The Writing Journey

Two years ago, together with twelve friends I began a journey to become a Reading Specialist.  We jumped in and swam.  We have learned SO much about how to grow young readers and writers.  This year we have been challenged to look critically at the writing instruction in our classrooms and schools.  It has been several years since we have implemented any systematic writing.  I felt that my students were capable of producing quality writing with the right instruction and time devoted to the task. This year, with Dr. Beth Buchholz,  we had the privilege of exploring quality writing instruction and materials.  She was able to provide volumes of resources for us to explore and try out in our classrooms.  I fell in love with the idea of Writer’s Workshop and the amazing units of study by Lucy Calkins.  I was able to try out many of the aspects of writer’s workshop in my classroom this year.  Due to our current schedule, I was not able to devote a long uninterrupted time for writing but even with the segmented writer’s workshop, my students grew tremendously.

Next year, my hope is to be able to have a true writer’s workshop in my classroom.  After seeing the motivation from my students this year to write and write a lot! I can’t imagine teaching writing any other way.  I want other teachers to know that students at all ages and skill levels can produce quality writing and they love it!  The writer’s workshop in my classroom was the most exciting time of the day.  Kids begged to write more and couldn’t wait to share.  I hope to have administrators who will share in this excitement and come and see the great things first graders can do.  I know that I will probably have to purchase the Lucy Calkins writing units myself but it will be worth it.  As a teacher, there is no better feeling than knowing that you have successfully taught life changing skills.  Teaching students to read and write so they can become literate adults is the job of public school and I want to do my part.

So to my friends who have shared this journey, thank you for your dedication to our profession.  You are all wonderful teachers and I know that you are going to challenge your students to be readers and writers.  I know that you will search for the best practices to use in your classroom and you will find interventions for those that are struggling.  Let’s don’t forget why we chose to be teachers and remember who ready wins when we provide the best instruction for kids.

If you are interested in reading about some of the exciting things that I experienced with my students through writer’s workshop this year, click on the link below.

RE5111 Final Paper

Adventures in Publishing

As we began our writing adventure in my first grade classroom, my goal was to have the students create pieces of writing.  I wanted them to learn what authors do and to try their hand at being a writer.  I also wanted to create a writing time and a system for delivering writing instruction.  The writer’s workshop model as helped me accomplish this goal.

As the students began to produce writing, we needed a place to keep their writings so that they could revisit a piece and revise and edit as needed.  I created the Class Writing Box.  This hanging file container holds everyone’s writings.IMG_2248

During writer’s workshop, students can select a piece of writing that they want to work on or start a new piece of writing and then add it to their file.

As the students completed making books and sharing during whole group time, they wanted to continue to read and reread one another’s writings.  I decided that this was an opportunity to add containers of student written books to the reading center.

This was a big hit!  We have added and changed the books out for a few months now.

The students began to ask if they could create books that could be put in the library for other students to read.  I wasn’t sure that this would be a feasible idea but our librarian was very exciting about having student author books to display in the library.  She encouraged my first graders to continue to write and publish and that she would display their work at the front of the library.

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At the time of this blog post the students have not finished the publishing process but they know that this basket awaits their wonderful writing.

I ask the students to select a story that they would like to make into a book that would be revised and edited and made into a book to share in the library.  They looked through all their creations and selected the one piece that they wanted to take to the “publisher”.  I did not “help” in this decision, though I wanted to.  I was surprised that many of the students did not pick their strongest piece of academic writing to be published.  We began by editing and revising the content of the story. I photo copied every child’s writing.  We then took our purple editing pencils and the students corrected misspelled words, grammar mistakes, etc.  Some even changed or added content to the new story.

Our next step was to recreate the cover of their book.  We began this at the end of this week so the students are not finished with their covers.  Here is a sneak peak at their efforts.  Again, as their teacher, I don’t think some of these pieces are the student’s best work but my goal was to teach them to be independent writers and about the writing process.

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Some of the students wrote small moment personal narratives.

Some of the students chose imaginative narratives.  Some of the students even wrote non-fiction pieces though no one chose to publish them at this time.

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Going to the Moon      Me in Minecraft

When we are finished with the covers and the students are satisfied with their work, I plan to laminate the covers, bind their writing and send the finished books to the library. Even if the books are only on display for a short period of time, I think the students will feel like accomplished writers.

Our writing adventures have been a win win for everyone!  The students have learned so much about the writing process and about themselves as writers.

 

 

 

Growing Writers and Readers

As I am nearing the end of my journey becoming a reading specialist, I want to share some of the exciting things I have learned and experienced with kids this semester and the plans I have for next year.  Not only do I LOVE to see kids becoming readers, I also love to see that same excitement and growth in students becoming good writers.  Being a reading specialist is not only teaching students how to be good readers, it is teaching students to be literate.  By using some of the elements of Writer’s Workshop in my classroom, I have been able to see this excitement for writing grow.  It has meshed our literacy goals together as students see the connection between reading and writing.

I L.O.V.E. to see students ask to read when reading is not expected and to see themselves as real readers. I love the research behind which teaching strategies are best practices in classrooms and I even enjoy looking at the data for my students.  This is true for writing also.  My students choose to write when writing is not expected and they see themselves as writers.  I love the research behind best practices in writing instruction and by keeping student writing samples there is data to compare.

Anyone can create a Writer’s Workshop in their classroom even if you do not have a large amount of time to devote to writing.  You do need some time set aside to teach modeled lessons and you must set aside time for students to write.  Most Writer’s Workshop models have an hour of time built into the schedule for writing but this year I have not had a block of time to devote just to writing.  My Writer’s Workshop has been small chunks of time craved out to teach writing.  It has not been ideal but my students have learned SO much.  It will be a priority for me to advocate for this writing time next year.

Units of Study in Writing have been valuable this year.  I would highly recommend finding resources to “teach” writing strategies when considering Writer’s Workshop.  Here are some of my favorite Lucy Calkins units.  They are easy to follow and have concrete examples of mentor text to use to teach writing and they really reinforce the connection between being a reader and writer.

image Lucy Calkins Launching Writer's Workshop      image Lucy Calkins Nuts and Bolts      image Lucy Calkins Samll moments

image Lucy Calkins Authors as Mentors      image Lucy Calkins The Craft of Revision            image Lucy Calkins The Conferring Handbook

Lucy Calkins units are not the only resources available but are worth your time exploring.  There are also many ideas on Pinterest and other blogs about Writer’s Workshop.  I would encourage everyone to explore how this valuable set up could change the way you teach Writing.  Here are some links that show how writer’s workshop could look in the classroom and some ideas and resources you might borrow.

Setting up Writer’s Workshop in 1st and 2nd Grade

Writer’s Workshop in the K-1 classroom

Video – Helping Students Discover Small Moment Stories

PDF Launching the Writing Workshop using Lucy Calkins Units

I know that our county has purchased a writing program and plans are being made to implement it.  I hope that our teachers will have the freedom to choose the structure of their classrooms.  I would like to create a Reader’s Workshop and a Writer’s Workshop in my classroom.  My hope is to create a classroom where learning to read and write is systematic and structured and meets each individual child’s needs while being engaging and enjoyable.  Children should see learning to read and write as natural and Fun!!

 

Forming Writing Partnerships

My first graders are continuing on their journey to become good writers.   We have learned that writers need lots of tools to do their best work.  We know that writers use markers, pens, pencils, crayons, folders, paper, etc….This week we learned about a huge tool that we need as writers.  Sometimes, to get our thinking going, writers talk with other writers.  We need company.  We need a writing friend, or two.  We call this special writing friend – our writing partner.

Prior to our writing lessons this week, I divided the class into partnerships.  I considered ability levels, friendships, and behavior issues to form our mixed-ability partnerships.  Since I have an odd number of students, we have one threesome.  We call these our “Peanut Butter and Jelly Writing Partners”. The students got to decide in their group who was peanut butter and who was jelly.  Surprisingly, no arguing.  The students were super excited about having partners.

This week we are continuing to write narratives.  In our lessons, we have explored mentor texts that include speech bubbles and thought bubbles, so I challenged my students to consider how they might include one of these in their writing.

Here are some pictures of the students meeting with their partners to discuss what they will write on each page of their blank books.  The students were told to tell their partners what they planned to write about and to point to each page in the book and share what they will write on each page.  This is a strategy from Lucy Calkins’ Unit of Study, “Small Moments: Personal Narrative Writing”.

 

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Some of the students volunteered to share their writing plans with the class. Here are Lillian and Sage’s videos of their writing plans.

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Even though some partners did not give feedback on how to make the writing better, they all listened intently to each other about what was being planned.  All the students understood the concept and wrote a personal narrative: small moment story.  Later this same day students shared their rough drafts and we had a whole class sharing time to give feedback.  We found out that some students did not add all the great details that they planned to include in their story.

Here are a few videos from the whole class sharing session.

Add a “thought bubble”                 Did you include that?

Lillian did add a speech bubble that showed how loud she was crying when the nurse pulled her out from under the chair to get her flu shot.  Sage added a thought bubble to show the strategy he had for his team winning the big game.  These are just a few examples but all the students were able to include at least one thought or speech bubble.

I’ve enjoyed reading through some units of study for first grade and being able to incorporate these into my lessons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher Writers as Bloggers: Teacher Leadership?

On my teacher journey these many years, I have experienced changes in education.  We have seen many, many different programs, many new administrators, new colleagues, and new students.  Curriculum changes, administrator’s views and expectations vary, and trends in education have ups and downs.

When we refer to leaders in education, we might think about administrators, instructional coaches, superintendents, central office staff, or maybe even state education leaders.  Most teachers do not consider themselves teacher leaders.  Most teachers are passionate about growing the learners in their classroom.

I view this as a possible analogy to war.  The teacher is on the battlefield with his/her troop trying to win the war.  In order to win, you have to teach all the students (who range in ability levels) everything that they must know by the end of the year.  The teacher might have to battle many things: lack of support from families, lack of student motivation, non-flexible teaching schedule, unproductive grade level teams, lack of materials, lack of funding, differing administration view, etc. The teacher is the captain in this battle.  He or she is a LEADER but, (I would guess) most do not consider themselves a leader outside of their classroom.

If education were a factory, the teacher’s job would be to produce a well-educated “student”.  Unlike a traditional factory our product has many variables because it is a “live being”.  No two students are completely the same and no one teaching strategy fits every student. That is why teachers are constantly monitoring student learning and changing course as needed to grow learners.  When the course we have chosen for a student works and the student is growing, we feel success.  But when the strategy does not work we feel unsuccessful.  Even if that same strategy has worked for many other students.

I think that because teaching students cannot be a ones size fits all approach, teachers feel less like professionals.  If people feel less like professionals, they also feel less like leaders. Most teachers like to hear from other teachers about what is working for them in their classrooms.  Sharing ideas and strategies has always been a way for people to grow their skills and grow students.  Most teachers don’t feel completely comfortable sharing ideas, strategies, etc. publicly.  Blogging is a relatively new form of presenting information publicly.  Blogging is a way for teachers to sharing ideas that are working in their classrooms and blogging provides for a MUCH bigger audience.

We have been challenged this semester to create blog posts as teacher- writers.  Moving beyond just being a teacher who teaches writing to writing publicly.  I think this is an opportunity for teachers to share teaching practices, activities, etc. with other teachers.  You are able to upload pictures, videos, links, etc. to help the reader have a good understanding.  This could branch out to include parents and members of the community.  Even more importantly, our blogging about student learning and teaching could play a role in creating awareness of student needs by allowing administrators and policy makers to see and understand what is working in classrooms and possibly what is not.

Blogging has been a new endeavor for me and as with most things in life, you improve the more you do it.  I began my blog posts with inviting the public into my classroom and sharing with them what they might see in regards to writing instruction.  Strolling Through First Grade.   In later blog posts, I shared specific writing lessons I conducted in my classroom and included how the students responded to the lessons, materials, and each other.  I also shared how I had to view myself differently in my writing lessons so that I could be the most beneficial to my students through conferencing.  I hope that my blog posts could be of use to other teachers who may be embarking on the same teaching adventures as I am.

In future blogging, I would like to share how I feel that writing instruction has improved for my students as I have experimented with curriculum resources that we have had the privilege to borrow this semester.  I know that our county is going to beginning implemented new writing resources in the next two years.  I hope to be an advocate for what I have seen to have real success in our classrooms this semester  IMG_2074 IMG_2061IMG_2078

 

 

 

Small People Sharing Small Moments

I wanted to start teaching my students to notice an author’s technique and begin to “try out”some of these techniques in their own writing.

Many of my ideas came from this unit of study by Lucy Calkins and Abby Oxenhorn

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I searched for literature that would illustrate a writing quality that I hoped my students would incorporate in their own writing.

I began by reading A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams.  I drew the student’s attention to how Vera takes a small moment and stretches it across a few pages.  We remembered the part where the mother and daughter are walking home and they see their building on fire.  I told them that “Vera could have told that part quickly in just one or two sentences.  Her story could have gone like this, “We got home and saw a fire.  Everyone was safe.”  I explained that instead, Vera had stretched the moment out by telling us tiny details.

I asked the children to think of all the tiny details that Vera Williams included in this story. I drew their attention to the page where the mother and daughter were walking home from buying shoes.  I stopped and instructed the students to turn and tell a friend the tiny details that Vera added to stretch out her small moment.

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The children discovered many tiny details that the author added.  One student mentioned that she told things in order one thing after another.  Another student said, “She didn’t just say we looked for our family, she said, mama grabbed my hand and we ran.  My Uncle Sandy saw us and ran to us.”  These were great observations.  I pointed out that the author uses this technique of adding details in order to reach her bigger goal of stretching out a small moment.

I wanted to give the students a glimpse of what I hoped they might pick up and use in their own writing.

For this writing workshop session, I wanted the children to

*Tell a Story from Your Life

*Show what happened, First, Then Next, Then Next …

*Tell a Story and Show it on Paper

In this week’s blog post, instead of showing examples of my most accomplished writers, I chose to spotlight a couple of challenged writers.  These two students worked very hard to get these words on the page.

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I’m outside.  It is sunny today.  There’s a tree and a bee’s nest and a flower and a bird.  I’m going to play.  The bees fly out and one lands on me and it doesn’t sting me.

*This student drew a very detailed picture and told a story of how he was playing one day and found a bees nest and the bees started to come out.  This student usually does not write or draw with detail.

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One day my dog Bandit got ran over.  It was sad.  My dad got him in the four wheeler tractor and buried him.

At first this student had a string of rambling ideas and an unrecognizable picture.  After conferring with me, he realized that his ideas didn’t tell a story.  He shared with me that his dog had died the night before and I suggested that he write down his story.   He did not have time to draw his picture with this new story. He will likely want to revise this story, add more detail and include a picture.   He may choose to make his story into a book.  This is a very reluctant writer and I hope he finds that he can add meaningful detail to show the reader what happened and how he felt the day his dog died.

We have written a lot in my classroom this year and most of my students are able to write a great deal in a workshop session.  Revision is an area that all of my students are working toward.  However, I was so encouraged this week to see my struggling writers jumping in and getting some content down and being willing to share.

 

 

 

 

??? Why Do Writers Write Anyway???

My goal this year was to teach my first graders to see themselves as writers.

(and…readers and mathematicians, and  scientists, geographers, etc….)

But writing is focus for this blog. Nothing brings me more “teacher joy” than for kids to feel empowered.  My struggle as a teacher was to decide on what to teach kids first and exactly what strategies to teach and in what order.  We have state standards and pacing guides but I wanted to know how to get kids to write not only the pieces of writing that we are mandated to teach but to enjoy writing and use writing as a means of communication.

As part of our masters in reading, we have had several courses in writing instruction.  This helped me view writing with my students differently and gave me some tools to build a writing community in my classroom. We have grown over the past seven months and I’ve been able to give my students some quality writing instruction.  I do know that what I’ve given my students could have been stronger.  I’ve learned about resources available as well as techniques to guide my students.

As we started on this journey back in August, the first thing I wanted my students to explore was Why DO Writers Write?

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We have explored tons of books, fiction and non-fiction, different authors and poets, and different genres.  We interact with at least one book and author each day.  My students understand why authors write but I wanted them to carry this knowledge over into their own writing.

Our journey continued with the students learning how they could generate ideas themselves for writing.  We made heart maps and lists and they used these to write personal narratives.  We wrote poetry and tried out several scaffolds for the students to generate ideas and create.

Still I wanted more for my students.  I wanted to see them “improve” on their writing.  They love to write. They can come up with their own ideas.  We have worked up stamina so they are able to write for an extended time.  They love to share and we have created a respectful environment for sharing.

The missing piece seemed to be ME as the teacher.  I needed to help them to be better writers.  From my readings in this class, I’m learning to use mentor texts to direct the students’ attention to the writer’s craft.  How does the writer use his words to convey meaning and can we use their style or strategies to create writing of our own.  Even more important than the direct instruction has been the conferring piece. I feel very comfortable discussing and guiding students in editing their piece of writing.  Looking for punctuation and capital letters, etc. is straight forward and the kids understand their mistakes.  Many of these errors occur with my students because they are so eager to get their thoughts down that mechanics get lost in the first draft.  True revision is harder for me.

My students grew Me as a teacher this week.  My goal was to conference with three or four students each day during workshop.  I made myself some notes and set out to be efficient with my time.  I started each conference by saying, “Tell me what you are working on.”  They told me about their writing and then read the words.  Most students caught words they had omitted and parts of the story that didn’t quite make sense. I asked questions and the students did most of the talking.  As time goes on, I want them to take more ownership of the conferences and use me only as a guide.  The biggest issue most students discovered was that they lacked details to make the stories clearer or more interesting. In each conference I made sure that I complimented each student on something they had done well.  And I mean, I wanted to leave them with something that they could take with them and apply to all their future writing.  Not just a compliment on handwriting, illustrations, or even spelling.  I searched for a compliment about the craft of writing, like adding details, vocabulary choice, or clarity.

This is one student’s book about persuading her mom to buy her Shopkins.

The pictures are not very clear. I’m sorry.

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front cover before

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front cover after

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She wanted to use larger paper and she wanted to experiment with writing on the side of the pages instead of always at the top or bottom.  After our conference, she corrected her spelling and punctuation errors but more importantly she added details to persuade mom to buy her the Shopkins she wanted.  She shared her writing with an eager audience.

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As my journey continues, I want to concentrate on focused lessons and strong conferences.

I want my students to know  Why Writers Write but also How Writers Write.

Let’s Write On…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing to Persuade

If a six year old REALLY wants something they can be quite annoying begging for it.  I wanted to capture this “ability” to make ones “feelings known” into an engaging writing experience.  This week we tried out the Art of Persuasive Writing.

It was Fun! Students planned, wrote, conferred, and shared! Here is some of things I documented this week.

Brainstorming…….Gathering Ideas……. Planning

I shared these mentor texts to introduce our unit

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We discussed how the characters in these books wanted something and they were pretty persuasive in how they asked for what they wanted.

The students talked with partners about their ideas for their own writing.  Then we got to work.  Writer’s Workshop contained blank books to be filled with six year old “begging” and “pleading” and smart “rationales”.   Here are some samples.

I want a new bike…….

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I want a new puppy………………………….

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I want a chocolate milk stand…………..????

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The students were engaged in writing every day in writer’s workshop.  Some students created more than one book and we created a writing “Folder” of sorts for them to keep their stash of writings.  The students like to revisit books or stories they have started or written early.

Persuasive Writing was a real hit with my First Grade Crew!!

 

 

 

A Closer Look at Writer’s Workshop

It has been my goal for the past two years to develop a system in my classroom for quality writing to happen.  My first goal was for my students to be excited about writing and to actually produce writing.  My second goal was for the students to enjoy sharing their writing and to be respectful and give feedback to fellow classroom writers.  To achieve these two goals, I’ve been researching what writer’s workshop looks like in other classrooms and trying out many suggestions from my readings.            .

Here is a copy of my “list” of what Writer’s Workshop Is… (to me) and what Writer’s Workshop Is not… (to me).

  • First, in writer’s workshop students get to choose what they want to write about.  Sometimes they have to write about a particular genre we are studying but they have choice about the subject.   Writer’s workshop is not writing to a prompt.
  • Second, writer’s workshop should happen daily.  When we provide children with the opportunity to write, they are practicing phonemic awareness, phonics, concept of print and many other thought processes.  We don’t want to “just fit” in writing time.  We want it to be an important part of our instructional day.
  • Third, students learn to write by writing and seeing writing.  They need to see modeled writing by the teacher, peer writing, and shared writing.  Writer’s workshop should not be just predictable sentences or fill in the blanks.  Even very young children can create authentic writing.
  • Fourth, writer’s workshop is a daily writing time.  This time increases as students build stamina.  Students are encouraged to be actively engaged the whole time.  They are expected to work to their best ability even though everyone will be at different stages of writing.  Handwriting is a fine motor skill that is very important but is taught at a different time than writer’s workshop.  I will expect that some children will be writing only letters or pictures and others will be writing sentences or whole stories.

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This list “in my head” has helped me to get to where I am with my students.  They love to write and usually are engaged the whole time.  They love to share, are respectful and are learning to give good feedback.

This leads me to a new goal that I have for myself as an educator.  That goal is to give “quality, meaningful” feedback to my students about their writing.  I think that this is where the true “teaching” occurs.  The writer’s workshop setting gives you the means to confer with students and give feedback.  Before you have a system in place for students to create real writing where there are high expectations, you will not be able to spent time with students conferring.

Since reading the book One to One, The Art of Conferring with Young Writer’s by Lucy Calkins and Amanda Hartman, I’ve learned strategies for discussing writing with children.  The first step for me was creating a conferring schedule.  This is helping me keep track of students that I have talked to individually during the week.

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I am just beginning my journey toward my new goal.  This is a picture of the front of my conferring notebook and a copy of a writing conference schedule sheet that was shared with me by a colleague. This past week was my first week of systematic conferencing.  I focused on some “Fix it up” strategies.  Did the sentences have capital letters at the beginning and punctuation at the end?  Were there spaces between words?  Did the sentences contain mostly lowercase letters?

I added to my vocabulary this week questions or comments to say to the children as we conferred.  I might say, “Tell me about what you are working on,” or “How is this piece of writing going?”

Next Week I want to go deeper.  

I want to add, “One of the things good writer’s do is……” and offer a strategy to help my young writers.  I am looking for a visual rubric or check sheet for the students to help them self-check.

I hope you will stay tuned next week to see how my conferring journey is progressing.  Please comment if you have resources, ideas, or suggestions!!!

working-together                            children-image

 

Let’s keep working together as educators because the children are worth it

 

 

Sharing Writing -The First Grade Way!

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Most people will agree that writing is meant to be heard and shared.  Sharing motivates and drives my young writers to do their best.   I like to have a set writing and sharing time in first grade but this year our schedule does not allow for much whole group writing instruction.  I have to carve out little bits of time each day.  Our sharing time is usually after or during snack.  I am teaching my students what good writers do and what good listeners do.  It is just as important to be a good listener as it is to be a good writer.  I give my students feedback after they share a piece of writing and I model for the students how they could give their classmates feedback.

We have practiced making “I noticed statements”.  A child might say, “I noticed that you used the word magenta instead of just pink.” A child might also say what they “liked” about a classmates writing.  Someone might say, “I really like your drawing of the zoo and I like how you described the zebras.” But the most helpful comments that I have taught my students to make are “I wonder comments”.  A student might say, “I wonder what the characters are going to do now.”  Many first graders do not add details to their writing and their classmates many times will ask questions about the writing that will spark the author to add more detail.  Of course, first graders don’t always use the words “I wonder” or “I notice”.  They may instead say, “I have a question about your story”.
Or they might say, “I think it would be great if you told us what happened next or tell us what the character looks like.”  This kind of dialogue encourages editing and revision.

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As a teacher, my goal is to become skilled at guiding my students to produce quality writing while still valuing every piece a child does no matter what writing stage they might be in.  This is tough because the children in my class are developing as writers at different speeds just as children are developing as a reader at different rates.  I think if we are not careful we send the message to kids that their writing is not good enough or not as good as someone else.  I am researching how other writing educator’s conference with children.  I want to continue to give quality feedback to students and to model how they can cheer each other on to better writing.

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Some of my writers are writing two or three sentences about a topic and some of my writers are writing a whole page.

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If I was a super hero I would Save the World!!!

…..and some of my writers are just drawing pictures with a caption or one sentence.

I love first grade!