Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Discovering Genres

For the past year and half, I have been working with a group of teachers through the Red Cedar Writing Project on a teaching action research project engaging upper elementary writers.  The nine teacher cohort, Discovering Genres, has worked on adapting Cathy Fleishcher and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan's book, Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres to the elementary level. This group (and book) have changed the way I view and teach writing.

On Friday, October 20th, I was fortunate to be able to speak at the MCTE (Michigan Council Teachers of English) conference about the work our group has been doing. Two other members from the team joined me. It was phenomenal! We had about 20 people attend the session and two of them were Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew Vaughan! We have been in contact with these two ladies about our work, and they couldn't be more supportive.

Although this book was written for the high school level, our group has figured out a way to adapt it to the elementary school classroom. The book doesn't tell you how to teach unfamiliar genres to students but rather gives you a process to use. It is called the four I's: immersion, inquiry, instruction, and integration (19-25).

To me, immersion is the most important part of this process. It is where we give students multiple chances to read in a specific genre they are not familiar with. Through immersion, students take notice of characteristics specific to that genre and as they read more and more in the genre, they begin to notice similarities.

The next step is inquiry. Through this step, students come together and discuss their findings. It is here that students begin to ask questions. It is these questions that guide the mini lessons.

After that, you have instruction. In my opinion, instruction is two-fold. It involves mini-lessons that come out of the inquiry process, and it allows students to try out the genre.

Lastly, is integration. This is the goal we want students to get to. During integration, students begin to follow this process on their own each and every time they find themselves in uncharted territory. In the beginning, integration may be something simple as having a student ask for an extra copy of their author blurb because they just published their own book and want to put it in there. Eventually, the student will begin to follow this process on their own or possibly teach their sixth grade English teacher about discovering genres because it helps them feel successful as a writer.

Discovering Genres is the theme in my writing classroom this year. With each new genre we discover as a class, the process becomes more ingrained in my students. We have created graphic novels based off R.J Palacio's Wonder and author blurbs to highlight ourselves as writers. We are about to begin obituaries on the Founding Fathers and menus to reinstate story elements for Shiloh. No matter the genre, it fits under one of the common core purposes for writing.

I teach this way because one day one of my students is going to be an author and have to update their author blurb.

I teach this way because one day one of my students is going to personally know someone who has died and need to write an obituary.

I teach this way because one day one of my students is going to see they can make a living with their artwork and need to write an artist's statement.

I teach this way because one day my students will start recognizing how many writing genres are out there.

I teach this way because my students need to know how to write in a variety of genres.

I teach this way because I believe in this process.

I teach this way because one day I won't be their teacher anymore.

I teach this way because one day I hope my former students will follow this process without me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing Club

For many years I have wanted to start a lunch writing club for my fifth graders, but it never seemed like the right time.

Until this year. 

We meet on Tuesdays during recess and lunch in my classroom. Last week, during our first meeting, we generated a list of things the students want to do this year. These range from learning to write in cursive (sadly not a standard in my state anymore) to publishing a book. There are about eight things on the list and all involve some sort of writing. 

I wasn't sure what writing club was going to look like, and I decided to let the students be my guide. They are all here because they LOVE to write. 

So today we started with Sacred Writing Time. This is a time to honor writing. 

I posed the question: Why are you here? Why are you willing to give up your lunch and recess every Tuesday to spend it with me?

The students wrote. 
I wrote. 
And then, we shared. 

But not everyone. 
They just aren't ready yet. 

After that, we decorated our writer's notebooks. Some used magazines. Others drew pictures. Each made their notebook their own. 

Here is what I enjoy about writing club:

I am a facilitator of writing while I let my students lead the way. 
I can make connections with kids through writing because they want to be here. 
I am giving the students the time and space to write without the worry of a deadline. 
I am able to share what I am passionate about. 

I can't wait to see what these kids will do this year. I am sure I will write about it again. It's one of the reasons why I chose to have writing club on Tuesdays!