“That’s All Folks”

thatOver the past two years, I have worked extremely hard to complete my masters degree. The journey has been long and hard, but the information that I have gained is invaluable. In this course alone, I have learned how to teach non fiction writing through writer’s notebooks and multi-genre projects. My classes wrote on a daily basis and have developed more as writers than any other class I have ever taught. You can see more about my students growth and what I have learned in the attached paper about a PD I have developed based on my course work and readings.


In addition to this class, other classes were just as beneficial to me as a classroom teachers and in many ways, I am saddened that this journey is coming to an end. The upcoming year will allow me to implement the techniques I have learned over the span of the past two years. Next year, I plan to continue using methods that I have learned such as DRTA and Reciprocal Teaching during guided reading. I also want to continue using daily writer ‘s notebooks. Furthermore, I would like to add more conferencing with students about their writing into my routine. Their are so many other things that I have learned that I plan to continuing using such as, mentor text, students choice and the power of discussion.  Even though I will no longer be gaining knowledge from professors, I still feel that I will continue to grow as an educator by continuing to prefect the methods taught by those professors.




Where I Was and Where I Am

Looking back over the past year I can clearly see the growth I have made as a teacher of writing. A year ago, writing was something I tried to fit in, if there was extra time. I was asking students to complete one writing project every nine weeks and thought this was sufficient. Now, writing is something that my students do daily! My classroom is a place where students feel comfortable expressing themselves in written form. This confidence has spreed throughout other subjects as well.

When I look back to how I was including writing in my classroom before, I feel ashamed. I regret that those students did not receive the writing instruction that they deserved. However, I am proud that my current classroom is so writer friendly now, also of the accomplishments that my students have made this year. This semester alone my 5th grade ELA class has created 2 multi-genre projects, several poems, written summaries, and created multiple letters. When we write it is not something that is out of the norm. My students feel that they are doing something fun and exciting. It’s one of the aspects of their daily routine that they look forward to.  In addition to becoming confident writers, they are becoming fluent writers. When I check their writing notebooks and see their writing at the beginning of the year and their writing now, it is evident they have made huge gains. Students that used to write 1-2 sentences are now writing 5-6. Others that were writing half a page are now writing 2 pages.  Furthermore, the quality of their writing has clearly increased. The class as a whole is able to express their thoughts in written form in a more clear and cohesive manner. Every student has made great strides at becoming becoming excellent writers.

My content area students have benefited from my growth as a teacher of writing as well. My middle-schoolers rely on content area teachers to help provide skills like writing and reading non-fiction. Over the past two years I have gained the ability to better provide for this need. This year my 6th grade social studies class have created multi-genre projects, written poems,  read non-fiction text or historical fiction about the areas we are studying, and so much more. I believe I have done more than just teach my content area.  I have helped to impart an ability to research, collaborate, and present knowledge in a way that they will be able to take with them throughout their educational careers and whatever profession they choose.

Even though I am excited to see how my over all instruction has improved, I know there is still work to be done. In writing, I am currently work on conferencing more with students about their writing. Feedback about writing is essential to helping writers grow. Just over the past couple of weeks I can see the difference in students work because they know that conference is coming.  I plan to continue my growth as a teacher of writing and can’t wait to see the affect it will have on my students.

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Haiku and Social Studies

When I was in school, teachers began the year at the beginning of a text book and continued through that book until the end of the  year. Students read the book, teachers lectured about the book, occasionally we would watch a video or do a project. Today’s classrooms are often times text book free and we know that lecture is not the idle teaching method. The way I was taught left me with no background knowledge to access when I was moved into the upper elementary grades. Teaching content subjects like social studies proved to be a challenge. Trying to figure out how to teach a new subject in a different way than I was taught required lots of hard work and creativity. I have tried many different teaching strategies and dug through multiple resources. This week my 6th grade social studies class was learning about ancient Japan. We began our week by working in a program called Studies Weekly. In this program students read several articles and answer questions about what they have read. I know this is similar to a text book just in a different format. However, what I love about this program is that their is always a writing component. This week students created a Haiku.

On Monday, when introducing the assignment for the next two days, I introduced a Haiku as a poem that was started in ancient Japan and is composed with 17 syllables. Five syllables in the 1st line, 7 in the 2nd and 5 in the 3rd line. Many of the students had heard or written a haiku in the past. We discussed what many Haiku are about, and what those themes show us about the Japanese culture. Once we decided that Haiku typically focuses on nature we chose a topic to write a class poem about. We decided on butterflies. While writing the poem we talked about syllables and different ways to count syllables. All of this took about 5-10 minutes. You can see the class poem below.


When writing their own haiku, students seemed very confident in their creations. You can see some of their poems below as well. It still amazes me at how confident writers can be when they are taught through modeling, examples, mentor text and are in an accepting classroom.

Student Haihu’s
5) Light glowing sun ray
7) Half dark and half light Midnight
5) Gravity pulls on tides
Many droplets fall
Refreshing all of the plants
It makes it all green

Teacher Leadership

When I first learned that I would be writing a blog that anyone could access I was mortified. Writing has never been one of my strengths and the thought of sharing MY writing with the world was terrifying. That fear lessened as the weeks went on. I am slowly becoming more comfortable with this writing style.  I do believe that writing in this format on a weekly basis has helped me not only as a writer, but as a teacher as well. Writing a blog has helped me learn to spend more time thinking about my writing, reflect on my teaching in a more meaningful way, and better my writing mechanics.

By having to write on a blog that the world can see, I have been forced to give the blog a lot more thought than I have past writings. I spend time thinking of an appropriate topic and how I can present that topic. I think about what voice I should use when creating my blog. I even spend time trying to come up with a unique title. I want anyone that reads my post to stop and think wow, she is a good writer or oh my goodness this girl is making a point. In the past, I would not have spent so much time trying to make my writing interesting. I would have focused on the topic that was assigned and providing the information that went with that topic. Blog writing is so much more than answering a question or writing a reflection. A lot of additional thought goes into its creation.

In addition to writing for a different audience, this writing method has helped me reflect upon my teaching practices in a different way. Every week I sit down and I think about what new methods I have tried, how well those methods worked or didn’t work and what I can do to make those methods better next time or if there should be a next time.

While reflecting is important, It is not the only thing that writing a blog has helped me do. This method of writing has helped me to work on my writing as a whole. Because the blog is public, I want to use proper grammar and correct spelling. I know that I am a quality teacher and I want my writing to reflect that. Writing a blog has helped me to better my professional writing and feel more confident sharing my writing with my colleagues.

How Much Time is Too Much Time?

My 5th grade class is in the middle of their second writing project. The project is a multi-genre writing project that I wanted to last about 2-3 weeks. The project started off really strong. Students were asked to used a couple of strategies that  had been used before and they went really well.  I also introduced a couple of new techniques that also went very smoothly. I felt my students had a strong beginning to the writing process. However, the further we go into the project and my involvement is not as predominant, I become more nervous. In the beginning of the project I was in front of the class guiding them through their writing, now I am conferencing, asking questions, answering questions, and some times just observing. I now this is the way it should be, however, I always feel like there is more that I should do during this time. I feel this way, but at the same time I now that as a teacher it is my job to also teach independence. I need to learn to be comfortable letting students do this kind of independent work. My goal is to figure out the best ways that I can help students during this time. The past week while I conference with students I have other students waiting to meet with me. While they wait they are wasting valuable time. I want a procedure that will alleviate this. I just haven’t found that procedure yet.

Another thing that I am really struggling with is to figure out how much time students should spend on their rough drafts. For this project I ask students to make one writing piece that includes three different writing formats. An example would be a magazine that has a cover, article, pictures with captions and an informational poem. I know this type of multi-genre project takes time, but how much time is to much time? Last week some students were finishing up their notes and others began writing. At the beginning of this week, some are still starting their first writing piece while others are on their third format and about ready to begin  revision. I plan to give the rest of this week for rough drafts and next week to final drafts. Students have 20 minutes a day. Is this too much time or too little? I want to finish the project and still have time for some smaller writing activities before EOGs are upon us.

Time to Reflect

As I try out new methods of instructing, I fell that it is important that I take a few minutes to look back and reflect on what worked well and what didn’t. This week my 5th graders began their second nonfiction writing project. And my 6th graders finished up their first project. Both classes took part in a technique Aimee Buckner refers to as “Topic Change Up”.  For this technique students need to know what topic they will be writing about and have already done some research about the topic. Students also need to be familiar with the types of formats they will be asked to write in. I used the following formats for this activity: magazine article, newspaper, advice column, picture book,  graphics (charts/ maps/ diagram/ picture with captions), timeline, annotated timeline, readers theater, and poem. Every three minutes the teacher calls out one of these formats and the students continue writing about their topic, but in the format that was called out. I explained the activity to the class and then began. The entire activity took about 30 minutes. A little longer than most of my daily writing activities, but completely worth it. Both classes absolutely loved it!

Not everything has been as much of a hit as “Topic Change Up”. Throughout the past two weeks, I have had a few hiccups along the way.   I let the excitement of the project over take the class and allowed the focus of the project to shift away from writing. Students wanted to create and build, but didn’t want to doing the writing aspect. I learned that I need to guide students a little bit more. With my 6th graders I began the same way I did the 5th graders. I used writing methods to help them discover their topic, learn what they needed to research, guided the research process, helped to organize their information, and decide on a format. After this I let students work more independently. My 6th graders proceeded to discuss what they were going to do, build models, decide on costumes, create posters and props. However, only a hand full had written more than a page. They were so eager to create everything else they forgot the project was a WRITING project. While all of the things they were doing was fabulous and supported their learning, I should have provided a little more structure to help students get the writing aspects done.

Learning from the experience with the 6th grade class, I have decided to have my 5th graders do all of their writing first. I have followed the same steps with 5th that I did with 6th and we are know to the point of organizing research and then beginning rough drafts. I plan to help students with their beginnings and not allowing any type of major art/craft work until the writing process is complete. I have also asked 5th to choose 3 out of 9 formats and to tie them together in some way. An example would be to create a magazine that contains an article, a poem and a picture with captions (like an advertisement).  After they have create a rough draft of this, revised and edited they will be allowed to create the final piece.

Photos to come….topic change up

A Week of Firsts

I decided I wanted to take all that I have learned so far from Aimee Buckner´s book Nonfiction Notebooks: Strategies for Informational Writing and apply it in my 6th grade social studies class.

Monday– My 6th grade students walked in on Monday expecting to see the normal directions written on the board. They thought they would be reading articles and answer questions about some ancient civilization. This had become our weekly routine. I was bored with it and I know my students had to be as well. Even though change was welcomed, the unexpected change caused some students to act out. This class in particular thrives off of routine so I knew that this much change at once would cause some problems and boy was I right. I knew we would need more time for even the smallest of task as they got into the routine of what we were doing.

I began the class by explaining that we were going to be writing and that they would be choosing their subject. I explained that their topic needed to have some association to something we had previously learned about. I told them this is a type of review for the class, but also should inform the class of new information about their topic.

After our purpose was set, writing began with the pre-writing strategies ¨All about¨ and ¨Better Questions¨ Students took three minutes to write a list of topics the had learned about and was interested in learning more about.  They then discussed with a partner for two minutes narrowing their list down to their two favorite topics. I suggested that if they had chosen an entire civilization or another large topic they may want to narrow it down to a more specific topic. Once students had one or two topics, I gave them three more minutes to write down everything they knew about the topic. Lastly, the class took three more minutes to discuss with a partner everything they had written about their subject. Their partner listened for what information they were missing about the topic. They then developed questions that their partner could use as guidance during research.

Tuesday– Tuesday was  a pretty straight forward day. Students used the internet to research the answers to their questions.  The wrote their facts on sticky notes and put their sticky notes in their notebooks.

Wednesday– We started the class by looking over our sticky notes with a partner. They grouped their sticky notes into piles. Each pile represented a separate sub category. They then labeled these categories. Any sticky notes left over were decided to be irrelevant to what they were creating. After organizing notes into groups we decided in which order the information should be presented. The next step was deciding how to percent the information.

I explained to the students that I would be calling out a different format in which authors present information every three minutes. When I called out the format they would switch to writing about their topic in that format. We wrote in the following formats: Newspaper article,  poem, advice column, picture book, timeline, readers theater, etc… The class LOVED this activity. They loved it so much that I plan to use it by itself as a review of information.

They left class that day with the expectation that they would come to school tomorrow with a topic and a format in which they wanted to share about their topic.

Thursday– On Thursday students create an outline or proposal of what they planned to create.

Friday-Students wanted to create props, settings, books, etc… They didn´t seem to understand the need to create a rough draft. However, after much persuasion and explanations every student began to create rough drafts.

Stay turned next week for final presentations!

You Have a Message

My class took a break from research type writing this week and focused on persuasive letter writing. I used “I Wanna a New Room” and “I Wanna Go Home” by Karen Kaufman Orloff as mentor text. These books are written in a little different of a format than a typical children’s book . Orloff writes her entire stories in a letters or e-mails style. The main character, Alex is writing to his parents trying to talk them into giving him what he wants. In one book he wants to to stay at his friends house instead of his grandparents while his parents are on vacation. In the other, Alex wants a room separate from his little brother. After Alex writes his letters, his parents then write back to him. The books progress in this pattern of communicating back and forth through letters.

After reading  these books aloud and discussing them, I asked my students to think of a problem they have and a person that could fix the problem. I then asked them  to write a letter to that person. The following day students paired up with a peer they felt comfortable reading their letter (I told them they would be doing this before they wrote the prior day). After reading a peers letter, the students took on the persona of the person the letter was addressed to. They then wrote a letter back. Some students then shared their letters with the class. Others choose not to share because they felt their letters were to personal.

I LOVED this activity as did my students. They were able to successfully express a problem they were facing. The most touching letter was by a boy who’s dad just started working 3rd shift. He wrote about how he never sees his dad any more and how if he could see him for 30 minutes every night it would make all the difference in the world to him. He addressed his letter not to his dad, but to his dads boss. Others wrote to peers they were having problems with. Some students couldn’t think of  any major problems in their own lives and wrote letters that dealt with general world problems. One student wrote about pollution and addressed the letter to all the people of the world. Another student wrote to Hillary Clinton about her political views. The replies were just as heart felt. Students took this assignment extremely seriously.

I already knew that my students were becoming great writers. That is not what I gained from this. I learned that mentor text is extremely important. Many of my students used that mentor text when setting up their letters. Their success is not due completely to my teaching or to my students writing abilities. It is in large part contributed to the mentor text. Orloff did a great job showing students how a writer organizes their letters. The impact that the mentor text had on these students shows me as a teacher that I need to continue using mentor text, even when we are writing non-fiction.

Am I really doing this?!?

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 ch002ose 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 cou003ld 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 theyp 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.

Is Reading “Nonfiction Notebook” by Aimee Buckner Worth the Time?

We all have so little time to do everything that must be done in a school day, no one wants to spend time on a task that we deem completely useless. Any time someone approaches me with yet another book to read for a PLC I can’t help but think how I am going have to spend countless hours reading some book that will not provide enough information to justify the amount of time I spent reading. As a reading teacher, I assign informational text to my students and see the same looks on their faces that I feel myself making at the thought of reading yet another text book. Don´t get me wrong, I LOVE to read! A good novel is better than a movie any day. There is just something about nonfictional text that kills any desire within me to read.

However, Nonfiction Notebook: Strategies for Informational Writing by Aimee Buckner has really blown me away.  I have read the first 3 chapters in this book and cannot believe the amount of useful strategies that have been shared about writing nonfiction in just the first part of the book.  Methods that I can use in my classroom. In fact, after reading, I immediately added several of the techniques I read about into my lesson plans for the upcoming week. After trying the suggested strategies and seeing students reactions, I am eager to continue reading.

Aimee Buckner reveals several strategies in the second chapter for helping students formulate their thought prior to writing.

  • Notice What Writers Do is a strategy where students make notes or jot down what they are noticing an author has done to keep the reader interested.
  • Topic Legs helps students write down different angles from which they can write about the same topic.
  • Take a Tour creates a museum exhibit on a subject in their notebook. This method helps students explore all aspects of a topic.
  • At the Heart of It,  which is similar to a heart map, is an approach that allows writers to focus on the most important aspects about their topic. This can help narrow down a topic and decide on a theme.
  • Connect P3 helps writers to connect their thoughts. Students begin this technique by writing words around their main topic. Then, they look at how each word and draws lines that visual connects one idea to the other ideas.

These strategies are great for teachers that are beginning the exploration into nonfiction writing. Buckner´s  descriptions and examples of each technique is very clear. In addition to clear descriptions and examples, the text is easily read. This text is filled with amazing strategies that can be implemented into a classroom without reorganizing your entire schedule. Out of all of the text I have read centered around education, this book has been one of the most beneficial.

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In addition to sharing all of these amazing strategies, Buckner connects these strategies to the CCSS. This book is 100% teacher friendly and worth taking the time to read.

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