Perspective

In order to gather my thoughts I tend to think in figurative language. Analogies, metaphors, similes, idioms. Here goes. I began my adventures with students learning to write on a mountain top. I can see in all directions for what seems like infinity. Since I see myself as a good writer, I have no fear of heights. But when I look at my students, hoping to share the joy of the panorama from this spectacular vantage point, I see young writers who don’t see themselves as writers. They are terrified, clinging to each  other and grasping at me and each other for support. They are afraid to express any thought on paper for fear of being wrong, but are willing to  share ideas in groups where the media is speech. Not like a written speech, but the speaking and listening that can occur when they gather in a group to exchange ideas. I have such high hopes for these struggling writers, but they have such a fear of the act of writing that this fear is debilitating. In order to reach these students, I am first going to have to calm their fears. The only way I can see to do this is to”come down from the mountain” to a level plain. I am going to have to take baby steps, and convince these writers that they aren’t going to be judged by their errors, but by their courage in their willingness to put pencil to paper.

During these last few years that I have been immersed in literacy studies, I have learned/rediscovered a few basic truths: PEOPLE, not just students, need choices, opportunities,  examples such as mentor texts, positive support,  constructive feedback, and encouragement. LOTS of encouragement. My students are no different, but it seems like this year’s crop of writers are less confident in their abilities as writers than most students who have passed through my doors. This past week was very eye-opening for me. For example: I KNOW that using mentor texts is a best practice as is choice and collaboration, but I was very pressed for time, and so I “modified” the original lesson plan to eliminate the mentor text and limit the amount of choices the students would actually have. I KNOW that mentor texts are an integral part of any lesson, but I truly believed that I was beginning my instruction from a solid foundation in their prior knowledge. I wanted them to basically have the same topic so that there would be greater collaboration.

I began my lesson by having a whole class discussion comparing and contrasting opinion and persuasive writing. At first, only a few students were willing to contribute to the conversation, so I asked them to take a few minutes to form groups to talk about this, and everyone should be ready to contribute to the discussion when we came back together. I listened in to their discussions and was pleased to hear words and phrases such as “emotions, personal beliefs, talk them (parents) into, just what I think, reasons, and facts versus opinions.” At this point, I brought their attention back to the whole group discussion and we listed our ideas on the board so that we had a community of thought for the students to refer back to when they began their writing. At this point I introduced the topic, “In your opinion, what is the best way to spend your class reward points?” Hands flew up everywhere. I was feeling good about the lesson. Students shared their ideas and I had the students once again form groups, this time with students with the same opinion as themselves. I asked them to talk to each other about the reasoning behind their opinions so that when they began to write, they would have their own thoughts and the thought of their peers to draw upon. The room buzzed with muted conversations. As I once again listened in on conversations, I heard good comments and ideas, but didn’t see any one writing notes.

After a few minutes, I asked them to wrap up their conversations and return to their seats to begin writing. Within just a few minutes, almost every hand was in the air. I pretended not to notice the number of hands in the air and suggested that they share what they had written so far with a friend. “Show a friend how you introduced your opinion.” Crickets. Blank stares. No one sharing. Hands back in the air. There was a common problem: everyone knew what he or she wanted to say, but was unsure of how to get started. The old debilitating fear was back, and I had failed to offer the scaffolding they needed. They needed examples through the use of mentor texts, but in my assumption that they knew enough without their use I had not made sure that my students would find success as writers. Instead, I inadvertently reaffirmed their belief that writing is a scary activity that should be avoided.

When things go wrong, go to plan B

I had high hopes of launching writer’s workshop in my first-grade classroom this semester, but I am now on to plan B. Someone told me I was a real teacher working with real kids and I might need to just take one small step instead of one giant leap. I took my small step this week by having writing conferences with some of my students. I will share one interaction that took place.

Pete chose to write about his favorite thing about winter using a writing prompt sheet I downloaded for free at http://www.thisreadingmama.com. I know! Writing prompts are a big no-no in writer’s workshop, but I just put it there in case they needed it. When he came over to me, I noticed the only period he had was at the very end, so we worked on conventions. I had him to point and reread what he wrote. I asked him to listen and stop his finger where he thought a period might need to be. His finger just kept on going until he got to the end of his writing. So I pointed and read stopping at appropriate places. We had a discussion about the need for a period at the end of a thought and he added the periods (total of 3) to his writing.

I then noticed he had left out a comma and quotation marks when he spoke in the writing. I had him go get his book box. I selected one that had dialogue and asked him if he had ever noticed when someone spoke in the book, there was a comma after said followed by quotation marks. He told me he had noticed them, but forgot what they were for. Pete added the comma and quotation marks to his writing. The comma may have been a stretch to teach to a first-grader, but I felt he definitely needed to know about quotation marks.

I also noticed that he did not capitalize the first letter of his snowman’s name. He smiled and told me he just forgot. After he fixed that, his writing was perfect. He wrote the entire piece by himself spelling every word after the prompt correctly. As you can see in the picture, he is a perfectionist.  I taught Pete last year in kindergarten. I know I taught him how to use a period and capitalize names. I wonder since I am not present during their writing time, if this is a side effect. I dare say it is. 

Although I did not have to correct any spelling mistakes, I wonder how other teachers feel about correcting spelling on their students’ finished writing. Is writing the correct spelling above or below the misspelled word a good thing or a bad thing?

conference

januarywritingprompts-free

small moments make BIG ideas

moment-pic

This week, in my wonderful 3rd grade classroom, we embarked on the “small moment” journey again!  We have done this type of writing a few times in the classroom and the students really love sharing their stories.  As the lesson started, I reminded them of the time we had completed this activity before.  They were excited to tackle the task again.  We read together A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams.

a-chair-for-my-mother-pic

After reading the story, I asked them what they considered the “small moment” in this story.  Some students said it was the money jar.  Other students thought it was the fire and ways they tried collect money for their jar.  Some students mentioned the chair being the small moment.  I asked them why they thought the chair might be the small moment.  I definitely didn’t want to tell them they were right or wrong because in my opinion all of the ideas were correct and each student who spoke of the idea was able to explain why they thought so.  This started a great conversation among my very intelligent, outside of the box thinking 3rd graders.  We spent about 8 minutes reading the story and about 10 talking about their thoughts and ideas.  After we talked about some of the small moments in the story, I geared their thinking towards the chair.  We talked about all the things that was related to the chair and why.  We talked about how one small thing turned into a beautiful story.  My students were starting to ask when they could start writing their story.  I could tell they were anxious to tell their stories.  I asked them to think of some “small moments” that has happened in their life or something that is very special to them that has a story behind it.  On the first day, we only thought about our different small moments.  We didn’t begin writing until the next day.  I wanted to my students to only focus on what they could write about and be able to think about whatever they wanted and more than one idea.  I asked them to only brainstorm some small moment ideas so they could go home that night and really think about the one they wanted to write about.  I also told them that if they thought of something totally different, while they were thinking they could write about that if they chose.  They were able to sort of free write with a little boundary and guidance.  As the students were brainstorming, I walked around and if I saw some students struggling I would read other students examples they had written to spark an idea.  This seemed to help some of the students who couldn’t think of any small moments that have occurred in their lives.  I personally visited their seat and we talked about some things that were important to them or something they remember really well.  This began to help them and when they were able to think of one or two, they were able to get their third one without me guiding them.

One the second day, we discussed small moments and some students shared their ideas of their specific small moments.  I then asked them to simply write about their small moment.  Write what they remember about the moment, what it felt like, smelled like, looked like or tasted like.  They seemed to put pencil to paper and not stop.  Some finished early and asked if they could draw a picture to go with their story and of course I was glad to see their picture and for their story to come to life.  After spending about 15-20 minutes on their writing we had our sharing time!  Below are links to videos of two students sharing their writing in my classroom.  The password to view the video is 123!  ENJOY!

Student Sharing 1

Student Sharing 2