Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reflecting on the Process

In one of my writing classes today we discussed the difference between a final draft and the process we took to get there. The students were able to pinpoint that the final draft is the final product; the writing that gets handed in. But they struggled with telling me what process they took to get to that final product.

So I asked questions.

When we started author blurbs what did we do first? Next? Then what?

And after a few more questions, they understood the process; the journey to get to this final piece. For me as teacher, I am more concerned with the process they take than the final product. It is through this process that my students learn to become better writers. This is why I teach my students to reflect on what they have written.

Part of my students' writing grade is their reflections. At the beginning of the year, they reflect about the process after the final copy is submitted. As the year goes on, they will learn to reflect during the process, daily. This gets them thinking about their writing. But right now, they aren't quite ready for that.

I go through and pick six to ten questions from Edutopia's 40 Reflection Questions that I feel will help my students reflect on what they just wrote and improve their next writing piece. Done correctly, this reflection will take anywhere from 20-30 minutes. I think sometimes as teachers we forget how important and powerful the reflection process is. It validates to the students that what they have to say is important.

If you don't quite agree, just read the reflection below.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Greenbelt Writing

This past summer I read Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-States Writing by Ralph Fletcher. Many of the ideas in his book I found myself already doing in my classroom but there were a few that were new to me and one in particular that I new I was going to put into action, Greenbelt Writing,

Greenbelt Writing is about giving students a time and place to write and create whatever they want. Since I was an art major in college and have a love of incorporating art into my lessons, I created a makers space area in my classroom that can be used during Greenbelt Writing time, which will take place every Friday during the school year.

During our first full Friday of school I talked about Greenbelt Writing with all four of my fifth grade writing classes. We discussed what it was, what it will look like in the classroom, and generated a list of ideas of what the students could create. To say they were excited would be an understatement. These students were ecstatic!

Last Friday was our official first day of Greenbelt Writing. When I watched the students in class, I knew I was going to write about it.


Here are things I noticed:

I was extremely relaxed, which is a great way to end the week.
All but three of my 90 students were 100% engaged.
Students that aren't normally excited about writing, were the first to begin working.
Creative juices started flowing.
Books were started.
Stories were created.
Students collaborated.

When class was over, students asked if they could take their work home to continue working on it over the weekend.

My students can't wait until next Friday for Greenbelt Writing.

They are hooked, and my plan is working!

One of our paper drawers for Greenbelt Writing

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sacred Writing Time...Writing Times Four

If you asked me about my success in school as a child, it would be a short, sad story. If it wasn't for my high school math teacher, Mr. Kisken, I probably would never have been accepted into college. I didn't have the best high school GPA but Mr. Kisken got me. I  had him for three of my four years of high school math. He took things slow in his explanations and trusted the process. He created his own practice worksheets with a less is more philosophy. He also knew that academics weren't everything.

Mr. Kisken loved photography and would come and take pictures of his students during sporting events. For me, this is where I shined. I was fast, versatile, and could read the field well. And Mr. Kisken captured those moments while I played lacrosse.  It was also those moments that he wrote about in my college recommendation letter.

He took time to get to know his students; their interests and their strengths.
And a few times a year I find myself thinking about him.

This school year I have the opportunity to teach writing to all four sections of fifth grade. I have never been so happy! Each day during Sacred Writing Time I learn a little more about my students, and they learn a little more about me. It is through our sharing process that helps create more depth in our writerly community.

We recently created a heart map during one of our brainstorming sessions.  I knew when I read it about twice within a week (Two Writing Teachers and Aimee Buckner), I had to put it into action. So all four sections created a heart map, and I had the opportunity to create one too.

Four different times.

You see when my students write for Sacred Writing Time, I write.

We are currently building our writing stamina and are up to six minutes of uninterrupted writing time.

There are rules.

Don't stop writing.

The whole time.

And if you stop,  your pencil needs to be in your hand and you need to reread your work to figure out what you can add until I say, "Finish the sentence you are on. Not the sentence you are on and three sentences after that, but the ONE you are on."

So we write.

Including me.

You will usually find me in a spot where someone should be, but he/she is absent. I like doing this because my students see ME writing. (And they want to impress me).

Then. We share.

This is... my favorite part. As the days turn into weeks more students are coming forward and sharing. It is during this precise time that I feel as though I am getting to know my students in their own lives.

Today I learned that one student had to put her dog down recently.
I learned that one student enjoys playing musically.
I learned that one student was stung by five bees at once.
I learned that one student thoroughly enjoyed her field trip to the aquatic center in fourth grade.
And the list goes on...

But did I mention that I get to write?
Four different times in one day.
Four different stories.
And my students get to learn a little about me.

One class learned that my daughter shoved a Polly Pocket shoe up her nose when she was four.
One class learned that my other daughter fell head first on a cement floor while wearing roller skates. And yes, it wasn't pretty.
One class learned that I am not as invincible as I think I am and that was proven true when I threw my back out.
And the last class learned about my fear of diving off diving boards.

Just like Mr. Kisken, I have learned to trust this process.

Sacred Writing Time is just that.


I will never compromise it.

But it is also a  process that takes time to develop.

And it is with this process that will help these students realize what amazing writers they are capable of becoming.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Our Writerly Community

After going through the Red Cedar Writing Project Summer Institute in 2016, the way I teach writing has changed drastically. The summer institute was the best professional decision I have ever made.

This school year I have the opportunity to teach writing to all four sections of fifth grade, and I couldn't be more ecstatic about it! On the first day of class I asked each group how many of them saw themselves as writers. Out of the 91 students that I questioned, a total of 11 students raised their hands.


How is this possible?

I told them not to worry though. By June, all their hands would be raised.

This short conversation led to two questions: What do writers do? and What will our writerly community look like? The first question was a natural segway into the second. Listed on the white board in the back of the classroom are the characteristics of our writerly community.

And it wasn't more evident than today during my third class. In their writer's notebooks the students were coming up with external and internal character traits about themselves. We then took some time to share. During our sharing session, one specific girl was struggling to find internal character traits to describe herself. Using this as a teachable moment, I relied on the other students in the class to help her out and taught them how to do this. The girl next to her didn't know this student well but said in the week they have been in the same class she felt she was very kind. Another struggled to describe what she was thinking. These two had been in the same class the previous year but after letting her talk it out  and asking a lot of questions, she came up with calming. The girl who couldn't think of any characteristics to describe herself relied on the writerly community to help her.

With each day the students become more confident in their ability to write. Their stamina is increasing and often I catch them trying to add more and more while I am teaching.

It has only been three days since I met these 91 fifth graders and our writerly community is already taking shape. I can't wait to see how they develop as writers throughout the year and to ask them the same question the last day of class:  How many of you see yourself as writers?