I am a newbie in first-grade this year. I taught kindergarten for 19 years and FINALLY graduated! Life in kindergarten was wonderful, but life in first is even better! How? My firsties are more mature, they already know the routine of school life, they already can read some and write some. I am in heaven. They are the most amazing students and I love them dearly. My class consists of 8 girls and 7 boys. 60% of my students are White and 40% are Hispanic or mixed race. I teach in a rural county in the mountains of North Carolina so more than half of my students come from economically disadvantaged homes.
Writing in kindergarten looks a lot different than first-grade. I was a writing cheerleader in kindergarten. I was excited if my students could write one sentence with a capital at the beginning, spaces between words, unknown words spelled by “sounding out”, known words spelled correctly and a period placed at the end of the sentence. This was a huge accomplishment for a kindergartner. I am still a writing cheerleader for the most part encouraging them to try different writing forms and believe in themselves as a writer. Most of my first-graders can write, but I do have some reluctant writers. This may be because they lack self-confidence, do not enjoy writing or think they have nothing worthwhile to say. I am trying my best to rectify the situation. During Daily 5, one rotation is called Work on Writing. In this station, I have placed several writing activities for my firsties to choose from to entice them to write. These include the following: journal paper where they can draw and write about a topic of their own choosing, a letter template where they can write a letter to anyone they choose, a Hello card that is blank on the inside to write as well as send to whoever they like, blank books in which they write and /or illustrate their own story, a list poem template, and a poetry frame titled I am in First Grade. My students have built their stamina up to work 25 minutes per rotation. We only have enough time to do 3 rotations in a day.
The blank books have been a huge success. My first-graders are thrilled that I consider them to be authors and illustrators. The books they have written include tales of Pete the Cat, football games, family, swimming, firemen, lockdown drills, the sun, friends, Dolly Parton as well as myself. They even write Written by and/or Illustrated by on the front of their book! I give them time each day to sit in front of the class and read their book. We applaud at the end and I say every time, “Never throw that book away!” The list poem template has also been popular. I have seen poems written about school, fall, winter, football teams, friends, and myself just to name a few. My students also like writing letters and cards to family and friends.
Besides the Work on Writing station, my students gain experience with writing in my guided reading groups. After spending two days reading a book, working on vocabulary, comprehension and retell, we then turn our focus to written comprehension. This is a critical area of writing for my students to master since they must pass the written portion of the TRC (Text Reading Comprehension) assessment for reading levels F or higher. It’s very frustrating when one of my students could read a level H, but is leveled a G because he/she could not pass the writing portion of the assessment. This is a different kind of writing, but it is one they must be exposed to all year long.
I do not believe I left college prepared to teach writing. I have learned from colleagues, trial and error as well as the occasional writing program that my school adopts. I had heard about Writer’s Workshop, but never seen it in action. I want to commit to having a full-writing workshop (mini-lesson, writing time,sharing) at least twice a week in my classroom. The way my writing is set up now, I am totally left out of the equation. While my students are working in Daily 5, I am at the guided reading table. I know in my heart that I should be available to work individually with my students. I need to be there listening, encouraging, and finding one thing to help them improve their writing. I need to be modeling how good writers write and that is not what I am doing. I am looking forward to launching Writer’s Workshop in my room because I know it’s the best thing for my students.