Archive for August, 2017

The power of using student writing as mentor texts

“Nothing motivates like peer models,” says Janiel Wagstaff, author of the recent book We Can Do This! Student Mentor Texts That Teach and Inspire. In this guest post she shares one example of how a peer model influenced other writers in the classroom.

The Power of Using Student Writing as Peer Mentor Texts for Teaching:  One Story
by Janiel Wagstaff

A funny thing happened one day in a first grade classroom.  The students were writing opinions about somethin g they would like to see changed in the school, in their classroom, at home, or anywhere they felt change was needed.  As I was circulating, checking in with writers, acknowledging the positive aspects of their writing, Colby’s conclusion caught my eye.

MentorText_pg 126

I asked all writers to stop and give me their attention as I read Colby’s short piece aloud.  When I came to the ending, I read it once, then twice.  “Writers, what do you think of this conclusion?”  Many students starting laughing, then talking about whether or not they like milk with their lunch.  “See, writers, these few words, ‘Who’s with me?’ catch your attention and get you to think about whether or not you agree with Colby’s opinion.  Seems like a good way to end an opinion piece, after all when we write opinions, we want to share them to see what people think.”

Within two minutes, Brenna had borrowed Colby’s language and ended her piece very similarly.

MentorText_pg 127

I read Brenna’s work aloud, as well.  “Writers, this is fascinating!  One writer comes up with something that works, we share and talk about it, and other writers are inspired to do the same or something similar in their pieces.  Let’s talk about Brenna’s opinion.  Who is with her or against the idea expressed in her opinion?”

After a brief discussion, again within just moments of resuming writing, Kiana’s conclusion showed the mark of also being highly influenced by Colby’s model.  She ended her piece with, “Isn’t that funny?;”  a short three-word sentence begging response from the reader or listener.

What occurred among these first grade writers within these few minutes?  The power of peer models had once again done its magical work.  There is no denying the effect peer models have; there is just something special about a peer’s work that immediately catches students’ attention and propels them to try similar moves in their writing.  I think of it as the, “Well, I can do that, too!” mindset.  The subconscious thinking might be, “If someone like me can do it, this is within my reach.”  Given such affirmation, students confidently take more risks in their writing.

Opportunities abound for using the writing we have right at our fingertips; that is, the writing of our own students, for explicit instruction about skills, strategies, writing elements, and craft moves.  Indeed, the following day, I more formally revisited Colby and Brenna’s pieces, pointing out under the document camera how conclusions should have purpose.  We started a poster to collect examples of purposeful endings, reminding students to ‘read like writers,’ (Calkins, 1994) with eyes wide open to find the gems within the texts we read.

Having perused all the students’ opinion writing, I noticed there was one more teaching point that had immediate relevance.  Many students’ pieces could be improved if they elaborated on the reason for their opinions.  I asked Kiana if we could use her piece under the document camera and work on it cooperatively to explore a question about her reason.  She eagerly agreed, as I find students almost always do, and another teaching point was born of student writing.  When we read her piece aloud, I asked, “Writers, what question do we naturally want to ask Kiana?”  A sea of hands shot up.  Calvin answered, “Why?  Why don’t you like your seat?”  His classmates shook their heads, “Yes, why?”  I jumped in, “We naturally want to know more about her reason, ‘I don’t like where I sit.’  ‘Well, why don’t you?’  If you and Kiana were having a conversation, you would ask her that.  So, let’s ask her, since ultimately we want to know and knowing this will make Kiana’s opinion clearer and stronger.”

Kiana sample 1

When Kiana replied, ‘Taller kids sit in front of me,’ we worked to find a logical place in her writing where she could add this elaboration.  I reminded students how to use a carat, Kiana worked her piece right in front of them, then I invited them to go back and reread their piece to a partner to see if there were opportunities to make this kind of addition.  Naturally, I circulated, celebrated on the spot, and the next day, we used another peer’s writing to more formally point out how the process of rereading to a partner and asking questions helped the writer improve his piece.  All the students had invested; all were interested and engaged.

Kiana sample 2 copy

Using peer models for instruction creates a palpable sense of excitement within the classroom writing community.  Highlighting students’ pieces in this way helps them feel valued and celebrated, like their voices and their processes matter.  This boosts student-confidence and energy levels.  “When students see others like themselves taking risks in their writing, persevering, problem-solving, crafting and succeeding, they become empowered.  The models reassure them that they, too, are writers with important ideas to share and the ability to write well.  They, too, can do this.” (Wagstaff, 2017)

Let’s take one last look at these first graders’ texts.  Are they perfect?  No.  Do they meet the standards for first grade opinion writing?  Yes, the elements of opinion writing had been introduced prior and we even pushed beyond them where it was logical to do so (elaborating on our reasons).  More importantly though, they are the students’ owned expressions and they served to stimulate conversation about their thinking and writing processes.  When we use students’ pieces as mentors, we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking to simply learn from one another, while celebrating approximation.

In the end, a “funny thing” really didn’t happen in this first grade classroom.  I’ve been using students’ writing as mentor texts for years.  It is one of my primary “go-to” strategies for writing instruction because of its many benefits.  The increased engagement along with the students’ empowerment not only boost learning and growth in writing, but drive the purposefulness and genuine caring in the writing community.  This is a place where students want to be.  This is a place where students grow stronger together spurred on by the magic of one another’s words on the page.

 

We Can DoThisLearn much more about using students’ writing as peer mentor texts in Janiel’s book: We Can Do This: Student Mentor Texts That Teach and Inspire, K-2.  It contains the work of student writers across genres, with over 70 critical teaching points that commonly occur in K-2 writing classrooms.  Janiel also shares keen insight into how to use your own students’ work as mentor texts along with pointers from her career-long work with young writers.

References:  Calkins, L.M. (1994).  The art of teaching writing.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Wagstaff, J.M. 92017).  We can do this! Student mentor texts that teach and inspire.  Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Add comment August 31st, 2017

Resources for teaching empathy and tolerance

Many Stenhouse titles focus on building tolerant, accepting communities inside and outside the classroom, helping students see beyond themselves and the immediate world around them. Preview these titles online to find the one that best fits your students:

Black AntsIf you were inspired to become a teacher because you wanted to change the world, and instead find yourself limited by teach-to-the-test pressures, Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey will make you think hard about how you spend your time with students. It offers no easy answers, just a wealth of insight into the challenges of helping students think critically about the world, and starting points for conversations about diversity and controversy in your classroom, as well as in the larger community.

 

Sharing the Blue CrayonSocial and emotional learning is at the heart of good teaching, but as standards and testing requirements consume classroom time and divert teachers’ focus, these critical skills often get sidelined. In Sharing the Blue Crayon, Mary Anne Buckley shows teachers how to incorporate social and emotional learning into a busy day and then extend these skills to literacy lessons for young children. Through simple activities such as read-alouds, sing-alongs, murals, and performances, students learn how to get along in a group, empathize with others, develop self-control, and give and receive feedback, all while becoming confident readers and writers.

 

Many Texts, Many VoicesAs Mary Shorey and coauthor Penny Silvers write in Many Texts, Many Voices, “Critical literacy requires that the reader/consumer examine multiple perspectives and ask, ‘Whose interests are being served?’ and ‘Whose voice is heard—or silenced?’…Rather than an addition to a lesson or curriculum, critical literacy is a way of thinking, communicating, analyzing, and living a literate life. Critical literacy also implies the possibility of taking some kind of social action in order to support a belief, make a difference, or simply help during a time of need.”

 

DreamWakersWe dream of a time when all students will be confident, capable readers and writers. When we teach students to read as writers using mentor texts, we awaken that dream and make it real. Imagine the power of providing students with books that show them their faces, their culture, their lives on every page. And imagine how every classroom’s collection of mentor texts can grow by adding books that celebrate diversity. In Dream Wakers: Mentor Texts That Celebrate Latino Culture, Ruth Culham focuses her love of children’s literature—and her decades of work developing the traits of writing—on books that celebrate Latino life and culture. She provides a wide variety of ideas to teach writing using some of the richest and most beautiful children’s books available.

Caring Hearts & Critical MindsImagine if going to school meant more than preparing kids for a test, teaching a canned curriculum, and training students for their future as workers. What if school were also about cultivating students to be caring, community-involved citizens and critical, creative thinkers who love to read? In Caring Hearts & Critical Minds, teacher-author Steven Wolk shows teachers how to help students become better readers as well as better people. “I want [my students] to be thinkers and have rich conversations regarding critical issues in the text and be able to formulate opinions regarding these issues,” says Leslie Rector, a sixth-grade teacher who collaborated with Wolk on some of the units featured in this book.

Teaching GloballyIn today’s globally connected world, it is essential for students to have an understanding of multiple cultures and perspectives. In this edited collection, Kathy Short, Deanna Day, and Jean Schroeder bring together fourteen educators who use global children’s literature to help students explore their own cultural identities. Teaching Globally lays out why this kind of global curriculum is important and how to make space for it within district and state mandates.

Creating Caring ClassroomsCreating Caring Classrooms is committed to building respectful relationships among students, teachers, and the school community. Through active, engaging, imaginative, and open-ended activities, students will be encouraged to explore events, ideas, themes, texts, stories, and relationships from different perspectives and then represent those new understandings in innovative and creative ways. Teachers will learn how to establish inclusive classrooms, initiate and maintain respectful dialogue, promote collaboration over competition, and confront difficult issues such as bullying and exclusion.

Teaching Fairly in an Unfair WorldTeaching Fairly in an Unfair World helps teachers redefine an inclusive curriculum by questioning what is taught, how it is taught, to whom, and under what conditions. It offers teachers a wealth of challenging, open-ended pursuits that give students “voice” and help them better understand their world. It explores opportunities for students to connect with social justice issues in the real world through imagined experiences found in short stories, novels, plays, picture books, graphic novels, and primary source documents, such as letters.

Add comment August 17th, 2017

Now Online: Powerful Book Introductions

PowerfulBookIntroductionsNo matter what level of experience you have with book introductions, your knowledge will spiral upwards as you read this text.
—Pat Johnson

In Powerful Book Introductions, literacy leaders Kathleen Fay, Chrisie Moritz, and Suzanne Whaley take a close look at purposefully planning for effective book introductions that set the stage for young readers to navigate texts independently and successfully.

Through relatable classroom examples and the wisdom of their shared teaching experiences, the authors show you how to select texts, amplify meaning making, and introduce visual and structural information as a way to support your readers.

No matter where you are in your understanding of guided reading, Powerful Book Introductions will help you as you to craft student-centered, meaning-driven book introductions that prepare your readers for success.

Preorder now; copies will start shipping in late-August. Preview the entire book online!

Add comment August 7th, 2017

Blogstitute 2017: Which Comes First in the Fall–Norms or Tasks?

In this last post of our Summer Blogstitute series, Tracy Zager, author of Becoming the Math the Teacher You Wish You’d Had, shares her ideas for kicking off the school year in your math classroom ready to notice, imagine, ask, connect, argue, prove, and play.

Which Comes First in the Fall–Norms or Tasks?
Tracy Johnston Zager

I periodically hear discussion about whether it’s better to start the new school year by establishing norms for math class or to dive right into a rich mathematical task. I’m opinionated, and I’m not shy about my opinions, but in this case, I’m not joining one team or another. They’re both right.

The first few weeks of math class are crucial. You have a chance to unearth and influence students’ entrenched beliefs—beliefs about mathematics, learning, and themselves. You get to set the tone for the year and show what you’ll value. Speed? Curiosity? Mastery? Risk-taking? Sense-making? Growth? Ranking? Collaboration? You get to teach students how mathematics will feel, look, and sound this year. How will we talk with one another? Listen to our peers? Revise our thinking? React when we don’t know?

In Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, I wrote about a mini-unit Deborah Nichols and I created together. We called it, “What Do Mathematicians Do?” and we launched her primary class with it in the fall. We read select picture-book biographies of mathematicians, watched videos of mathematicians at work, and talked about what mathematics is, as an academic discipline. We kept an evolving anchor chart, and you can see how students’ later answers (red) showed considerably more nuance and understanding than students’ early answers (dark green). [Figure 2.1]

Figure 2.1

Throughout, we focused on the verbs that came up. What are the actions that mathematicians take? How do they think? What do they actually do?

In the book, I argued that this mini-unit is a great way to start the year if and only if students’ experiences doing mathematics involve the same verbs. It makes no sense to develop a rich definition of mathematics if students aren’t going to experience that richness for themselves. If professional mathematicians notice, imagine, ask, connect, argue, prove, and play, then our young mathematicians should also notice, imagine, ask, connect, argue, prove, and play—all year long.

In June, I saw this fantastic tweet in my timeline.

It caught my eye because Sarah’s anchor charts reminded me of Debbie’s anchor chart, but Sarah had pulled these actions out of a task, rather than a study of the discipline. I love this approach and am eager to try it in concert with the mini-unit. The order doesn’t matter to me.

We could (1) start with a study of the discipline, (2) gather verbs, (3) dig into a great task, and (4) examine our list of mathematicians’ verbs to see what we did. Or, we could (1) start the year with a super task, (2) record what we did, (3) study the discipline of mathematics, and (4) compare the two, adding new verbs to our list as needed. In either case, I’d be eager for the discussion to follow, the discussion in which we could ask students, “When we did our first math investigation, how were we being mathematicians?”

Whether we choose to start the year by jumping into a rich task on the first day, or by engaging in a reflective study about what it means to do mathematics, or by undertaking group challenges and conversations to develop norms for discourse and debate, we must be thoughtful about our students’ annual re-introduction to the discipline of mathematics.

How do you want this year to go? How can you invite your students into a safe, challenging, authentic mathematical year? How will you start?

1 comment August 1st, 2017


New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites

Archives

Categories

Blogroll

Classroom Blogs

Tags

Feeds