writing revision

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.

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

 

 

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?