged on the paper.

– “Add more detail” is an admonition too often given. There is a difference between relevant and irrelevant detail.

– The purpose of a conference is to help the writer identify what he wants to say through questioning, not directing.

– Writers intend; readers interpret. Intention is different than meaning. Narrow your writing to limit interpretation (work to ensure your reader understands what you’re saying).

– Get children to speak and write in specifics. Better writers come from better speakers.


– Elegance is achieved through simplicity

– When you notice the craft and not the meaning, you’ve gone over the line and the effect is lost.

– Why craft? Crafting the writing impacts the reader.

– The first reading of a book should be a concert.

– Never overanalyze a book.

– Use literature do model craft

– Love your children