Sunday, August 31, 2008


Penny Kittle is a high school teacher from New Hampshire. 

She writes. With her students. Every single day.

She is a mom.

And she has written four books- INSIDE WRITING (with Don Graves), THE GREATEST CATCH, and PUBLIC TEACHING. 

I'm just finishing Kittle's newest book, WRITE BESIDE THEM, and it's terrific. Kittle takes us right into her classroom at Kennett High School. She shares vignettes. She shares mini-lessons. She shares her writing. She shares kids' writing. She shares the forms she uses with kids. This book is so, so helpful. And so, so readable. And so, so inspiring. And there's a DVD that goes with it.

Kittle believes that writers need to write lots and to be expected to produce high quality finished products. They need to do this in classrooms where the teacher is also writing, struggling and learning, and producing high quality finished products. Kittle believes, adamantly, that writers need feedback that is both supportive and challenging.  Kittle believes that kids need to be allowed to work on a piece until they believe it the very best it can be, until they believe it is finished.

Most of all, Kittle believes, that teachers and kids must write for real reasons and purposes. She closes her book by telling the story of Gary Millen, teacher and football coach at Kennet High School, who has a heart attack and dies one Friday afternoon after school. Kittle uses writing to help her students work through this experience. She helps kids write stories to share with Millen's family and at the memorial services. A crowd of 1500 attend his memorial, which is held in the gymnasium at the high school. Kittle closes her book with these lines:

What is writing for? What do we teach and why? It can't be only for next year-- or college-- or the April test. Sometimes it is for now: a path through dark days. We teach life writing, not school writing, life writing in all its complexities: the tools for the tasks we can't anticipate. It is about this day-- this lesson-- what students can reach for that will matter-- for the lives stretched out before them peppered with joy and loss.

What power-- what importance-- lies in the blank lines of an open notebook.

Go and fill yours.

Then share.

Penny Kittle is an amazing teacher- someone who obviously cares hugely about kids and writing. Penny Kittle is a brilliant writer and storyteller- passionate, serious, also very funny.

I wish I taught next door to Penny Kittle. I wish I was in a writing group with her. I wish she was my best friend. Penny Kittle is definitely one of my heroes.

1 comment:

Penny Kittle said...

Thank you, Carol! I read this while sitting at my kitchen counter eating M&M's and avoiding doing some writing. Just reading what you wrote made me reach for my notebook. Thank you for your kind endorsement. I hope we'll meet some day.