“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E.L. Doctorow

For the first few weeks of school, we have been concentrating on the components of opinion paragraphs.  My students have learned to gather and categorize ideas, organize plans and write opinion paragraphs which included all the essential parts.  Now that students understood how to effectively write about their opinion, it was time to take the next step: writing opinion paragraphs in response to text.

I wanted the content to be accessible and engaging for all the students. To facilitate that goal, I decided to have students read about a topic which they would easily grasp – choosing a local attraction to take guests to visit.  We began with the following prompt:

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

You have friends travelling to Colorado Springs on vacation. You are responsible for choosing one place to take your friends to show them the sights. To help make your decision, you will choose and research an attraction in Colorado Springs to visit. After making your choice, write an opinion essay explaining the attraction you have chosen to visit. You must include three reasons why this attraction is the best location to take your friends.

The focus of this learning engagement was for students to write in response to text. With that in mind, I chose two websites for the students to use as research. The websites contained information about the local attractions using words and pictures. We discussed possible factors we might use when choosing a place to visit. Suggestions such as price, discounts, activities, food options, uniqueness to the area and being family friendly were all given.

Students were assigned the websites through their google classroom accounts. After previewing the possible choices, we selected five attractions to focus on as a class. Students then selected the attraction in which they were most interested and researched the appropriate site. Wanting the information to be accessible to all students regardless of reading ability, I wanted students to share the information they had learned. I provided students chart paper labeled with each attraction. As a group, students discussed and recorded the information they had found concerning each place to visit.

chart 1 (2).jpg

On the following day, students were asked to create their individual writing plans. Reviewing the prompt, we remembered that our writing required three big ideas. Using the chart paper, students looked for similar ideas to classify together. As they had spent time gathering and discussing ideas, the planning came easily.

Plan (2).jpg

With completed plans in hand, the students eagerly began to write. Many chose to begin their paragraphs with an “Although” topic sentence, acknowledging that other activity choices would also be enjoyable. They easily incorporated information they had learned from the text, the goal of the lesson.

The students’ engagement with their writing made it an appropriate piece to take all the way through publishing. With green and red pencils in hand, students edited their work, tracing all punctuation in red and all capitals in green. They typed their finished product, adding an image of the attraction to provide the reader with additional information.

Rough Draft.jpg

The transition to opinion writing based on text had gone seamlessly as we had the needed writing skills in place from previous lessons. The students had been interested in the topic, engaged in the research, and excited to edit their work and share it with each other!  We had definitely been exploring and learning.

Pikes Peak.jpg

Cause: An Engaging Cause and Effect Lesson Effect: Students Engaged, Learning and No Papers to Grade!

I was recently in a 5th grade classroom where the students were just starting to delve into the concept of cause and effect.  The focus of the lesson was to provide students with strategies to help them correctly identify cause and effect relationships in text.  When asked what they already knew about this skill, students could explain that the two concepts were linked to one another, and that one action led to another.

#8.jpg

To begin the lesson, students created a two-column chart.  The left side of the chart was titled Cause and the right side of the chart was titled Effect.  We then read the 5th graders the picture book If You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Numeroff.  https://www.amazon.com/You-Give-Cat-Cupcake-Books/dp/0060283246  Fifth graders love the opportunity to listen to picture books and they were enthralled with the story.  While reading the book, I slowly moved around the room. As I was walking and reading, these older students were whipping around in their seats, following me with their eyes as they intently listened to the simple story.

We first read the book for the sheer enjoyment of listening to the story. During the second reading, the students and I were looking for cause and effect relationships.  As we found a cause, we would write it on our chart, followed by the effect of this action. The students quickly noticed that the cause must come first, as it is the catalyst for the effect.

anchor.jpg

The next step was for students to create an anchor chart to keep in their Reading and Writing Folders. Completed with the students, this chart included the definition of cause and effect, examples, and key words they might find in the text when looking for cause and effect. When students are a part of creating an anchor chart, the information becomes relevant and useful to them.  

Students then browsed other If you Give…books and created a second cause and effect chart independently. Students were engaged in their reading and thrilled to be able to find cause and effect relationships throughout the new books.

 

The classroom teacher and I wanted to complete a quick formative assessment to see who required extra support on this skill. Each student took a quarter sheet of paper and in the corner of one side wrote “Cause.”  In the opposite corner, students wrote “Effect.” Students could choose to either write a Cause or Effect sentence in the appropriate corner. They then exchanged their paper with another student in the class, who wrote the relating sentence. For example: A student wrote: Cause: Tom Brady threw an interception in the last minute of the game. His partner then wrote Effect: Tom’s team lost the game to the Denver Broncos.  Another student wrote:  Effect: The vegetables in the garden were destroyed.  His partner wrote:  Cause:  Grandpa forgot to lock the gate on the sheep pen.

#1.jpg
#2.jpg

Student partners shared their sentences.  As they shared, their teacher took notes on only those students she felt needed extra instruction. The following day she planned to meet with those students during a small group instruction time. All students whose name she had not written down received a passing grade on this assignment.  Within a 15 minute assessment period, the teacher had given every student an assessment and knew who needed additional support.  More importantly, the students had personally interacted with the concept of Cause and Effect and solidified their learning through the creation of an anchor chart. The students had mastered a reading and writing concept and the teacher was not taking home a stack of papers to grade! 

Would You Do It Again?

We just returned from a “bucket list” trip to China!  Our days were packed with sight-seeing, people-watching and eating new foods.  As we returned home and began to share our stories, we were asked two questions:

“What was your favorite part of the trip?”

“Would you do it again?”

First, our favorite parts.  Many of our favorite moments were the planned experiences.  Walking a section of the Great Wall without any other tourists was a highlight.  Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors and considering the ego of a leader who had them built so people would remember him was overwhelming.  Looking at the shattered pieces and realizing the patience needed to recreate these statues was humbling!  These experiences had been planned far in advance and lived up to our expectations.  There were also some spontaneous favorite moments.  Meeting a young local girl in line at Shanghai Disney and trying to communicate about Elsa from Frozen was an unplanned delight. Getting lost on a rainy night in Shanghai while searching for the second tallest building in the world is another unplanned, and now favorite, memory.

 

Would we do it again?  While we will choose other places in the world to visit before returning to China, I would certainly encourage others to take the trip!  I would also have ideas on “must see and do” places and experiences for those thinking of visiting China.

As the new school year creeps closer, I find myself reflecting on these same questions as I look back on the past school year. Having been away from school for a month helps me put the past year in better perspective.  I’ve been making a list of “favorite learning engagements” from last year and answering the question: Would you do it again?

Here’s a portion of my “things to do again next year” list . . .

·       Implement Writer’s Notebooks – a definite do again!  These notebooks are an invaluable organizational tool for both my students and me.  This year I plan to add an Anchor Chart section, where students can keep individual anchor charts for easy access after we have completed them together.

·       Expand Student Vocabulary, with a tweak – We have been collecting new vocabulary words in our Writer’s Notebooks, but I’m not sure that system is working as well as I had hoped.  The students have simply written the words as they found them, resulting in a disorganized list. Next year we are going to organize the words by topic.  For example, all the movement words will be collected together. We are also going to study words by word origin or roots, looking for commonalities. 

·       Focus on Academic Vocabulary – Next year I will continue to embed more academic vocabulary into student directions and writing prompts. The goal is for students to become used to deciphering and understanding directions prior to beginning a task. For this to be effective, my students will require explicit vocabulary instruction.  A great resource for teaching academic vocabulary is Teaching Academic Vocabulary K – 8: Effective Practices Across the Curriculum, by Blachowicz, Fisher, Ogle and Taff.    www.amazon.com/Teaching-Academic-Vocabulary-K-8-Curriculum/dp/1462510299

·       Read aloud every day – This is my favorite time of day with my students. In our high-tech days, it is so important to expose children to the joy of listening to an engaging book read aloud.

·       Look for areas to encourage student choice – Last year students loved choices, from where they sit to how they present their learning. Although I do not have the newest flexible seating furniture in my classrooms, I allow students the freedom to work in the area that is best for them. Instead of telling them that every assignment must be completed the same way, I’ve learned to present the students an expectation or rubric for an assignment and then allow them to choose the presentation method. The increased engagement and enthusiasm has been exciting to watch! Last year, a student asked if she could type her narrative into google slides, putting each portion of her story on a separate page. This idea spread throughout our classroom and greatly increased the students’ understanding of parts of a narrative.  Click on this link for past blogs on teaching narratives. writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one

·       Follow the spontaneous learning moments – Just like the spontaneous moments that happen when we travel, I look forward to those spontaneous learning moments in the classroom. We never know what comment or thought may turn into a learning moment. We all spend time creating lessons and are eager to share them with our students. It can be difficult to put those aside and spontaneously follow a student question or inquiry.  Yet, these unexpected paths can often become our favorite moment of the year! 

We would love to hear from you!  What items are on your list?  What was your favorite part of last year and what are you looking forward to doing again? What goals are you making right now to improve your learning environment? 

A Successful Mistake

Sometimes we all need a different perspective!  We had been working with kindergartners on writing a narrative.  The students had drawn pictures prior to writing, illustrating the setting and 2 events that took place in that setting.  They had written about their time in the library, an event on the playground, and a special time with their families.

We now wanted to expand their writing to include a problem that the characters needed to solve.  Along with a problem to solve, I wanted to provide students an opportunity to add details to their writing.  I brought in sheets of paper cut in 4” by 18” strips for them to draw pictures onto to help plan their writing.  I folded the strips into four rectangles and we were ready to start.  Purely be accident, I taped the paper to the board vertically beside a piece of chart paper. With the paper hung vertically instead of horizontally, the order of the pictures matched the writing we would be doing on the paper.  We decided to try a different perspective on writing.

To model the process, I began writing a story about buying some apples in the grocery story. Before writing the story, I told the students we would sketch out the essential events.  The first box was for my setting. I quickly sketched a picture of me standing in front of a display of red, juicy apples.  This was where my story would take place.

The next box was for the problem.  As a group, we discussed the importance of the problem.  Just putting the apples into a bag and putting the bag into my grocery cart did not make a very exciting story.  What problem could I encounter?  In the second box I drew a picture of me placing apples in a plastic bag.  Unfortunately, there was a hole in the bottom of the bag and the apples were dropping out all over the floor.

The third picture was where we would sketch the solution. The very kind grocery store worker had come and helped me gather up all the apples I had spilled. I drew a picture showing this solution. The final box was designated for the conclusion. The story could not just abruptly end, but needed to show how the character reacted to the events.  What happened at the end of the story? How was the character feeling at the end of the story? In the final box of my paper, I sketched a picture of me happily leaving the store with a bag of apples in my hands.

Now that the story was planned, it was time to write.  Leaving the picture strip taped next to the chart paper, we began to write.  How could we start our story?  What is happening in the first box? Together we wrote:

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch.

 

We folded the first square behind the second square, so our second picture was now on top.  Students could easily see what we were writing about next.

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch. I opened a plastic bag to carry my apples.  I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom.  As I put the apples in the bag, they all fell on the floor.

We repeated the process for the third picture, folding the first two pictures back. The third picture was now on top.

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch. I opened a plastic bag to carry my apples.  I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom.  As I put the apples in the bag, they all fell on the floor. I was about to cry. A kind man who worked at the store came and helped me collect all my apples.

We are ready to conclude our story. We want to let our readers know how the characters are feeling at the end of the story. 

One day I went to the grocery store to buy some apples for my lunch. I opened a plastic bag to carry my apples.  I didn’t know there was a hole in the bottom.  As I put the apples in the bag, they all fell on the floor. I was about to cry. A kind man who worked at the story came and helped me collect all my apples.  I paid for my apples and left the store feeling happy and ready for a snack.

The students were ready to write on their own, with some support.  To help guide their writing, we all chose the park for our original setting.  Students drew a picture of the park in the first box.  After brainstorming ideas, students drew a possible problem they might have in the park in the second box.  The third box was used for drawing the solution and the final box showed how the characters felts at the end of the story.

Although the students wrote independently, we followed the steps together. I was impressed how easily it was for them to fold the paper and write their story in order.  They were able to write a story with a setting, problem, solution and conclusion.  Accidentally hanging the paper incorrectly had been a successful mistake!

1.jpg

 

 

Concrete Poetry

Don’t you love spontaneous teachable moments?  As a class, we were sharing spring poems and had read Bobbi Katz’s poem “Spring Is.” http://blog.lrei.org/ls-poetry-archive/spring-is-bobbi-katz/  The physical layout of the version we read made the reader feel as if they were running in their sneakers down the stairs.  As we discussed how the words’ placement impacted the poem’s meaning, my students began to look for other examples of poems written in a shape. It was the perfect time to change the direction I had planned for the morning and introduce the concept of concrete poetry.

A concrete, or shape poem is one whose meaning is told through both the words and its graphic shape on the page.  To begin our exploration, I simply googled “image of concrete poems for children.”  As the class viewed these images, students quickly ascertained that in a concrete poem a poet conveys his message in two ways, both through the text and through the shape in which he puts the words on paper.  

I wanted students to think about a topic for their own poetry before I showed them more examples. Each child was asked to think of a noun about which they were interested and had a lot of background knowledge. After writing their item at the top of the page, they were given three minutes to list attributes and/or what you might do with this object.  Once the attributes were gathered, students were asked to put these words into phrases.  We quickly reviewed similes and metaphors and looked for ways to add figurative language to the brainstormed list.  For example:  “spinning bike wheels” turned into:

My bike wheels were spinning in circles like planets orbiting the sun.

Wanting the students’ content to be just as significant as their drawing, I gathered some books with concrete poetry examples.  The three we used for examples were Technically, It’s Not My Fault by Grandits, Meow Ruff by Sidman and Outside The Lines by Burg and Gibbon.  All three authors write their concrete poems in unique ways.  As we read the poems, students identified different ways the poems were put together.  Some poems were written in the interior of a shape while in other poems the words were written so the words outlined the shape.

We were ready to write.  Two important decisions had to be made. Using their completed phrases, students first chose the format for their poetry.  Like the poems we had studied, some chose to write in phrases, some students wrote following a rhyming pattern and others used complete sentences.  The second decision was what shape would best convey the message. 

As I met with students, I was amazed by their creativity.  The room was abuzz with excitement and engagement as students matched their poetic words to a shape. As a class, we had spent an amazing morning learning and creating together.

 

 

 

We love to talk writing!  Please contact us at

Darlene-and-terry@writenow-rightnow.com or visit our website –

writenow-rightnow.com

Let's Write A Story . . . Part 3

The past two blogs have focused on working with students on narrative writing.  www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one and  www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-2 Students are now ready to compose their events.  It is typical for young writers to simply list the events on their plan.  For example:  We built a fire to scare the bear, but he simply cuddles up next to it and took a nap.   Next we tried banging pots to scare him away, but he put his paws over his ears.  Instead of painting a picture for the reader, students put the events in the form of a list.

Prior to writing the events of a story, practice writing details through the use of wordless books.  A wordless book tells a story only using pictures.  The Red Sled, by Lita Judge, is a student favorite. www.barnesandnoble.com/w/red-sled-lita-judge/1100163318 Show students a single illustration from the book. Students will now write this portion of the story using words.  As a group brainstorm vocabulary that might be found in the book.  Only show one picture at a time, having students focus on writing 2-3 sentences which tell what is happening on that page.  Students love sharing their writings and this will encourage each other’s descriptive writing.

Returning to their own narratives, students now have practice including details when writing their events.  To help encourage detailed writing, students should write each event on a separate sheet of paper. This allows room to edit and expand the writing as needed.  Continually ask students to share their writing, listening to one another’s details and word choice.  Students will have 3 attempts to solve the story’s problem – two unsuccessful attempts and a final attempt that solves the problem.

The final solution and its success is not the end of the story.  A story does not merely end when the problem is solved.  The narrative requires a resolution – which requires two components.  The first component is a recounting of how the main character is feeling.  The second component is what the character has learned.  What did the characters take away from the bear experience? 

 

As they shared their writing with peers, the students were proud of their hard work and their focused, entertaining stories.  They were eager to write a second narrative.  They had accomplished what all writers desire – a story that was engaging for both the author and the reader.

 

We’d love to hear about your experiences writing narratives with students.  Please email us at darlene-and-terry@writenow-rightnow.com to share experiences or visit our website writenow-rightnow.com to read past blog posts and newsletters.

 

You can find complete lesson plans for writing narratives in the Write Now - Right Now Writing Curriculum.

Let's Write A Story . . . Part 2

In our last blog post, we planned our narratives and discovered different ways to begin a narrative. http://www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one It was now time to write the introductions to our narratives.  Returning to the original plan about a bear, I decided we would first practice writing an introduction which focused on the setting.  The setting includes items we might see, hear and feel. 

 To begin, I asked students to close their eyes and imagine elements they would see, hear and feel in the forest.  Together we listed these words or phrases on the board.  Examples were:  tall trees, leaves blowing in the wind, blue sky, puffy clouds, birds singing, a trail through the woods, crunching leaves, etc. Using these words, we first wrote a setting introduction together.  The students were then asked to write a Setting Introduction independently.

The next day, we returned to our chart listing ways to begin a narrative. This time, we decided to try beginning our narrative using a Dialogue Introduction.  (This also proved to be the perfect time to teach quotation marks.)  To help students refrain from the “Hi,” said the girl.  “Hi,” said the friend dialogue trap, students went back to their novels to find examples of engaging conversations between characters.   The students and I wrote a dialogue introduction together and then they completed their own introduction independently. 

Students had now written two compelling introductions for their fictional narrative. They were asked to choose the one they felt was the most interesting and put a star next to it.  With the introduction complete, they were now ready to continue writing their narratives.  We had moved beyond a basic introduction and had practiced adding the details necessary to hook our reader from the beginning.

Taking the time to plan their narratives and then write a compelling introduction gave students the confidence they needed to begin their writing.  They understood how to add details and were confident in their abilities to write a story.

 

We would love to hear about your experiences with narratives!

Happy writing,

Darlene and Terry

 

Please visit our website at writenow-rightnow.com to read past blog posts and newsletters.  

 

 

 

Let's Write A Story . . . Part One!

Today we are going to begin to write a story!  Although many students love to write stories, showing off their creativity, it is a difficult genre for student to master.  All too often we are asked to read pages and pages of student writing that contains the phrase “and then . . . . and then . . .  and then . . . .”  As we began to author narratives, I wanted to provide students with a structure that would help them focus their ideas to show off their creativity!

We discussed that the interest in a story comes from the problem the character needs to solve.  The plot of a story consists of the character’s attempts to solve his/her problem.  It often takes multiple attempts before the character is successful! We began with an empty plan.  Laying a piece of paper horizontally, we divided the sheet into four columns. The first column was labeled Characters, Setting and Problem.  The second column was titled First Attempt, with the word but . . . .  in the center of the column.  The third column was titled Second Attempt, with the word but in the center, and the fourth column was divided into Solution and Story Ending. 

Choosing a favorite picture book, we set off to discover if this format was really evident in books we read.  The first book we read was The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood.  The book matched our story plan.  The students easily located the story elements within the text. We repeated the same process using the book Big Al by Andrew Clements.  (This time we listened to a video of the book read!)  Although Al had more than two attempts to solve his problem, the story again followed the same format. The students felt confident that this organization would help them become narrative writers.

 

After completing narrative plans for books that were already written, we moved to planning our own story.  I provided the students the characters (my family and me) and the setting (camping in the woods.)  As the characters returned to their tent from a hike, they discovered a bear sitting in front of their tent.  What is the problem in the story?

The students immediately stated the problem was the bear. At this point, however, the bear was a part of the setting.  What did we need to do to make the bear into the story’s problem?  What would we all want to do if we discovered a bear in front of our tent?  After some think time, the students realized the characters needed an action to form the problem.  The problem was written:  How can we get the bear to leave our tent?

It was time to think of ways the characters could attempt to get the bear to leave.  Working together, students brainstormed ideas and chose the attempts they found most compelling.  These attempts (and why they didn’t work) were added to their narrative plans. The most interesting solution was chosen for the story ending.

One of the most difficult paragraphs for students to write is the opening paragraph of a fictional narrative.  I wanted the students to discover ways that authors grab their readers’ attention at the beginning of a narrative.  To achieve this purpose, students were asked to read the opening two – three sentences of a fictional book they were reading.  I placed a chart labeled Dialogue, Setting, Character and Problem.  Students shared the opening sentences they had found and determined if the author was using dialogue, setting, character or setting to begin his/her novel.  Each narrative’s opening lines were placed in the correct column. We had identified common ways authors grabbed their readers’ attention.

 

 

The time we had spent on this activity paid off when students began to write their own narratives.  In a future blog, Let’s Write A Story . . . Part 2!, we will share what happened next!

 

Happy writing,

Darlene and Terry

 

Please visit our website at writenow-rightnow.com to read past blog posts and newsletters.  

Can We Work With A Partner?

We spent last Saturday enjoying the beauty of Colorado.  We started the day with a 4 mile snowshoe through the mountains.  The mountains are beautiful, but they do present a challenge.  At least half the trip is uphill.  At 10,000 feet, we were breathing heavily by the time we reached the summit.  The view made the struggle worth it – but it definitely took stamina to complete the climb.

We next headed to Breckenridge to view the annual snow sculpting contest.  Teams of artists were provided a 10 foot by 10 foot by 12 foot block of snow and given the opportunity to turn it into a piece of art. Although the warm sun was definitely effecting the sculptures, their beauty was inspiring.  It was impressive to view what these artistic groups had accomplished together.

 Driving home, I reflected on the two experiences.  The snowshoe excursion was an example of stamina – the ability to do something even when it is hard.  Although we had encouraged one another, it took a personal effort to put one snowshoe in front of the other.  The sculptures were an inspiring example of collaboration.  Working together, people had turned a simple block of snow into a beautiful piece of art.

There is a constant tension between stamina and collaboration in elementary classrooms. As teachers we realize the importance of students demonstrating their learning independently.  Frequently asked to complete both classroom and standardized assessments, we desire our students to develop the confidence and skills needed to demonstrate what they know independently.  We define the term stamina as the ability for a student to persevere through a difficult task. 

However, many students desire to work with others. “Can we do this with a partner?” is a phrase frequently heard throughout elementary classrooms.  When asked if there are any questions about a new learning engagement, this is often the first question that is asked.

At a recent staff meeting, we were involved in a discussion with teammates concerning math instruction.  As we discussed the math learning in our classrooms, a fellow teacher remarked, “I can’t remember the last time my students did something entirely on their own.  They complete everything together.”  This comment led me to reflect on my own classroom practices.  How much do I have my students work on together?  How many opportunities do I provide for them to demonstrate their learning completely on their own?

I brought the question back to my students.  At Morning Meeting, I posed the following questions to the children.

What are some positive attributes about working with others to complete a task?

What is negative about working in a group?

Do you prefer to have a group assigned to you or choose your own partner?

My goodness, they had many things to share!

Some positives included:

It’s more fun to work with a friend.  It makes work feel less like work.

If I get stuck, friends can help me understand what I’m supposed to do. 

I love to talk and I can talk with a partner!

Some negatives about working with a group:

When I work with a group, some people mess around and I get stuck doing all the work.

I get distracted when I work with other people.  It’s really easy for me to be off task when other kids are around.

Sometimes members in my group aren’t prepared. I can’t learn anything new because I’m waiting for them to catch up.

After I work with a group, it can be hard for me to work alone.

Choosing partners:

I prefer to choose my own partner because I know who I can work with best.

Sometimes it’s hard when we have to choose our own partner.  I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

It stresses me out to have to choose a partner. I worry no one will work with me.

As I listened to the students’ responses, I was impressed with their honesty.  The students were thoughtful as they reflected on their own learning.  The question for me as a teacher was how to help both the students and myself strike the best balance. 

As a teacher, it is often difficult for me to watch the students struggle.  Encouraging students to work with a partner provides a struggling student with another explanation while helping other students solidify their thinking by explaining it to someone else.  Collaboration plays a vital role in our learning. While collaboration is an important skill, we must remember that students can only go as far as what they have learned.

However, as educators, we know it is also imperative that students learn to work independently even when things are difficult – they need to build the ability to stick with a challenging task. It is unfair to suddenly ask students to work independently in an assessment situation if we have not provided them time to practice.

We are currently working on both stamina and collaboration in writing.  We often brainstorm together, gathering ideas from one another.  Using prompts, we determine both the topic and big/main ideas for planning.  As we learn about different genres, the writing is a collaborative process.   However, once skills are learned, the writing becomes more and more individual.  While students are still sharing their drafts and learning from one another, the writing has moved to being independent.

The balance between building stamina and working collaboratively varies both by day and by student. As with all of teaching, this balance is a work in progress.  I am looking forward to talking with my students as they reflect on this balance in our classroom.

Expanding Our Writing - Multiple Paragraph Essays

As I recently worked with a class of 5th graders, it was apparent they had mastered opinion paragraph writing.  Their topic sentences were solid, their big idea sentences clear and their detail sentences were examples of how a long and luxurious sentence should be written.  It was time to challenge these writers.

                In Social Studies we had been reviewing and mastering note-taking skills.  The learning objective for the next few days in writing would be to combine note-taking and opinion writing, two skills the students had already mastered.  The new skill we were adding would be taking our opinion writing to a multiple paragraph essay with the inclusion of an introductory and concluding paragraph.

                We began with a prompt.  The prompt was timely, as many of the students were planning their holiday vacations.    

You will read informational articles about three different National Parks / Monuments.   Think about the reasons that encourage people to choose a historical place to visit on vacation.  Read the information about each location.  Choose one site from the list and write an essay persuading someone to visit the site you chose.  Include three reasons people would choose to visit this historical site.

These 5th graders quickly realized that before choosing a location they must first gather information about that park.  To help narrow their search, I told them they must choose between Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, and Mesa Verde. These parks were chosen as they might not be as well-known to the students, forcing them to use their research skills, not simply background knowledge.

                Students were asked to research all three parks, looking for reasons people might choose to visit this area.  This led to a conversation with students about what things influenced people to choose a specific place.  For example, the entry fee might be $9.00 per person.  Taken alone, that is merely a fact. How might ticket cost become a reason people would choose a destination?

                Independently taking notes on each park was the first step.  Students were given a class period to randomly gather notes on each park – no organization was required at this point.  Students independently collected their research on notebook paper.  At the conclusion of this time period, everyone chose a location in which they were interested.  Using large chart paper, common groups gathered and compiled the information they had found.

                Referring back to the prompt, students reviewed their task. Each student must choose a park and then write a multi-paragraph essay, convincing the reader that their choice is best.  Taking their notes, students sorted their ideas into three Big Ideas and composed a plan.  They were ready to begin their writing!

                The concept of taking each Big Idea and its Supporting Details and turning it into a separate paragraph was easy for these writers.  However, the question soon arose, “What type of topic sentence do we use?”  This was the perfect segue into the need to stretch a topic sentence into a topic paragraph.

                When we began to master various topic sentences, we did not learn each type in a single day.  In the same way, we learned different ways to write a topic paragraph slowly. We began by practicing three different ways to introduce a topic paragraph.  The purpose of the initial sentence is to capture the readers’ attention.   Information about the topic would follow after this attention grabbing sentence.

After dividing a piece of paper into quadrants, we labeled three of the sections Question, Hyperbole, and Statistical Information.  These were the types of attention grabbing sentences we would use to introduce out topic paragraph.  Using one of the parks as a topic, we began with writing a hyperbole, or exaggerated sentence.  (This is definitely a student favorite!) 

Mesa Verde, the best park in the world, will lead you to an explosion of exhilaration.  It is a whole new world when it comes to thrill.  

Now that you have grabbed your reader’s attention, you must now inform them of the information to follow in your essay.  As you have already organized your ideas on a plan, this step is easy. Simply list the big ideas found on your plan in a sentence.

This National Park is best known for its pueblo homes, hiking trails and tours. 

Students repeated the process using both a question and statistical information as attention grabbers.  They now had three topic paragraphs from which to choose. 

Writing the body of the essay was a familiar task.  Through the use of extended details, each big idea on the plan became a separate paragraph.  The students quickly completed this portion of their writing and were soon ready to write a conclusion.

A concluding paragraph of a multiple paragraph essay also has additional requirements. We learned that a concluding paragraph must contain the following three sentences:

·         A concluding sentence, similar to a single paragraph

·         A reminder of the big ideas

·         A call to action

As a writer, however, you get to choose the order of these sentences.  We again folded a piece of paper to help us focus our practice.  The students practiced arranging these three sentences to conclude their writing until they found the most interesting order. 

The students were proud of their accomplishments and asked to publish their writing.  After revising and editing their drafts, the final essays were ready to be typed and published.  Their notes, plans, topic paragraphs and conclusions were filed in their writing binders to use as guides for the next essay they would write.  These 5th graders had spent multiple daysengaged in a topic.  Through writing an introductory and concluding paragraph, these writers had stretched their writing from a single paragraph to a multiple paragraph essay.

 

Step by Step, (or not giving in to “Get it done, Now!”)

Every class has its own personality.  This is both a joy and a challenge of teaching.  Organization and classroom management styles that work perfectly one year may prove ineffective the next year.  I have been reminded of this truth during the current school year.  To insure student engagement and success with this year’s students, I need to provide instruction which adds new skills in a heightened sequential manner.  Definite strategies are needed to help students deepen their critical thinking skills.

            For the past week, we have been studying the prehistoric people of Colorado.  My goal was for students to make the connection:  As prehistoric people moved from hunter/gatherers to farmers, they had time to build homes and improve their lives. I knew that this required higher level thinking skills and that students would need to follow specific steps in order to reach this understanding.

 

We began by setting up a chart where students could record their notes.  The chart was divided into Dates, Homes, Food, Hunting/Farming and Additional Facts.  As we studied each group of people, students completed the correct portion of the chart. 

The students had acquired knowledge about these groups of people, but I now wanted them to draw some conclusions from this history lesson.  What could we learn from these people outside of the facts of their existence?

 

Using chart paper, students drew pictures of the prehistoric people in chronological order.  They illustrated the homes, food sources, weapons and tools used by each group of people.  I was thrilled to watch students use ipads to discover ways to draw a kiva or an atlatl.  Every student was engaged in drawing their chart and putting forth their best effort.

Now it was time to do some critical thinking.  I introduced the phrase: “conclude or draw a conclusion,” which means to make a judgement based on evidence.  Students studied each column in their chart and drew a conclusion.  Student examples included: “Studying the prehistoric peoples’ homes, I can conclude that the people moved from living in caves and lean-tos, to building pueblos.  When they lived in caves they moved from place to place.  As they built homes, they stayed in one place.” 

We repeated the same process for food sources and weapons / tools.  Now it was time for the point of the lesson. What conclusion could students draw on how each aspect of these people’s lives impacted other areas?  I was thrilled as I listened to students draw this important connection!

As a culminating activity, students were able to share their learning using a photo and voice recording program.  (I gave my students a choice between Adobe Spark or Explain Everything.)  As they had already given their conclusions deep thought and had written their responses, this final step was seamless and enjoyable!

The point of this learning engagement was not only for students to learn about Colorado’s ancient people, but to also deepen their critical thinking skills. In addition to the content, the goal was for students to learn how to learn, to learn how to document their learning, and most importantly, how to draw a conclusion and share their thinking with others.  Slowing down and going step by step had worked well for all of us.

 

 

    

 

A Very Messy Thanksgiving – Improving Sentence Fluency

Since the beginning of the school year, we have been focusing on organizing and writing complete paragraphs.  Students can now organize a plan, write a variety of topic sentences, and compose a complete paragraph.  It is now time to make our writing better – we are going to revise!

For years, we told our students to “add more details” or “make your writing more interesting.”  Looking back, I’m sure they were all thinking, “It is already interesting.  I don’t know what she’s talking about.  I know – I’ll write my final copy in cursive.”  Adding details and variety to sentence structure takes deliberate instruction and practice.

In mid-November we began a writing engagement which links both sentence fluency and preparation for the holidays – “The Messy Thanksgiving Table.”  Imagining a Thanksgiving table which has been visited by some rather rambunctious guests, we wrote a basic sentence in the middle of our paper: 

The turkey sat on the plate.

Prior to writing, everyone sketched how they imagined the turkey looking on the plate. As a group, we added a phrase to the beginning of our sentence, along with inserting adjectives and a where to our sentence. 

Sitting on the silver platter, the leftover turkey is laying in a forgotten puddle of gravy.

After sharing our expanded sentences, we repeated the process with the sentence:

The mashed potatoes dripped.

It was soon transformed into:

Dripping down the side of the bowl like an avalanche, the mashed potatoes settled on the tablecloth and hardened into rocks.

 

 

The students were ready to take off on their own.  As they chose their Thanksgiving treats, we discussed different ways to vary the sentences.  Students considered when, where, and why as they revised their basic sentences describing the messy Thanksgiving table. 

In order to transform these descriptive sentences into a piece of writing, we needed both an introduction and conclusion.  As we discussed appropriate ways to begin and end this piece of writing, the students naturally realized that the sentences would flow into a compare and contrast piece of writing.  All they needed to do was write a description of the table prior to the meal, with their newly revised sentences describing how the table looked after dinner!  Excited about the writing, they eagerly went to work, brainstorming words which would be used to paint a picture of a dinner table waiting for Thanksgiving guests.  Some student samples:

 

Before the Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey was warm and the table was shinier than a knight in shining armor.  After dinner, the table looked completely different.  

 

Before the Thanksgiving meal, the silverware was shining and the tablecloth was clean.  The lights were shining like crystals on a sunny day and the food was in pretty bowls. 

 

Before Thanksgiving dinner begins, all the food is steaming, mouths are watering, the tablecloth had no stains, all the napkins were clean, the silverware was sparkling and everyone was dressed nicely.  Thanksgiving dinner was perfect, until dinner was over.

 

 

It was simple to add their stretched and revised sentences describing the Thanksgiving calamity to their introduction.  A simple conclusion completed the writing!

It took us hours to clean up the mess.  We are never inviting those people to dinner again!

As students shared their writing with peers, they were eager to repeat this process with another topic.  Their suggestions were to describe the aftermath of Christmas, a birthday party, a sleepover or the classroom on the first and last day of school. 

As we continue writing in class, whether it be in response to text, curricular areas, or prompts, we will reflect back on our Thanksgiving writing as an example of sentence fluency!  The activity had achieved my best hope for my writers – they were engaged writers who were successful in improving their sentence fluency.

 

What's Your Character?

We are beginning a unit that focuses on biographies and I wanted my students to concentrate on the subject of character traits.  As we were reading our current read aloud, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. https://www.amazon.com/Fish-Tree-Lynda-Mullaly-Hunt we were continually discussing the traits displayed by the characters.  Words like funny, nice, kind, mean, and sad were being put forward by the 4th graders.  It was apparent that we needed to expand our understanding of character traits. My homework for the night was to look for resources that would help enhance my students’ understanding of character traits.  What a treat to find the following blog on Scholastic by Genia Connell.  http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2012/11/teaching-character-traits-readers-workshop

                Following Ms. Connell’s lead, we first had a discussion around the difference between an emotion and a character trait.  Together we decided that an emotion is fleeting, while a trait is something inside you that you continually exhibit.  Using this definition, we brainstormed a list of character traits, discussing whether each word offered was an emotion or a trait.  Students added to the list as they independently read their own free choice books. 

It was time to practice what we were learning.  In small groups, we read the simple picture book, A Whistle for Willie by Ezra Keatshttps://www.amazon.com/Whistle-Willie-Ezra-Jack-Keats/dp/0670880469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1476848367&sr=8-1&keywords=whistle+for+willielink  After reading the book again together, I asked the students what traits Peter exhibited in the book, reminding them their choice must be supported using evidence from the text.  We gathered together to discuss our thinking about Peter. Students explained that Peter was imaginative because he dressed up and pretended to be his father and Peter was perseverant as he kept trying to learn new ways to whistle when he failed the first time.  While responding to this discussion, a student commented that some traits are thought of as more positive while others have a negative connotation.  We went back to our chart and highlighted positive traits in pink and more negative traits in yellow.  This led to an interesting conversation on whether a trait might be both positive and negative depending on how it was used. 

Following Genia Conell’s suggestion, we focused the concept of traits on ourselves.  Students created silhouettes of themselves and chose 4-6 character traits which they felt best reflected their own character.  

 

Our reading genre over the next few weeks is biographies.  To begin the unit, we are reading the biography of Mala Yousafzai titled Who is Mala Yousafzai  by Dinah BrownWe will be looking at the character traits she possesses which motivate her in her quest for education for all.  To begin the study, we read out loud the powerful picture book Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan:  Two Stories of Bravery by Jeanette Winter. https://www.amazon.com/Malala-Brave-Girl-Pakistan-Iqbal/dp/1481422944/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476848770&sr=1-1&keywords=iqbal+a+brave+boy+from+pakistan  

After reading the story of Iqbal, a boy forced into servitude in a carpet factory, I asked the students what character traits he displayed.  Pencils quickly went to paper as they described both the traits they found in him and the evidence they used from the text. 

Iqbal was rebellious, as he secretly wove kites into his tapestry.

Iqbal was courageous when he returned to the factory to inform others they were no longer slaves.

Iqbal was faithful, as he continued to work at the factory to support his family.

Gone were the responses students had given prior to these lessons.  The words sad and unhappy were no longer to be found.   

I’m anxious to watch my students transfer their new understanding of character traits to both their reading and their writing.  This will be the perfect time to begin lessons on showing, not telling, in writing.  Given a simple sentence, The boy is joyful, students will be asked to write what the boy was doing that helped the reader know he was joyful.  How does the boy in the sentence display that trait?  I’m sure that all the time we have spent practicing showing different traits will show in their writing.

For other writing ideas and to read past blogs,  visit writenow-rightnow.com

 

 

Community Helpers and Apples – Planning with Primary

This week I was privileged to spend time in first grade and kindergarten classes.  The enthusiasm and eagerness to learn displayed by these young students was a treat!

First grade was embarking on their unit on communities, beginning with community helpers.  They asked if I could co-teach a lesson introducing these community members which included a writing piece. Whenever someone mentions people who work in a community, the Sesame Street song “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” immediately begins to play in my head.  Is it possible today’s students would be as enraptured by these singing Muppets as my children had been years ago?

We began by labeling a two-column chart Community Helpers and What They Do.  We then played the first video clip of the Muppets singing about the Fireman and the Postman. (See chart below.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5cRukvx850

The characters had the same appeal to present day primary students! 

After the video, we looked at our chart.  What community helper was mentioned in the video?  What did we learn that he or she did as a job?  What else do we know about this community helper?  (We were careful to mention that these occupations can be done by both men and women!)  Together, we filled out our chart.  

It was now time to write!  Our notes were that – notes.  We discussed what we needed to add to our notes to make a complete sentence. The students eagerly chose a community helper and a job they performed.  The room was abuzz as students wrote their sentences and then shared them with both adults and other students. 

We repeated the process with another “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” video. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2bbnlZwlGQ

Students were able to glean the information from the video, complete the chart and set off on their writing.  Before we ended the lesson, we gathered to discuss what we had accomplished in our time together. We had asked a question, looked for the answer, taken notes on what we had learned and transferred the notes to writing!  Wow!

The same process - ask a question, look for the answer, take notes on what we learned and transfer the notes to writing – happened in kindergarten.  The five year olds had been observing apples and had created a map together on the attributes of an apple.  Their teacher and I wanted them to write about their findings in an organized manner.  As their science unit was on senses, we chose to blend the two. 

Looking at their attribute map, we posed the question, “How does an apple taste?”  Students discussed the words written on their map and chose the words they felt best described how an apple tastes.  As they chose words, we circled the words in pink and wrote them on the bottom of our chart.  After we finished choosing the taste words, students set off to write.  A sentence starter “An apple tastes ..” was provided for students who needed that structure.  The kindergarteners were happy to share their sentences with us.  We repeated the process asking the question “How does an apple look?”  Students debated if a word could belong to more than one category and if they could add words to their attribute map.  As they began to write a second time, many began to combine more than one attribute in a sentence – “An apple is red and shiny.”  Using a page for each sense, students were writing books on their own, which they could now read and share with one another.

As I left school on Friday, I noticed a stack of red construction paper books in my box.  The kindergarteners had completed their apple books and wanted me to read them.  They had an audience for their writing and were eager to share their knowledge!  What more could we ask of our young writers?

 

 

 

Enthusiasm, Interest and Good Research

We spent Labor Day weekend camping right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Wandering through a bookstore in town, I picked up a book written by Enos Mills, a famous naturalist, writer and the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.”  In his autobiography, he states that writing well requires three things: Enthusiasm, Interest and Good Research. 

While hiking, I pondered these three words and how they link to the classroom.  Words that were true for a naturalist 107 years ago are true for elementary students in 2016.

Enthusiasm! Quality writing will not occur unless we build enthusiasm in our students.  Humans are enthusiastic about tasks in which they feel successful. We have been working on writing Junior and Varsity Team Complete sentences the first two weeks of school.  As the students’ skills have grown, their enthusiasm has grown equally.  Given a safe place to practice, students enjoy sharing their writing with their classmates and pushing themselves to be better writers. 

Interest!  Let’s be honest.  As adults, we all have topics in which we have little interest.  As we begin the school year, it is essential that we capture our students’ interest from the beginning of the school year.  We are often asked why we begin the curriculum with Opinion Writing.  The answer is simple – students want to share their interests with their class.  As we start to learn the writing process, we begin with sharing our opinions on the best activities, places, pets, etc.  Students know what they want to write about and have knowledge about that topic. 

Good Research!  The first key to teaching good research is for the teacher to be enthusiastic about the topic and the students to have an interest in the topic. We have begun this year learning about the planets and constellations, a very interesting topic for 4th graders!  We began by taking very specific notes on each planet.  There was a buzz of conversation as students located fascinating facts about the planets.  Students were interested in the topic and our introduction to research was both interesting and easy to accomplish!  http://www.writenow-rightnow.com/samples/

These three words are now posted in front of my desk.  I hope to continually ask myself if this writing will generate enthusiasm, interest, and great research.

 

Revision and Editing

Any job worth doing – no matter how big or how small – is worth doing well if worth doing at all.

While growing up, this phrase was my dad’s standard response whenever we complained about any job we were required to complete.  As an adult, this mantra has proven to be both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing, for if you’re going to embark on a task, it is part of a strong character to do your best.  A curse when I just want something to be finished and decide that good enough is good enough.

This phrase haunted me this summer as my husband and I embarked on a remodeling project.  He was in charge of the “big stuff,” such as cutting tile, hanging doors, and installing cabinets.  The progress he made each day was evident.  His projects resulted in, “Look, there’s a kitchen sink where there used to be a hole, and that doorway now has a door where there used to be an empty space.” His progress was grand and noticeable. 

I however, was in charge of grout (check out our earlier blog!), caulk and paint.  These tasks require a large amount of “touch-up”, fixing drips, missed spots, and rough edges. My progress was slow and meticulous and often focused on mistakes I had made. Trying to be helpful, my husband often pointed out the errors that needed to be fixed.  Overwhelmed, I announced to anyone that would listen that I planned to yell at the next person who used the phrase “touching up” with me.

While scraping the front door paint for the 5th time, I reflected how this process mirrors revision and editing in writing.  Revision consists of the big, flashy changes.  Sentences are rearranged, verbs are improved and adjectives are added. People notice revisions and they often leave the reader with a sense of accomplishment.  There is a feeling of satisfaction in looking at before and after, and seeing the improvement that’s been made.

paint.jpg

Editing, however, is tedious and often completed when you feel like you are already finished.  Instead of making things better, editing often feels like we are fixing up mistakes we’ve made, a whole different perspective.  I am sure that many of my students could echo my feelings, “I’m going to yell at the next person who tells me to fix my writing.”

So, the question becomes how we can hold our students to a high editing standard without frustrating them? A few things come to mind . . .

1 – Take editing one step at a time. Students can focus on one editing area, whether it be capitalization or punctuation.  (writenow-rightnow.com)

2 – Teach students to use the resources they have around them to spell correctly.  How many words in your answer can you find in the question or the text if applicable?  We may not be able to spell the word from memory, but we can use the words around us to help us be better spellers!

3 – Create a safe place to edit.  No matter how lovingly, “You missed a spot” was uttered, at times it felt like criticism.  I’m sure my students feel the same way when they hear, “You forgot a capital letter.” Finding a time and place to have students correct editing errors is always a challenge.  I use a few minutes each morning to meet with students individually. 

4 – Prioritize corrections.  It is overwhelming when we are faced with a long list of “things to fix.”  How can I use my students’ individual needs to prioritize their editing tasks?

My touching up is complete, at least for now!  I must confess to a great feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the last goof off the list. While often frustrating, this experience has given me new insight into how my students might feel and react to directions. 

We’d love to hear from you.  What are some methods you’ve used to help your students both revise and edit their writing?

 

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it is done.”  Nelson Mandela

 

Don’t you love finishing a project?  There is great satisfaction in the words, “We are done!”  We all have the experience of a project we have put off for a variety of reasons.  It’s often lack of time, concern about how to organize the task, or an insecurity in how we are going to accomplish the task that may keep us from even getting started. What a wonderful feeling when the task is completed and we get to say, “This is finished.  Hooray!”

finished.jpg

 Yesterday at Write Now – Right Now, we had the opportunity to say those delightful words.  When Write Now – Right Now was first created, our goal was to provide a teacher-friendly, student engaging program for grades K – 5.  As we met with teachers, we were continually asked if we had a program for 6th graders.  Many elementary schools contain 6th grade and writing instruction is an integral part of their curriculum. For over a year, we have been telling each other it was time to write a curriculum for this critical age.  We had found a variety of reasons (excuses) for not completing this task.  Finally, last winter, we decided it was time.  After studying standards, talking with teachers, writing, revising, rewriting and finally publishing – 6th grade is here! 

The experience has been a great reminder of how our own students approach a difficult task.  What are some of their reasons for not beginning the task?  How can we help them get past their insecurities and feelings of being overwhelmed?  Just as importantly, how can we find ways to celebrate with them when they say “Hey, I finished this!”

We would love to know what you think.   Visit our website to view samples of all grade levels and let us know what you think.  http://writenow-rightnow.com

Happy Writing!

Darlene and Terry

 

A Growth Mindset

We have been working on a remodeling project this summer on a house for our son.  With great anticipation, I trekked to Home Depot to purchase tile in order to redo the bathroom.  The project started out well, as laying out tile is just like making a quilt.  You design a pattern, cut the pieces, and line up the edges.  Feeling confident in my abilities, I moved on to grout.  Oh my goodness, I really dislike everything to do with grout!

The process seems easy enough.  Using a tool called a “float,” you simply smoosh the grout into the spaces left between the tiles, let it dry for a few minutes, then wipe the remains off the tile surface.  No problem!  Yet, at one point, with tears streaming down my face I announced, “I hate this.  I can’t do it .  Someone else has to finish this project.”

There was no one else to do it but me.  After wiping away the frustration, I started again.  Carefully I reviewed the steps, smoothed out the previous grout with a new layer, and finished the project.  It’s not perfect, but it is complete and I did improve.

As I reflected on this experience, I couldn’t help but remember the Growth Mindset attitudes we had focused on at school last year.  Our classroom’s favorite was “I can do things, even if they are hard.”  How often had I reminded students of this phrase when they were near tears when stuck on a long division problem or could not think of a better word when they were writing?  As I looked back on my adventure with tile, what type of assistance did I need to help me do hard things?

1)       I needed someone to acknowledge that grouting actually was hard!  I felt like everyone on the you-tube videos could do this, so what was the matter with me?  It is necessary to let our students know that learning is hard – and that different topics are hard for each of us.

2)      I needed someone to break the process down step by step.  Just telling me to grout the tiles wasn’t enough, but I needed to know how to accomplish this task step by step.  As a teacher, how can I break down difficult tasks into manageable steps?

3)      I didn’t want someone to tell me my grout job was perfect – I knew better than that!  What I did need was someone to tell me that not being perfect was okay and that I was improving.  When we hold ourselves up to perfection as a standard, we can’t help but fall short.   How can I help my students know that hard is fine and we are all learning together?

This was a hard lesson for me to learn.  As educators, we believe that every teacher should occasionally try something new and frustrating to learn.  The empathy we gain for our students is irreplaceable. As writing coaches, the grouting experience also reminded us to help teachers step-by-step, and to continually remind them that perfection is not the goal.  We all just need to help one another be the best we can be.

Happy Writing,

Darlene and Terry

https://www.pinterest.com/writenow2014/

Check out our pinterest board for other ideas on working with students to attain a growth mindset.

 

Three Things About Me

While sorting books and paper at the end of the school year, I overheard one of my 4th grade boys mutter under his breath, “I hate the last day of school.  On the last day of school, we all know each other.  On the first day of school, we just have to start all over, getting to know the teacher and each other.”

The last days of school are bittersweet for teachers and students alike.  The prospect of a change in schedule and extra time to just breathe is alluring to young and old alike.  However, in the midst of all the anticipation, this student’s comment caught me off guard.  We had spent the last few weeks involved in end-of-year testing.  The students first took PAARC and the standardized Colorado 4th Grade Social Studies Test. A week later students demonstrated their progress on STAR – another standardized reading and math test.  Finally we measured students’ reading and math fluency using another standardized measurement.  I was passing along reams of academic data to the next year’s teacher.  Yet these numbers, while important, did not tell the full story of the individual they represented. 

After gathering the class together, we sat on the floor and talked about ways we had learned about each other this year.  Morning Meeting had been an integral part of our day.  https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/product/morning-meeting-book/  Each morning we gathered together and took turns sharing significant events in our lives.  As a class we celebrated the arrival of new siblings, the adoption of a puppy and soccer games won or lost.  This time together was one way we learned more about each other. 

Since we couldn’t share all we learned about one another with a new teacher, I posed the question, “What do you want next year’s teacher to know about you?  How can we share that information with them?”  The students quickly responded, “Let’s write our fifth grade teacher a letter!”  One student grinned and said to me, “The topic is all about me and the format is a letter.”  I have to admit, I was proud!  Grabbing paper and pencil, the students went to work.

Reading their letters, I was so impressed with the students’ sincerity. They wanted their teacher to know about their strengths and dreams – not how many words they read per minute.  Some student samples: 

“I need my space organized.  I get distracted by clutter.”

“I hate to read!  I’ll do it when you ask me to, but I’d rather draw.”

“I’m very emotional.  When I’m happy, I’m really happy.  But when I’m angry I need calming down.”

“Moving is important to me.  I can’t pay attention if I have to sit too long.”

As I read their letters, I was impressed by how well these 9 and 10 year olds expressed their feelings.  I’m reflecting on how to better get to know my students from day one next year.  We’d love to hear from you.  How do you build your classroom community? 

If I Were In Charge Of The World . . . .

During the past few weeks, we have been studying different forms of government.   Our novel studies included the books Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.  Both books are focused on a child’s experience living under specific forms of government.  In addition, we researched and studied the United States government, both on the national and state level. 

As a writing engagement, we read Judith Viorst’s classic poem, If I Were in Charge of the World. After reading the poem, students were given the prompt“Your task is to write an informative, multi-paragraph essay about three changes you would make if you were suddenly in charge of the world.  Include reasons why this change would be positive and impactful to others.

The students were off!  The room became a buzz of conversation as students bounced their ideas off one another.  Their responses ranged from global and serious to fanciful.  To help focus the students’ thinking, we posted the following questions to consider.

  • How would the change benefit others?

  • Who might care about this change?

  • How would this change impact others?

With these questions in mind, students were able to better sort their ideas and decide on three changes they would make.  Their best thinking was then put in an informative writing plan.

It was time to review the prompt.  Students quickly identified the format required – a multi-paragraph essay.  The students realized that their big ideas could each be stretched into individual paragraphs, but we would still need both an introduction and a conclusion. 

Students now had a real reason to learn how to write introductory paragraphs.  As this was our first experience writing introductory paragraphs, we were going to write two sentences.  We began with writing an “Although” topic sentence we would use for any informative paragraph – Although there are many changes the world needs, I would make these three if I were in charge of the world.  In our second sentence, we were going to inform our readers what we would be writing in our paragraphs.  Looking at our plan, we merely needed to list the three big ideas we would be addressing – I would allow children to vote, place pets in elementary schools and discover an inexpensive way to desalinate water.  Putting the two sentences together, we had an introductory paragraph.  In order to practice the skill and have a second paragraph from which to choose, we wrote a second introductory paragraph, this time starting with an If, Then topic sentence. If I were given the opportunity to be in charge of the world, then I would make a few very important changes to better the lives of others. Then we can add our second sentence with the big ideas listed in a sentence.

Writing the big idea paragraphs was a simple task for our fourth grade writers.  It was easy for them to understand that each paragraph needed to start with a transition word and did not require a separate topic sentence.  Students added the necessary details, referring back to the questions posed earlier.

Only one thing was left to do.  Our essays needed a conclusion.  Luckily, we had written two introductory paragraphs.  Often, if we write two introductory paragraphs we can use one as our concluding paragraph!  Students were able to complete their essays using the second topic sentence they had written!  Our first experience writing a multi-paragraph essay had been a success!