Posts filed under 'Blogstitute'

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

Blogstitute 2017: What Do They Remember?

As you think about starting the new school year, hold tight to this message from Jennifer Allen, author of Becoming a Literacy Leader: “as teachers, as literacy leaders, we have the power to make difference through our interactions and interest in others.” Who knows what your students will remember you for?

Jen Allen - 2016What Do They Remember? How Do We Make Them Feel?
Jennifer Allen

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou

Hello, 

I was one of your third grade students many, many years ago. I am currently a grad student at the University of San Francisco, studying Education for Social Justice. We’re doing a project on an inspirational teacher, and I’m doing mine about you. It inspired me to reach out to you. Sally

This is the message I found in my inbox this summer.  As soon as I saw Sally’s name, I found myself smiling. The image of Sally, an eight-year-old girl with blond curls, freckles, and an infectious smile, filled my head. I had not seen or heard from Sally for more than twenty years.

After a few e -mail exchanges this summer,  Sally sent another e-mail, this time with a link to the video project that she had created around her inspirational teacher—me.  I wondered what I could have possibly said or done to be remembered as an inspiration.  I clicked the link and watched Sally talk about me on camera.  I watched, holding my breath.  I was relieved that I made her feel special. I didn’t remember the specifics of the black dress that she spoke of on camera. It made me realize that as teachers we often don’t know what sticks to one’s heart.

We spend so much time these days in schools focusing in on curriculum, assessments, and professional development that at times it’s easy to lose sight of that what’s most important—the people in the buildings, the students, and the adults that we interact with each day.  What will really be remembered at the end of the day, school year, or even years later?  What is it that we keep and why? I remember listening to a keynote presentation years ago from educator Jonathon Kozal. What I remember from that presentation was a statement that he made regarding standards—that no student is ever going to remember that on Tuesday they learned standard number 3, just because it was written on the board. His words were a reminder that our students are more than a standard charted on a board.

Susan Scott writes in her book Fierce Conversations, “Our emotional wake determines the story that is told about each of us in the organization. It’s the story that’s told when we’re not in the room. It’s the story that will be told about us after we’re gone.” My e-mail exchanges with Sally remind me of the importance of my interactions with students and adults on a daily basis. The video is a reminder that I don’t really know what one holds on to or keeps over time.  But what I do know is that as teachers, as literacy leaders, we have the power to make difference through our interactions and interest in others. We have a responsibility to be present, to listen, and be aware of how our words may or may not make others feel. So as we start a new year with new students and staff, what power will your words hold, what stories will they feed.

 

2 comments July 27th, 2017

Blogstitute 2017: Writing that matters

In today’s Blogstitute post, Vicki Meigs-Kahlenbert, author of The Author’s Apprentice, argues for writing instruction and writing assignments that really matter, that make students remember the high of getting published, of having their voice out in the world. They will not remember a grade, but they will remember setting a high goal and being encouraged to attain it. 

Enough Muck Shuckin’; Let’s Make It Matter
Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg

I spent the past week of my life with five teenagers and an amazing co-leader named Bill, shoveling muck and debris and pumping out black water from under the subfloor in a tired, old home in Appalachia. And each day that it rained, it felt like Groundhog Day all over again, removing more muck and water one five-gallon bucket at a time.

This year, instead of escaping to the beach the week after school was out, my family and I decided to go on a mission trip. My two high school–aged children, my husband, and I teamed up with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to help rebuild the homes and lives of those living in poverty in the Appalachian Mountains.

Our mission site took us only three-and-a-half hours west of our home (near Raleigh, North Carolina), but Johnson County, Tennessee, felt worlds away.  Nestled deep in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains are hundreds of families living in poverty—many with homes that lack proper bathrooms and plumbing, most in desperate need of serious repair to simply make them safe to live in. Our job was to come in to make these homes livable again and ready to withstand the brutal mountain winter.

This experience was both rewarding and humbling in so many ways. It made me think a lot about human nature and motivation both in the classroom and out in the world.

The Author's ApprenticeWhen my crew arrived to our work site, we could see that the entire rear of the house was “sinking.” There had been several additions built on to the back throughout the years by the homeowners, and all the eaves from all the different rooflines converged at one low point in the very middle of the rear of the house. (I can’t help thinking that middle school is a lot like that for some kids—years of lessons not learned, expectations not met, all converging in this one place in time, making them feel like they are falling further behind.)

My Dream Team of teenagers was super-pumped to get in the back room with sledgehammers and Sawzalls to start the demolition. It took a while to get through the layers of flooring, but once that first piece of subfloor came out, the world stopped.

Each one of us choked in a breath as the fumes emerged. Bravely, we covered our mouths and noses and peeked in for a closer look. The cinderblock foundation was filled with water. And it was black. Upon closer inspection, we could see that it filled the crawl space the entire length of the house. And those beams that we were planning to “sister” for safety and support were so rotted that they crumbled in our hands—many no longer attached to the foundation at all.

Maybe it was the naïveté of the youth who were with us that made us act, but these kids knew we had to do something. They all knew that their actions at that moment mattered, and they acted on that instinct. Period.

I know many of these teens from my own kids’ youth group. Although they are all fantastic teenage specimens—smart, funny, well-intentioned, I’m not sure that any of them under normal circumstances would agree to standing in sewage for days on end. They all balk at chores around the house, and roll their eyes and sigh when they are asked to do things they’d rather not do. But last week they powered on through the rain and stench because what they were doing mattered to this family, and it ultimately mattered to them.

They weren’t being evaluated on the quality of their work, yet it was excellent. They weren’t being rated on their attitudes or tone, yet they were always positive. These kids were an inspiration to me, to Bill, and to the family whose home we repaired. The work they did last week made a difference out in the world.  It’s an experience that we will all carry with us for a long time to come.

Out in the world and in our classrooms, when kids have the opportunity to do something that matters to them beyond a test score or an evaluation, they will rise up and not only meet your expectation; they will exceed it.

It is our job to figure out how to make that happen in our classrooms each year.

Every morning last week, we got up, rain or shine. We’d begin with an inspirational morning huddle, and then pile into the work van with Bring Em Out, by T. I., thumping through the speakers and smiles on our faces. It wasn’t because we were excited to be shoveling that muck; it was because what we were doing served a greater purpose. We only had one week, but in that one week, our goal was to strengthen another family’s foundation from the inside out.

It occurred to me that we should think of our teaching the same way. The work that we do with our students at any level is foundational. In order to make the greatest impact in the one year that we have with our students, we need to show them that the work they are doing matters. We need to prove to our students that they matter by raising the bar and setting high expectations—for all students, not just the advanced learners. We need to push them to stretch just beyond what they believe is possible.

Publication can do this for our students in the language arts classroom. Many of my students have struggled in this content area in the younger grades, so writing to be published seems like the craziest idea ever. It is incredible what they can do when they put their minds to it.

For years, I have required all of my students, whether they are labeled, average, academically gifted, or learning support, to submit a minimum of two pieces of their school writing for authentic, real-world publication. In their written assignments, I encourage them to focus on the things that matter to them in their own lives—their own stories and memories and the issues that they are passionate about. This has made a huge impact on every student across the board in terms of their effort, their motivation, and the quality of all their writing assignments throughout the year.

Real-world, editor-reviewed and -selected publication gives students the opportunity to get their voices out in the world. It provides motivation that goes beyond a grade, giving them an authentic reason to read and to write. It levels the playing field for writers of all abilities, and it offers all students the opportunity to give back to the writing world—to be part of it—to continue the cycle so that future writers can find inspiration for their own writing. That confidence never goes away.

Over the years, I have discovered that there is a place to publish nearly every kind of writing that I already do in my classroom. I do a lot of freewriting with my students, but even when we are working on what I consider “school writing,” such as book reviews, personal narratives, poetry, arguments, and essays, my students always have opportunities to share their work outside the classroom. Writing with the prospect of publication raises the bar on the quality of work for every assignment.

Some of my favorite publication opportunities include A Celebration of Poets, NPR’s This I Believe Essay Contest, Teen Ink, and our local newspaper.

Truth is, none of my students remembers their test scores from their seventh- or eighth-grade years, or any of the rest of the muck we trudged through together as a class, but every one of them remembers seeing their words in print for the first time, and the pride that came with authentic publication.

[For more information about the Appalachia Service Project, please visit www.asphome.org]

6 comments July 25th, 2017

Blogstitute 2017: Teaching globally to make a difference in the world

 In our rapidly changing world, it’s important for students to be aware of their own cultural backgrounds, as well as those around them. In this post in our Summer Blogstitute series, Kathy Short explores what that means for teachers–how they can engage their students with global literature, how they can give their students opportunities to go beyond surface-level information about cultures. Kathy is the coeditor of Teaching Globally: Reading the World Through Literature.

Teaching Globally to Make a Difference in the World
Kathy G. Short

Kathy Short 2016Several times a day, I click on news headlines from around the world, dreading reports of bombings, kidnappings, diplomatic breakdowns, and deportations. These constant reminders of global instability and intolerance are discouraging and frightening. Sometimes it’s hard to retain hope in the future, given the current state of affairs. Yet teaching is all about hope and the possibility of changing the future by being present in children’s lives in significant ways. This desire for hope has challenged me to focus my work on how teaching can make a difference in children’s views of the world.

Teaching globally makes sense, given constant demonstrations of the consequences of close-mindedness toward those whose cultures differ from our own.  We can no longer close our classroom doors to the world because the world surrounds children on a daily basis through the interconnectedness of technology and global mobility. The world is no longer far away but integrated into every aspect of our everyday lives, affecting both our personal and professional well-being.

So what does that mean for us as teachers? I am part of a professional community, Worlds of Words, in which we are exploring curricular changes to open classrooms to the world.  We focus on engagements that invite children to develop intercultural understandings through interactions with global literature. Literature set in global cultures provides an opportunity for children to go beyond a tourist perspective—gaining only surface-level information about another culture. Literature expands children’s life spaces as they travel outside the boundaries of their lives to other places, times, and ways of living. They immerse themselves in story worlds and gain insights about how people in global communities live, feel, and think, developing empathy as well as knowledge.

Expanding our Classroom Libraries

A first step is to integrate more global books into our classrooms, but in order to do that we have to find the books. Although the number of books set in global cultures is increasing, they are still only a small portion of what is published for children. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 21 percent of the books published in 2016 featured a character of color. Although that amount is up from four years ago when the number was only 7 percent, it is problematic, given that 49 percent of the total population in U.S. schools is children of color and that the 21 percent are primarily multicultural books set in the United States rather than globally. Unless we search for those global books and bring them into our classrooms, the world in our books will remain white and American.

So, my challenge to you is to read global literature this summer and add new books to the old favorites you share every year. These resources can help you locate summer reading:

  • Award lists such as the Outstanding International Books from USBBY and Notable Books for a Global Society from the Children’s Literature and Reading SIG at ILA.
  • Book reviews in WOW Review on culturally authentic literature.

Be sure to note the cultural backgrounds of authors and illustrators to share when you read aloud or give a book talk. Children assume that books are authored by Americans as their default unless we tell them something about the author using information from the book jacket or located online.

Engaging Students with Global Literature

In addition to finding great new titles to add to your classroom, you also need engagements to invite students to thoughtfully interact with these books. Global books often focus on ways of living that seem far removed from children’s life experiences and contain unfamiliar stylistic features and names. One danger is that students will view this literature as “exotic” or “weird” and fail to connect in significant ways. The use of global literature can actually establish stereotypes and misunderstandings and lead to feelings of pity or superiority.

In Teaching Globally: Reading the World Through Literature, we provide multiple examples from classrooms of how teachers have engaged students and integrated global literature into their curriculum through four curricular components. These curricular components encourage students to develop conceptual understandings of culture, perspective, and action through a critical stance that supports the development of intercultural understanding.

Intercultural Framework

Intercultural framework

Understanding Our Own Cultural Identities

It’s hard to value or understand why culture matters in the lives of people around the world if we don’t first recognize that we have cultural identities shaping our thinking and actions.  Without that realization, we tend to see our culture as the “norm” and everyone else as “others” who are “different.”

Most of us start the school year with “Who am I?” activities for children to get to know more about each other. This year consider ways to go beyond favorites and interests to engage students in examining why these exist in their lives. One engagement we often use is cultural X-rays, an outline of a body shape with a large heart inside. Students label the outside of their bodies with visible aspects of their culture, such as language, age, ethnicity, gender, and religion, and the inside with the values and beliefs they hold in their hearts.

Other engagements include:

  • Collect artifacts significant to understanding who they are and set up museum displays.
  • Create neighborhood memory maps, drawing their neighborhood and labeling stories that are memories of events in this space and then reflecting on why these stories are important.
  • Mapping their life journeys using a range of formats to reflect changes over time.
  • Collect and share “remember when” stories often told at family reunions.

These engagements can be supported by sharing children’s books in which the characters reflect on their identities or tell stories from their lives, such as I Love Saturdays y domingos (Ada 2002).

Engaging in Cross-Cultural Studies

In-depth inquiry into a specific global culture can broaden students’ perspectives and help them realize that their own worldview is only one of many ways to live in the world.  A cross-cultural study needs to go beyond superficial aspects, such as the five Fs: food, fashion, folklore, festivals, and famous people. Students need opportunities to examine the complexity and diversity of a cultural community and the reasons why a particular food or tradition is significant. Without an in-depth study of a culture, students remain on the surface, never understanding that culture’s values and beliefs.

Consider whether you can change a unit in your curriculum to an in-depth inquiry into a particular cultural community that is unfamiliar to students or where you have access to resources.  Or you may be able to take an existing unit; for example, on the rainforest or water, and examine that topic within the context of a specific culture, like Brazil or Sudan. Gather fiction and nonfiction to support this inquiry and locate a novel, such as A Long Walk to Water, as a read-aloud.

Integrating Multiple Global Perspectives

Although an occasional cross-cultural study is important, literature reflecting a wide range of global perspectives should be woven into every classroom unit, no matter what the topic or curriculum area. Whether the classroom focus is family, conflict, the moon, or fractions, look for books that reflect a range of global perspectives. Otherwise, interculturalism becomes a special unit instead of an orientation that pervades the curriculum.

Pull out your curriculum maps and units for the coming year and search for several global books to add to each unit. Or select one or two units that have the most potential for globalizing their content and introducing global books, such as adding Families Around the World, A New Year’s Reunion, and Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji to a first-grade unit on family. Use the search feature for books on Worlds of Words (wowlit.org) or check the extensive annotated bibliographies in Reading the World’s Stories.

Inquiring into Global Issues

Difficult social, political, and environmental issues, such as human rights, pollution, hunger, poverty, refugees, and language loss, provide an opportunity for students to understand the local and global complexity of the world’s problems and to consider ways of taking action. These inquiries have the most potential to take students beyond talk into accepting responsibility as global citizens and taking action to create a better and more just world. Literature can play a critical role in helping students understand the root causes of these global issues so they can take action in more thoughtful ways. For example, reading Iqbal supports a deeper understanding of why families are forced into child labor that can be combined with nonfiction sources such as Stolen Dreams.

Go back to your curriculum map and units to see if there is a unit that has the potential to provide an in-depth study of a global issue that could lead children to action. Search for fiction and nonfiction global books that could help students understand the causes and act out of empathy rather than pity.

Taking a Critical Stance

Teaching globally should be framed within a critical reading of the world and the word.  Paulo Freire argues that we need to question “what is” and “who benefits” from things remaining the same as well as consider “what if” and new possibilities before moving to action. Students need to struggle with these ideas and issues, not just take a superficial tour of culture, picking up isolated pieces of information. It’s not enough for students to learn more about global cultures; they need to question power relationships and the status quo in order to make real change in how they think about and relate to people in their world, both locally and globally. A curriculum and literature that are truly intercultural offer both us and our students the possibility of transforming our lives and world.

 

Ada, A. F. 2002. I Love Saturdays y domingos. Illus. E. Savadier. New York: Simon & Schuster.

D’Adamo, F. 2003.  Iqbal.  New York: Atheneum.

Freire, P. 1970.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Goldsmith, A., T. Heras,and S. Corapi. 2016. Reading the World’s Stories: An Annotated Bibliography of International Youth Literature. New York: Rowan and Littlefield.

Li-Qiong, Y. 2013.  A New Year’s Reunion.  Illus. Z. Cheng-Liang.  Somerset, MA: Candlewick.

Park, L. S. 2011. A Long Walk to Water.  New York: Clarion.

Parker, D. 1997. Stolen Dreams: Portraits of Working Children. Minneapolis: Lerner.

Ruirs, M. 2017.  Families Around the World. Illus. J. Gordon. Toronto: Kids Can Press.

Zia, F.  (2011).  Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji.  Illus. K. Min. New York: Lee and Low.

 

 

 

1 comment July 20th, 2017

Blogstitute 2017: Writing Teachers Must Write

Ackerman & McDonough 2016 2In today’s Summer Blogstitute post, Jennifer McDonough and Kristin Ackerman, authors of Conferring with Young Writers, make the argument for why writing teachers must also be students and practitioners of the craft they teach.

 

Writing Teachers Must Write
Jennifer McDonough and Kristin Ackerman

Let’s begin with the dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about . . . most teachers of  writing are not writing. Yep, we said it . . . out loud . . . it’s true! Now in their defense, these teachers have a lot of reasons that they do not write, and several are very legitimate reasons.

To name a few . . .

  • Teachers are busy. Many are juggling multiple subjects and multiple classes.
  • Our schools are constantly adopting new programs so we often feel bogged down by all of the new things we need to learn.
  • We are drowning in grading, parent emails, faculty meetings, fire drill procedures, etc.
  • Testing, testing, testing . . . need we say more?
  • There are few to no existing classes on teaching young children to write offered to teachers in college programs. Reading, math? Yes! Writing? Nope.

As two teachers who are in the trenches, we completely understand that it is not only challenging to make time to write but most of you reading this will have no idea where to even start to get the training and background on how to learn yourself. Here are a few tips on how to make time to write, where to find mentors and why it will benefit your teaching.

  • Delegate drafting days in class. Sit with your  students and write as if you were another student in the room.
  • Set aside one planning block a week for writing so that you are prepared to teach authentically.
  • Think about your drafts during the rare times that you have a few moments to yourself. When you go for a walk or when you’re getting ready for work. That thinking time is crucial for generating ideas. We like to jot our ideas down in a little mini-notebook that we keep in our purses so that when we have time to write we can refer to our notebook to remember our ideas.
  • Get involved with other writing teachers and meet for coffee or wine to share different ways that you are squeezing in time to write and what you’re learning.
  • Find every professional resource you can on how to help kids become better writers. There are so many great professional texts out there to get you started.
  • Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Writing Toward Home by Georgia Heard to inspire you to begin your own writing journey.
  • Start a personal journal of thoughts and ideas.
  • Create a personal or professional blog to try out your writing for others.  Audience is everything and will keep you accountable but also give you purpose.

Now for the why.  It would be crazy to think about teaching someone how to play tennis without having ever picked up a racquet. We would never entertain teaching someone how to fly a plane when all we have ever done is boarded one and gave a cheery hello to the flight attendants. These things seem a bit crazy, yet every day teachers are being asked to teach something in which they have had little to no training or experience. When we present across the country and ask teachers to raise their hands if they had any classes in college on how to teach young children how to write, we maybe get one hand raised. The rest just give us that look of relief that someone actually acknowledged the problem and it isn’t their fault or shortcoming.  Having said all of this, we understand but still cannot excuse ourselves from being the best writing teachers we can be. There are so many important reasons why we need to make time to learn the art of skill of writing.

  • We stand by the statement “Those who do the most work do the most learning.” If you want to feel comfortable coaching writers you have to write.
  • Teaching authentically demands that you are familiar with your subject.
  • We know that the most important factor impacting student learning is the teacher. So, if we want to impact our students, we need to be prepared.
  • Conferring with writers is easy when we have walked in their shoes. Instead of glaring at the kid who has a blank sheet of paper we can look at them with empathy and say, “I know just how it feels to stare at a sea of white and wonder what to write about. Can I show you a few strategies that have helped me to generate ideas?”

Our final why ends with a quote from Maya Angelou, her words remind us that through literacy instruction we are calling on the one thing that we all have in common to connect and learn: our humanity.

“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”

—Maya Angelou

So, let’s be the kind of teachers that make time to write so that we can reach, influence, encourage and enrich the students in our classrooms.

4 comments July 18th, 2017

Blogstitute 2017: Revision Rx

In the next post in our Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute series, Ruth Culham, the author of The Writing Thief and Dream Wakers, has a little writing and revision assignment for you. Follow along as she revises a short paragraph and invites you to practice and play along this summer. Tell us how your revision process worked in the comments or on Twitter (#blogstitute17).

Revision Rx
Ruth Culham

News Release:

ruthculhamThe prescription for what ails writers about revision is now available as an over-the-counter remedy. Once accessible to a precious few, it’s no longer a high-priced prescription drug. Now all writing teachers and their students can help themselves anytime they wish. Available in six different flavors (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions), you can match taste preferences to individual writers to treat writing maladies of concern.

Introducing: The New and Improved Traits of Writing. This solution to common complaints of many writing teachers and students has been around for over thirty years, but now, thanks to new research and design, the traits have been recompounded to cure the revision blues. And best of all, they are free. Just visit : www.culhamwriting.com, and help yourself. Dosages for children as well as adults are clearly listed.

Warning:  Writers who go long periods of time without reading may need a bigger initial dose for full effect. Tell a colleague immediately if you or any of your students experience extended periods of continuous writing that last more than 24 hours. Do not take this remedy unless you are fully prepared to write better and more often.

***

It’s true, you know. The prescription to cure writing maladies is revision with the traits of writing in mind. Knowing how to break each down into just-right dosages can make all the difference in your writing instruction. Here’s something to try this summer while you are thinking about next year and how you will approach revision with students.

  1. Write a short paragraph on a topic of your choosing. Maybe it’s an anecdote about something interesting that’s already happened this summer; maybe it’s something you are curious about and have googled so you can learn more; maybe it’s an opinion you want to express about something you feel strongly about. It doesn’t matter the topic, just write something—rough, raw, and not smoothed over at all.

Here’s mine:

It’s harder and harder to go to bed early now that it’s light so long. Instead, I go outside with my neighbors outside on my patio and talk while the sun sets and quiet comes over my condo group . . . day slowly turning into night. It is peaceful. It is happy. Summer nights are my favorite time of the year. 

  1. Download the Grades 3–12 traits of writing Scoring Guides from the Library section of my website: culhamwriting.com.
  2. Pick one of the traits, any one: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency.  (Not conventions, though. That’s an editing trait, and we’re trying out an idea for revision here.) Read the definition for that trait at the top of the page.
  3. Look at the four key qualities for that trait and pick one–just one. For example, if you are looking at word choice, notice:
  • Applying Strong Verbs
  • Selecting Striking words and Phrases
  • Using Specific and Accurate Words
  • Choosing Words That Deepen Meaning
  1. Read the criteria for an Exceptional/Strong piece of writing in that Key Quality only. For example: Apply Strong Verbs: The writer uses many “action words,” giving the piece punch and pizzaz. He or she has stretched to find lively verbs that add energy to the piece.
  2. Turn back to your initial draft and look at it critically to revise for strong verbs. Highlight the verbs you want to focus on, then cross out any you can improve, reword, and add new ones. Don’t recopy¾just work on one thing; this is what I call Squeeze it Once and Let it Go.

It’s harder and harder to go head off to bed early now that it’s light so long. I go hang out with my neighbors outside on my patio and talk chat while the sun sets and quiet comes settles over my condo group . . .  day slipping into night. Peaceful. Happy. If only summer nights could linger longer.  

Or . . .

It’s harder and harder to go head off to bed early now that it’s light so long. I go hang out with my neighbors outside on my patio and talk chat while the sun sets and quiet comes settles over my condo group . . . day slowly turning slipping into night. Peaceful. Happy. If only summer nights could linger longer. 

  1. Put your piece aside in a Writing Wallet, which is a simple manila folder that holds some key drafts of writing, and stop for now. Another writing day, you can pick a different Key Quality of word choice or a different trait completely, and take a fresh look at your draft through the lens of a new Key Quality. Meanwhile, you can write something new and add it to the Writing Wallet for future revision practice, too.

FYI:  Notice I replaced verbs that add energy to the piece, but because revision is never in a simple box, I wound up changing a few lines to smooth them out, too, as I was focusing on the verbs. Focusing on one trait can lead to revising in another. In this case, the sentence fluency improved, too, as I revised for strong verbs. A happy turn of events.

The result of this focused activity is revision.  Real revision.  Not just neatening up the text and applying editing conventions so it is readable, but changing the text to make it clearer and more dynamic–one Key Quality of a trait at a time.

Think of the possibilities.  Once you have a Writing Wallet that contains some pieces of practice writing, you can turn to mentor texts such as those in my books The Writing Thief and Dream Wakers as sources for evidence of every Key Quality of every trait. You will love some of these books and you’ll want to pull out examples of different writing qualities, study them as a craft techniques, then try out what you’ve learned on your practice pieces in the Writing Wallet. There are five revision traits and each has four Key Qualities, so as you read, you can find examples of all twenty writing skills for revision. Remember though, follow the doctor’s orders:  Focus your work on only one revision activity at a time, learning each thoroughly and well. More in-depth study means these writing skills and techniques will have better odds of transferring into longer, more extended pieces of writing through the entire writing process.

This is the revision Rx. Try a spoonful of the Writing Wallet this summer and you’ll have models to share with students when they get back from their summer break.   And remember, as every good pharmacist will tell you, it’s important to finish the prescription, even if you start to feel better, so to get the maximum effect, keep taking this Rx from the beginning of the year to the end.

Learning from Experts

With gratitude, I’d like to share an essay that children’s author Pat Mora wrote on about her own writing and revision process. Pat believes in revision and finds it to be a joyful experience.  She offers ideas to make it pleasurable for you and your students, too.

Beginning Again and Again

By Pat Mora

One of my writing secrets is that writers often begin again and again. I am finishing my new picture book, BOOKJOY, WORDJOY, to be illustrated by the talented Raúl Colón. I have enjoyed collecting my poems for children and writing new poems including “Writing Secrets.” It is based on ZING, my book about creativity for educators. In the poem “Writing Secrets,” I don’t say that writers edit. We revise. I didn’t always like revising, but now, it’s probably my favorite part of writing.

            “Oh, no!” you might be saying. “I don’t like rewriting at all!”

            That’s how I used to feel. I don’t rewrite everything, of course. I don’t revise letters to my three wonderful children, for example. I do begin again and again, however, when I am working on stories, essays, or poems that I hope will be published. I polish. I had to learn to polish my writing when I was in school and at the university.

            When I was a little girl in El Paso, Texas, a city in the desert right on the Mexican border, I liked to read. Now, many years later, I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in high desert. I still like—no, I love to read and read every day. I am a writer because I am a reader. I enjoy playing with words—learning new ones in English and Spanish, listening to words, hearing them rhyme.

            Growing up, I didn’t think about becoming a writer. I thought about being a teacher, and then a doctor. Maybe I didn’t think about being a writer because none of the writers I learned about were living—except on the page. Also, I’d never heard of a writer who was bilingual, who wrote in English and Spanish. In my home, we spoke both, but at school, we didn’t talk about and enjoy our different home languages and cultures. It is so exciting that today in our libraries and classrooms, we share books from all the diverse families living in our United States. Sharing and respecting our cultures makes us more united—and smarter.

            When I started writing, I started writing for adults and was surprised that I didn’t write about going to the moon or Hawaii, what can sound fun and exciting. I wrote about the desert, family, Mexico, and stories. I write about what I like, what interests me, and about famous people who interest me. I really enjoy the wordjoy of poetry and remember writing poems in eighth grade.

            I made-up both words, bookjoy and wordjoy. Writing is both work and play. Maybe you want to make up a word, to play?

            Not everyone in the world has books, libraries, goes to school, and learns to read. If we are lucky enough to be readers, then we can be writers and share what we write. The pleasure of sharing our writing is one of my other writing tips. Have you ever given a family member or friend a poem you wrote? What a special gift!

I love the way Pat explains her different types of writing and which pieces she revisits and writes “again and again” to polish. Consider sharing this essay with your students, so they can hear a successful author’s own words about how important revision is to the writing process. You can find more essays by some of my favorite authors in Dream Wakers, too.

 

3 comments July 13th, 2017

Blogstitute 2017 Coming Soon!

Blogstitute 2017

Join us again this summer for our popular Blogstitute series starting July 11 and running through August 1. We will be posting twice a week and you will hear from the following authors:
Jennifer Allen (Becoming a Literacy Leader, Second Edition)
Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg (The Author’s Apprentice)
Katrin Blamey and Katherine Beauchat (Starting Strong)
Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough (Conferring with Young Writers)
Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak (Still Learning to Read, Second Edition)
Ruth Culham (Dream Wakers)
Kathy Short (Teaching Globally)
Tracy Zager (Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had)

Sign up here to receive updates when a new post goes live and to be entered into our weekly book drawing!

We  hope to read your comments and questions on the blog and on Twitter: #blogstitute17

2 comments June 15th, 2017

Blogstitute 2016: Establishing Routines for the Writing Workshop

We close this year’s Summer Blogstitute series with a post looking ahead to the upcoming school year. Stacey Shubitz, the author of Craft Moves, shares her strategies for establishing routines and classroom procedures during the first few weeks of school so that students — and teachers — can maximize learning and teaching time during the entire year. There’s still time until the end of this week to leave comments or to Tweet about any of our Blogstitute posts using #blogstitute16 for a chance to win free books!

Establishing Routines and Procedures for the Writing Workshop
By Stacey Shubitz

stacey_croppedHaving solid routines and procedures for independent work increases student engagement and frees teachers to confer and work with small groups during independent writing time. But how does one accomplish this?

I believe in the Responsive Classroom approach’s First Six Weeks of School, which asserts that the beginning of the school year is a time to lay the groundwork by teaching academic routines, discussing expectations, and creating goals that will enable a classroom community to thrive for the entire year.

Here are some things to think about during the first six weeks of school so your writing workshop will function well for the entire year:

  • Create a list of writing workshop expectations with your students. This list will be different from the classroom rules you create with your class. Click here for some ideas about creating expectations for writing workshop alongside your students.
  • Invite students to create a verbal or written plan—at the end of every mini-lesson—so they will have an idea of how they’ll use their independent writing time. If students create a plan for how to use their time, they’re likely to stick to it because it’s their own. You can also refer to their plan if you find them off task.
  • Build stamina. Whereas you can launch writing workshop on the first day of school, you’ll have to build students’ stamina for independent writing. Increase the amount of time students are writing by five minutes every few days so they can reach forty-five minutes of sustained writing time by the end of the sixth week of school.
    • During these six weeks of stamina building, students will come to realize the following things about independent writing time:
      • Writers work on their own. In order for this to happen, you must teach students how to solve their own problems and carry on with their work without looking for your support.
      • Teachers help students by conferring with them one-on-one and by leading small-group strategy lessons.
    • Consider communal supplies. By providing students with access to all of the supplies they’ll need during independent
      Figure 3.4

      A writing center may contain a variety of paper, index cards, sticky notes, clipboards, interesting writing utensils, paper clips, tape, and dictionaries.

      writing time, you’ll make them less dependent on you when they need anything from sticky notes to a clipboard or a red pen.

    • Make mentor texts available in your classroom. Whether you have multiple copies of texts or provide your students with typed texts as “literary gifts” (as Carl Anderson calls them), students need access to mentor texts for ideas or inspiration at any time during writing workshop.
    • Minimize disruptions. Develop systems for minimizing disruptions. Students need to know they cannot interrupt you—unless it’s an emergency—while you’re leading a writing conference or a small-group strategy lesson. Implement a system for kids to sign out to get drinks of water or use the bathroom. Create spaces where kids can turn in their work. Develop a system for students to request a conference. Your ultimate goal is to wean students off of needing you for assistance, which will make them more self-sufficient and provide you with sustained periods of time to confer or to meet with small groups.

You don’t have to wait until the first day of school to get ready for writing workshop. Here are a few things you can do now to think about routines and procedures before the school year begins:

  • Make writing workshop a priority every day. Carve out forty-five to sixty minutes of your daily schedule, at least four days a week, for writing workshop. If you cannot find these blocks of time, sit down with your principal for assistance with scheduling so you can make daily writing a priority.
  • Put together a communal supply list and send it out to your students’ parents. In your letter, ensure parents that pooling the supplies will eliminate distractions because materials will be stored in a central location of the classroom, meaning there is less “stuff” in each student’s individual workspace.
    • In addition, if you don’t already have a place to house communal supplies, you’ll want to see if your school can help you make an investment in items like supply caddies and a storage unit for your class’s writing center. (If your school doesn’t have the money for this and you can’t spend your own, consider writing a mini-grant proposal, like this one, on org.)
  • Create a conferring toolkit you will use for your conferences and strategy lessons. Having a well-stocked toolkit close at hand will keep you focused on your students when you’re working with them during independent writing time. Items in your toolkit may include the following:
    • Mentor texts
    • Record-keeping forms (handwritten or electronic)
    • Checklists or rubrics
    • Mini-charts
    • Your writer’s notebook
    • Supplies (markers, pens, sticky notes, loose-leaf paper, and index cards)

I know it seems tempting to jump right into teaching a unit of study when the school year begins, but in order to maximize your teaching time all year long it is necessary to build a writing community and to teach students how to use materials and be self-sufficient during independent writing time. I’ve jumped in head-first and I’ve spent time teaching routines and procedures during the first six weeks of school. Lowering my expectations about how much curriculum I’d cover during the first month of school was beneficial and let me cover more units during the school year because I reaped the benefits of the time I invested in establishing routines and procedures during the first six weeks of school.

26 comments July 19th, 2016

Blogstitute 2016: Give Me The Patience to Listen and Learn

If you only have time to read just one of our Blogstitute posts this year — and we hope you have time for all of them — you should definitely read this provocative, inspiring piece from Lucy West. She digs into what it means to have respectful discourse in the classroom, with our students, with colleagues, and why it’s crucial to teach our students the skills they need to disagree respectfully. “As educators, we don’t have much influence over the way people in the media or our politicians speak to one another. We can, however, have a positive impact on our own interactions and those of our students.” We say – AMEN. Lucy’s latest professional video is Adding Talk to the Equation

Give Me the Patience to Listen and Learn
By Lucy West

SONY DSC

Have you noticed how polarized the discourse in our country has become? Whether people are talking politics, health care, or education, it seems that they take a stand and insist on that stand no matter what. On TV and in the political arena, the talk can get downright hostile and disrespectful, with people talking over one another, name calling, and shouting. As a New Yorker, I’m accustomed to feisty talk with multiple voices speaking at once; it’s part of our fast-paced culture. However, it is not an effective way to have a conversation. If the purpose of the conversation is to share ideas, come to a better understanding, solve complex problems, and even learn from and with one another, these patterns of interaction are not only counterproductive, they are downright harmful.

In both the math and literacy standards, respectful discourse in which students listen well to the ideas of others, reflect on those ideas, and then agree or disagree using text-based evidence is expected. It seems a bit ironic to expect of our youth this sophisticated and open-minded way of discussing matters of importance, but not of the leaders in our society. How is it that teachers—who are not given much voice in what and how they teach these days and can’t often speak out and challenge policy effectively—are expected to not only give students lots of voice in what and how they learn, but in how to engage in argumentative dialogue? Seems like we are being hypocritical, to say the least.

As educators, we don’t have much influence over the way people in the media or our politicians speak to one another. We can, however, have a positive impact on our own interactions and those of our students.  If we have the will, enough self-awareness, and emotional and social intelligence, we can function in schools the way we want our students to function in the world.  We can have quite a bit of influence on the interactions our future citizens will have in society by changing how we talk with one another and with students in our schools. If we realize how important adult interactions are in shaping our students’ ways of interacting, and we take the time to learn how to have challenging conversations with one another, we will have a positive impact on society. By understanding the importance of culture—the way we interact and do things—and reshaping that culture to welcome the kinds of interactions that respectfully and reflectively challenge the status quo, we can set an example for the next generation. We can, by our own interactions with students, other adults in the school, and the larger community, demonstrate how reasonable, intelligent human beings engage in informed conversations, in which opinions are backed by facts and valid evidence. We could show students how new information causes us to rethink what we used to think and reconsider our stance and actions.

You may be thinking that the teachers and administrators in your school get along really well, are polite to one another, and even enjoy one another’s company outside of school. While this may be true, this sort of collegial discourse is not what I am referring to. I am thinking about the tendency of adults in schools to stay at the superficial level in discussions that matter. When it comes to the instructional core—planning, implementing, and reflecting on lessons—we rarely take the time to examine why we do what we do and to what degree our present practices are actually getting the results we are aiming for. For example, in many places teachers consider collaborative lesson planning to mean that someone will gather the materials called for in a given lesson, maybe read and plan the lesson, and share it with the whole team that will be teaching that lesson in the name of collaboration. However, rarely does the team question why they are teaching that lesson, whether the way it is laid out in the book or by a colleague will work with all of their students, how they might adapt it to meet the needs of students who need more challenge, or better ways to access the content. When we do attempt to engage in more rigorous analysis and someone disagrees or pushes back by saying “We don’t have time for this,” the conversation is aborted or people decide in their own minds to do it their own way. Therefore, no real collaboration or learning has taken place. We are often afraid to say what we really think, so we don’t say anything or we just go along with whomever we perceive to be in charge. If this is the way we tend to interact with one another—avoiding questioning each other’s choices, beliefs, lesson designs—how can we teach students to challenge one another’s thinking? We don’t have the skill set and haven’t cultivated a culture in which people engage in this way.

Since it is really difficult to teach what we don’t practice or deeply understand ourselves, then it stands to reason that if we don’t practice having academic and professional conversations that go well below the surface, question our present beliefs and practices, insist that opinions be backed by evidence, and work through our differences, we can’t expect to know how to get our students to do these things. When is the last time you politely, yet specifically, challenged a colleague’s thinking, opinion, or lesson design? How receptive was the person you challenged? Was the challenge taken personally or was it considered from a professional perspective—a learning perspective? When’s the last time you and a colleague had a difference of opinion about pedagogy or the use of curriculum materials? Were you able to turn that difference into an inquiry and explore each perspective against evidence of student learning or lack thereof? Or were you content to agree to disagree and keep the status quo safely in place?

In order to create rich learning environments in which children are capable of listening well, with open minds and hearts to classmates’ ideas; considering those ideas before rejecting them or adding another one; then determining whether or not they agree and being able to articulate why; we need to be to do these things with one another–not just those teachers with whom we agree, but especially those who think differently than we do. We need to get past the “agree to disagree” stage to the “let’s investigate this further” stage, during which we test out our ideas and gather evidence to determine their validity.

We need to be able to speak up to administrators and policy makers in a way that our concerns can be heard and reflected on rather than having our concerns be seen as resistance or insubordination. I wonder what it will take to change the education culture—the way we interact and do things in schools—to the degree that educators are practicing the accountable talk standards expected of their students? If we did create such cultures, I wonder if we would be able to influence our larger communities to engage in more thoughtful, reflective, and respective conversations about the important issues that face us all?

5 comments July 15th, 2016

Blogstitute 2016: The Powerful Role of Talk in Interactive Writing

On the last full week of our Summer Blogstitute we welcome Joan Dabrowski, who, along with Kate Roth, is the coauthor of Interactive Writing Across Grades. In this excellent post and accompanying video (see below), she talks about the crucial role of classroom talk in the practice of interactive writing. Be sure to leave a comment or Tweet about this post using #blogstitute16 for a chance to win a bundle of Stenhouse books — including Interactive Writing Across Grades!

Let’s Talk About It! The Powerful Role of Talk in Interactive Writing

By Joan Dabrowski

This spring, as I rode the train up and down the Eastern Seaboard, I did a bit of estimation work. I tallied up the number of classrooms I have visited in recent years. I discovered that I have spent time in well over 300 classrooms. Wow! As I reflected on these visits I thought about the teacher and student voices I heard (or didn’t hear).

I am fascinated by the role of talk in schools! I listen for the language of instruction—the words chosen and how the sentences flow. I notice the dialects, the tones, and the volume. I pay attention to the body language of those who are speaking and of those who are listening. I think about the purpose, content, and quality of the talk.

I spend a lot of time with teachers, principals, and district leaders. When I do, I pay attention to my talk: my tone, speed, word choice, and cadence. I consider when to slow down, ask a question, clarify a point, or repeat myself. I also think about when I should shift from talking to listening or when the talk should be captured in writing. These processes—thinking, talking, listening, and writing—are inextricably linked.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that as Kate and I wrote Interactive Writing Across Grades we found ourselves frequently landing on classroom discourse as an essential feature worth highlighting. At every step of the interactive writing teaching sequence, there are opportunities to deepen student understanding about writing through speaking, listening, and discussion. Here’s how it happens.

Experience: Priming Our Students for Writing

The first step in an interactive writing lesson is Experience. By this we mean that an interactive writing piece is informed by a shared classroom experience. These experiences include things such as “field trips, science investigations, author studies, science and social studies topics of study, math projects, books read aloud in class, class assemblies, classroom routines and procedures, and special school events” (30). We note that the shared experience need not be a “big project” or “grand event.” Rather, it is about, “selecting, capturing, and recording the meaningful events that students experience each day at school” (30).

Because teachers often know ahead of time that an experience will be used for interactive writing, they prime student thinking for writing by engaging in intentional conversations throughout the experience. For example, as first-grade students conduct a science investigation seeking to understand the difference between solids and liquids, the teacher talks with them using precise vocabulary such as shape, harder, pour, float, and sink. Later, when students compose their interactive writing piece, the teacher will prompt students so that these important words can be used in their pieces (see Figure 1). Similarly, a fifth-grade teacher who plans to use a class novel for an opinion piece based on its theme will hold strategic discussions at key moments during the reading of the book. Then, when she and her class compose their essay together during interactive writing, she refers to these important conversations.

Figure 1: Interactive Writing in Grade 1

Figure 1: Interactive Writing in Grade 1

The conversations and discussions that occur during Experience hold important value as students acquire and develop a shared expertise: they will all have something to say about the topic when it comes time to write about it. This is particularly empowering for students learning English. For these students, the well-sequenced steps of experience, talk, and writing lead to deeper comprehension, expanded language, and strengthened writing skills (Gibbons 2015).

PreWrite: Making a Plan for Writing

During Prewrite, teachers talk with students about the purpose of the interactive writing piece, consider the audience who will read it, and generate ideas to include. Embedded in the Prewrite discussion are the essential issues writers consider before they begin to write: purpose, genre, and audience.

The Prewrite talk holds both exploratory and organizing qualities. You wonder aloud about the best way to convey the ideas in the piece as you consider the audience who will read it. You determine the best way to organize ideas so that the writing is clear and easy to follow. This is the work that real writers do every day—but frequently it is done in solitary fashion within one’s own mind. The Prewrite conversation, however, “turns up the volume” on this internal process for emerging and developing writers. The process becomes transparent. Talk becomes a scaffold for students. The Prewrite thinking is shared and heard by all.

For older and more fluent writers, the Prewrite discussion is complex and robust. Ideas are growing and expanding while language becomes more sophisticated. Often, the planning addresses organization and word choice. Thus it follows that teachers sometimes jot notes or organize the points that occur during Prewrite discussions. This skillful teaching decision models for students that what one says can transform into what one writes.

The following video is a snapshot of the talk that occurs during Prewrite. In this clip you see me working with a group of third-grade writers. We are in the midst of planning a persuasive essay where we hope to convince people to adopt a cat from a local animal shelter.

To begin, you hear the students discuss at tables what they know about pets. Then I talk with them about the essay we will work on together. I name the structure (genre) we’ll use and the real-world audience who will read it. Finally, I facilitate a discussion about organization. I jot down their reasons, evidence, and elaboration so that we can remember them for Compose (see Figures 2 and 3).


Figure 2: Turning Talk into Words by Jotting Down Ideas During Prewrite in Grade 3

Figure 2: Turning Talk into Words by Jotting Down Ideas During Prewrite in Grade 3

Figure 3: Persuasive Writing in Grade 3

Figure 3: Persuasive Writing in Grade 3

figure3

Figure 3: Persuasive Writing in Grade 3

Compose and Share the Pen/Keyboard: From Spoken to Written Word

In Chapters 5 and 6 of our book, we unpack the core of interactive writing: Compose and Share the Pen/Keyboard. In broad terms, Compose is a collaborative classroom conversation facilitated by the teacher about the craft of writing. By craft we mean the qualities of writing that make a book or text original, meaningful, and memorable. For us this includes ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, and voice.

During Compose, teachers work with students to build the precise language for the interactive writing piece by building and refining the sentence(s). This phase of the lesson relies heavily on talk as teachers initiate sentence-building conversations, negotiate the ideas presented by the class, seek out multiple suggestions, and push for students to consider the quality of their words. Teachers may also have students listen to how the words and sentences flow well together (or not). Compose is the perfect spot to capture student voices and model for them how spoken word is connected to written word.

This notion is fully realized when the sentence has been composed and is ready to be written down through the innovative technique known as Share the Pen/Keyboard. As students write or type part of the sentence, teachers are talking with them about the important conventions of writing. In-the-moment technical discussions take place about spelling, letter formation, grammar, punctuation, or keyboarding skills (e.g., using the Tab or Shift key, selecting font size/styles, or using spell-check). These timely discussions provide “just right” instruction for students who benefit from the quick, direct guidance.

Review and Extend

Once the sentence(s) have been written, the lesson moves into Review. During this step, the teacher and students once again read the interactive writing piece aloud. This repetitive choral reading allows students to practice fluency and deepen their understanding of their written work.

Next, the teacher talks with students about the craft and convention work they practiced. Questions such as Who can find a place in our piece where we included an interesting word? Who notices a sentence that combines two simple ideas? Why did we make that decision? What word(s) were tricky for us to spell? guide students to talk about their learning. The talk is inquisitive and is anchored in metacognition. The discussion unpacks the “what” and “why” of the interactive writing lesson for students, helping them to better understand how to do this work independently.

The second part of Review takes this idea further as the teacher directs students to link what they practiced during interactive writing with their own writing. The talk is clear, concise, and direct. For example, a teacher might say, “Remember how we started each sentence in a new way? We all agreed it makes our writing so much more interesting to read. You need to try this when you write on your own today. Be sure that your sentences begin in different ways.” Or, “When you work on your essay today, check to see if you state your opinion clearly like we did on our piece.” This type of teacher talk is explicit and sets clear expectations for students’ independent writing.

Finally, during Extend, classroom conversations center on the qualities of the piece itself, the real-world value it holds, and the ways it might be enhanced with visuals. Worth noting is that a powerful way to Extend a piece is to reread it with students. Hearing the ideas, the flow, and the cadence of a piece is a helpful reminder for students. It solidifies their understanding of what writing work they did.

The Last Word(s)

It takes courage for students to say ideas out loud—especially if they may be revised or rejected. It also can be embarrassing to misspell a word in front of one’s peers. For a student learning English, fear of mispronouncing a word can be too much to bear; it’s safer to stay quiet. Thus, the collaborative spirit of the talk during interactive writing cannot be understated.

The most effective teachers we’ve seen using the method teach with joy, enthusiasm, and encouragement. They foster a community in which all students can safely talk and listen to one another. In these classrooms, the energy is palpable as young writers are empowered to discuss and debate with their peers. They know that if and when a mistake occurs, it is taken in stride; corrections are quickly made in real-time while the lesson moves forward. Perhaps most striking are the understood norms in these classrooms:

  1. We are a community of writers—we can and do write for real-world purposes.
  2. Writing is hard work—we need one another’s support.
  3. All writers make errors as they work to improve and grow.
  4. We celebrate and share our writing experiences through collaborative conversations.

Interactive writing is a small practice that offers BIG results for students and teachers in PreK–5. One result is the inevitable connections you will find among thinking, talking, listening, and writing. Harnessing the power of talk will propel your students’ writing. So, perhaps this summer you will have a chance to reflect on the talk in your classroom. How’s it going for you? For your students? How might it improve? My suggestion: start talking about it!

6 comments July 12th, 2016

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