I think I might have lost my mind! After beginning to read the book Nonfiction Notebooks: Strategies for Informational Writing by Aimee Buckner, I went straight in and started trying out some of the strategies she wrote about in the second chapter of her book. I wasn’t positive I was ready to try them in the classroom, but to go for it. I chose which methods would work best for my first attempt at a short term student driven writing project. I started by having my students use the technique Buckner calls “At the Heart of It”. Students drew a heart that covered an entire page in their notebooks. They then looked at previous list and choose a nonfiction topic that they wanted to write about (they did not have to use previous list, only if they were stuck and unable to come up with a topic). After deciding on a topic they filled in the heart with everything they felt they knew about their topic that was important. Modeling and the students work took about 20 minutes total. On a daily bases, we use this amount of time to write in our notebooks so no extra time was taken away from the class and students were able to decide on a main idea for their project. All in all I consider that a go use of the time and will use this method again.
The next day students looked up different sources. Each sources was about the topic they had chosen, but each source was presenting the information in a different way. I modeled how I could find an article, a poster, a brochure, etc… on my chosen topic. As kids noticed things the authors had done to present their information, the wrote them in their notebooks. Buckner calls this strategies “They Did What (Noticing What Writers Do)”. My students had never been asked to think in this way before. They wanted to research stickily for information. They did not want to stop and write down what other authors were doing in their own writing to make it interesting. With several of my students, I am not sure if they were even aware that the authors were making decisions and using certain methods to catch the readers attention. This strategy helped me see that as a teacher I need to spend more time helping my readers notice certain things and realize that they can use the tame strategies when they write. I will definitely try this method again, but it will be more structured until my students have a better grasp on the concept.
After deciding on a main idea and noticing what other authors did, I wanted my students to create a very rough draft of their project. This is were I think I lost my mind. I gave students no parameters, they simply needed to create something that would teach the class and me something. The lack of direction through my students for a loop. They looked at me as if I was mad. They wanted to know how they needed to present their information, did they have to write it a specific way, if not how did they need to write it. So many insure faces left me feeling like I should have given them more guidance. However, I re-framed from doing so. I told them several examples of things they might want to create, but told them it was ultimately their decision. After creating a rough draft, I conference with each student. During that time we discussed a multitude of things. Some students needed to research to find FACTUAL information, others needed to revise and edit, some just needed more time to discuss and think.
The fourth day, things got a little crazy. Some students where still researching, but others were reading to beginning creating. Again, I opened up all possibilities and set no limitations to what they could create and what materials they could use. If I had it they were welcome to use it. They had three more days to work on their project. I limited the time each day to 30 minutes so as not to interfere with the rest of the class period. Everyday the students came in excited to work on their project. They were discussing it outside of class. It seemed that Buckner’s methods were working.
Seeing the final outcomes presented today left me wondering if the little guidance was insane or brilliant! Some students really ran with the freedom and created things I would have never expected. They created comparison schedules, poems, articles, brochures, etc… Some of these were students that do not always work as hard as they could and often times turn in incomplete assignments or nothing at all. Unfortunately, I did have some students that forgot this was a writing assignment and included little to no writing in their project. All of this considered, I think it was a phenomenal first attempt.