Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Writing Like a Reader

My writing club students asked me what I was going to blog about today because I wasn't typing like I normally am when they came in at recess.

I have a group of about nine fifth graders that consistently come in each Tuesday with their lunch and spend their lunch and recess time writing. What they write varies from week to week unless you are Jordan and Desiree. I am pretty sure they are both writing a book, Jordyn inspired by a friend's love of unicorns and Desiree inspired by the unicorn story. Every Tuesday both their stories get longer and more detailed. And each time they reread their stories to the group, they find different things they want to revise based off of what I taught them in writing. Definitely the sign of good writers!

But today I told them what I wanted to blog about and why I couldn't quite yet. I explained that I was looking at my writing as a reader and a reader would not want to hear my rant and the anger in my voice. This opened up an interesting discussion about the tone a writer sets when they write.

You see, I still need to calm down. Compose myself. Think about how to write about what I want to write about without offending my audience. 

It will come. 


But it may have to wait because another one of my writing club students requested that my next blog post be The Ringlet, a piece that I modeled for my writing students during our narrative unit. 

And you know what? I think I may just do that. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Revision-What's That?

I love to write. I always have. Even when I struggled through school as a student, writing was my safe place. It was the place I felt smart.

One of the things I have always had a hard time teaching students is how to revise in an effective way. We would get to that part in the writing process, and  I would give them a checklist. They would go back to their seats, check yes in each column while never actually revising, and call it good. 

Year after year this would happen, and I didn't know how to fix it. Until now. 

The idea came from a Kelly Gallagher tweet I had read on twitter near the end of September:

"No paper is ever finished. It is just due. Papers always remain eligible for revision, even after a grade is placed. Latest papers are called "best drafts," never "final drafts."

This really got me thinking and changed the way I talk about written work. I started referring to the finished piece as their "best draft" and realized that I could utilize my mini lessons and writer's workshop for revision.

One of the reasons students don't like to revise is because teachers give one day for revising the whole piece. That's a lot of work. My students had revised their recent narratives at least seven times by the time they found themselves on the editing portion. And each time they revised, I made sure to tell them what revision number we were on. I wanted to make sure they understood that revising takes time. It's not a one time thing.

Here is the revision journey I took with my students:

On day one, they wrote their first draft in their writer's notebooks. After that, they typed up what they had in google docs and it was revision from there on. Each day I taught a mini lesson, then they went back into their work and revised their piece to meet the needs of the mini lesson. For this narrative they worked on stretching their story, adding figurative language and dialog, hooks, strong endings, and author's craft. They worked collaboratively in groups of three on revisions using the PQS (Praise Question Suggestion) strategy. The students focused on one aspect of their writing they wanted to improve on. Not all of it. It worked out amazingly well. They didn't feel overwhelmed and each time their drafts were better than the one before.

I will continue to teach revision this way because when all is said and done, the students did an AMAZING job.

And you know what?

It wasn't as hard as they thought it was going to be. To them, it was fun. Isn't that what writing is supposed to be?

One student's narrative checklist

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Teachers Learning From One Another

The one thing that I really struggle with as a writing teacher is conferencing with ALL of my students about their writing. I have four sections of fifth graders and about 23 kids in each class. I would often find myself reading their writing at home in google classroom and leaving comments for them about questions that I had. This was one of the only ways I could figure out how to "meet" with all of them. But I still wasn't satisfied with it and felt that I was letting myself down as a writing teacher but more importantly letting my own students down.

At NWP/NCTE this past November I was at a session where Carl Anderson was one of the speakers. If you don't know who Carl Anderson is, I refer to him as the conferencing guru. One of the things he mentioned that really stood out to me is the fact that in his K-12 educational experience, his mother, an English teacher, was the only teacher to ever conference with him about his writing. And it was because he failed an essay assignment. From that point on, she conferenced with him on a regular basis.

This made me sad, and it made me think of my own children. They are 11, 9, and 8.

After the conference I went home and asked them about their own teachers over their short schooling career. They have had wonderful teachers but according to my kids, none of them had ever sat down  and talked to them about their writing.

My school district went on winter break a week before most districts in the area. I took this as an opportunity to observe my friend, Jill's writing workshop. Jill is an MCTE teacher of the year, Red Cedar Writing Project teacher consultant and co-director, and director of  Spartan Writing Camp. She is a phenomenal teacher and one that I look up to.

Jill teaches in a 3/4 classroom at Okemos Public Montessori. Her writing workshop was what I had envisioned, but what I learned from her about conferencing was incredibly valuable. It was simple, and I am embarrassed to say that I should have been conferencing like this all along. I watched as Jill moved around the classroom with a clipboard and pen talking to students. Talking about what they were writing and where in the process they were with their writing. When it was appropriate, she gave suggestions and asked questions.

I was in her room for one hour. On my winter break. But it was more worthwhile than anything else I could have been doing at that time.

Today I put this conferencing into action with my own students during writing workshop. And it was unreal. I was able to talk to six to eight students in each class. I loved listening to what they had to tell me, ask questions, and offer suggestions. I loved being able to connect what they were working on to mini lessons we have done in the past. And I think they loved that I was giving them individual attention and felt safe asking for help without an audience.

But more importantly, I heard them. I heard their story and listened to what they had to say.