Through a short conversation, I learned that her daughter, an eighth grader, was assigned to write a compare and contrast essay between two novels, The Devil's Arithmetic and The Diary of Anne Frank. The problem was she wasn't sure how to do it. So my coworker searched the internet, high and low, until she found a few examples that were up to her expectations of what a good essay looks like.
After reading through them, they noticed and discussed the format and craft moves the authors used to show similarities and differences. Her daughter then said, "Why didn't anyone ever show me this? It makes it so much easier."
This is an example of immersion. Immersion is giving students the time and resources to read and notice characteristics about the genre they are studying. This can be done through a variety of ways such as a book pass, gallery walk, or small groups.
When I first describe immersion to my students, I use the analogy of jumping into the deep end of the pool and being surrounded by all that water. When we immerse, we surround ourselves with many examples of the genre being taught.
In my fifth grade classroom, immersion is integrated into how I teach.
Before writing obituaries on the Founding Fathers, we immersed ourselves in an array of obituaries.
Before writing our own author blurbs, we looked at many of them using the books in our classroom library.
Before creating wanted posters for fractions, we scoured through different types.
While the students immersed themselves in the genre we were learning about, they were taking notice. Notice of different craft moves and commonalities with all the pieces. And each noticing gave them a little bit more information on how to write in that genre.
But it wasn't too long ago that immersion and I were strangers.
In June of 2016, I was invited to be part of a group of teachers that wanted to figure out how to take a book meant for high school teachers and adapt it to the elementary level. After the first meeting, I knew this was going to change my teaching for the better. The book, Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres written by Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan, had a message: We need to teach students how to write in unfamiliar genres, and it can be done through a simple process. Cathy and Sarah call this process the four i's-immersion, inquiry, instruction, and integration.
I had been teaching three of those four i's all along but had never thought of the immersion piece. And I am not sure why.
In the two years since I have been doing this work, I have seen a drastic difference in my students' best drafts. They seem to have an understanding of the structure of a piece after looking at many different types, no matter the genre. Eventually, after making it through the other i's, they then choose one they particularly like and model their work after that piece.
Immersion takes time. It is well worth the day or two it may take you and your class to go through the examples. But it is so worth it. Think of how much reading and analyzing is happening.
Immersion. Such a simple idea. But such a powerful one.
Because my coworker took the time to immerse her 8th grader in a few compare and contrast essays, her daughter now understands what a well written one looks like.
And her teacher noticed too. It was the best paper she had ever written!
Graphic novel immersion