Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Author's Craft

Back in October I was at an MCTE session listening to Jeff Anderson discuss his new book that was about to come out the following week called Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Writing. I was motivated by his talk but there was one thing above everything else that stood out to me. It was an image from this new book that he had displayed on the screen. On a pink sticky note he had the words: Author's Purpose-Why? and on a blue sticky note he had the words: Author's Craft-How?

Right after his session I presented with some teachers in a group that I belong to called Discovering Genres. When we asked the participants in our session to name some writing genres, many of them gave us purposes. It was the combination of that and Jeff Anderson's sticky notes that I knew I was going to make sure my students new the Why? and the How? in writing.

Ever since the conference my students and I have been talking a lot about author's purpose in my writing classroom. They know the mnemonic to remember them all by, the definitions of each and can give examples of genres that fall under each purpose. But more importantly they are beginning make connections.

While immersing themselves in obituaries to prepare for writing their own on one of the seven key Founding Fathers, they commented that obituaries are written very similarly to author's blurbs, one of their first pieces of writing in fifth grade.  They both are meant to inform a reader but for different reasons. One celebrates the life of someone who has passed away and the other, the accomplishments of someone living. Through this conversation I know they definitely understand the Why?

And today.

Today, they totally got the How?

It was one of those lessons that turned out better than expected. Not just with one class but all four sections.

But let me back up for a second.

Yesterday I had read them Bedhead by Margie Palatini. We then brainstormed different hairror stories as a class. After that, the students had an opportunity to write their own. The idea for this narrative was inspired by Jeff Anderson in Mechanically Inclined and created by Janet Swenson, founder of the Red Cedar Writing Project at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

So today, we looked at the How? After a brief discussion about author's craft, I gave each student two sticky notes and the first page of Bedhead. We then read the page together and looked at different craft moves. Did you know the first sentence of this book is only two words long and has five craft moves? My students figured that out. We eventually made our way to the end of  the page and had brainstormed a full sticky note worth.

Many questioned the use of fragments in Palatini's work but realized it was more effective than writing proper sentences. And I honestly believe through the conversation we had about it, that it was an aha moment for many of my students.

After that, I partnered up my students and gave each pair a different page from the book. The students immersed themselves in her work, first by reading the page then noticing the How? 

When they finished, they presented their findings to the class.

It was amazing!

Now, I just need to make sure they transfer this new found skill to their own writing.

An excerpt from Bedhead (2000) by Margie Palatini and some of my students' noticings