"We use the authors in our classroom to teach us, to give us patterns, to try out and see how they fit in our own voice. We will develop our own voices. This is not copying it's imitation. You find some similar patterns, but you don't copy the content."
About this episode
#POPCAST, Episode 4! In this episode, Jeff Anderson and Travis Leech talk about step 3 in the Patterns of Power process, Invitation to Imitate. Listen and learn how it works to engage middle school students in the writing process.
Listen to the podcast
View lesson 6.4 from Patterns of Power, Grades 6-8 mentioned in this episode
Meet Jeff and Travis
For over thirty years, Jeff Anderson has inspired writers and teachers of grades K-8 with the power and joy of the writing and grammar. He has written eight books for Stenhouse Publishers. He also writes middle-grade novels. Travis Leech is currently a middle school instructional coach in Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, TX. He has thirteen years of experience in education, including teaching middle school English Language Arts and as a gifted and talented specialist. Follow Jeff and Travis on Twitter.
Read the transcript
Travis: 00:05 Welcome to POPCast.
Jeff: 00:07 A Patterns of Power Podcast.
Travis: 00:10 Discussing grammar in the context of the reading and writing connections.
Jeff: 00:15 I'm Jeff Anderson.
Travis: 00:16 And I'm Travis Leech, and we're today's hosts.
Jeff: 00:20 Of episode four, step three of The Patterns of Power Process, The Invitation to Imitate.
Travis: 00:29 Middle school edition.
Travis: 00:37 Jeff, why don't you get us started by talking to us about the invitation to imitate?
Jeff: 00:42 Well, the first thing I think of is, how did you learn to talk? How did you learn to read? How did you learn to write? You learned through imitation. That's how we learn all of our language skills, is through imitation. So why can't we use that powerful natural process to be the way in which we get a practical application of the lesson we're trying to teach, which is in this case, the pattern of, comma-which, that when we have a which clause or a relative clause in a sentence that starts with which, it usually has a comma before it. The contrast is that doesn't... But we talk about that a little later in the lesson. But here's what you're going to see, you're going to see the possibilities of what they want to try out. Because you've talked about it on day one, the invitation to notice, and day two, the invitation to compare and contrast, and they saw your imitation, now they may be chomping at the bit to try it out.
Jeff: 01:44 And what is trying it out? That's practical application. And all the research points us towards the study of models and practical application. That's the Writing Next research, Study of Models, which we're doing and practical application, what is that? Well, we like to call that our first practical application, is the imitation. So we put up the two sentences that we've been studying. We decide where we want to start with the imitation. Do we want to do a shared imitation where I'm going to lead in and help them out? That's usually when it's more complex. Another choice we have is a paired imitation, where they can do the imitation of the two sentences or the pattern, and they can use a buddy or a friend to kind of balance their ideas off and they could go create one together.
Jeff: 02:34 Or the least scaffolded version is the independent imitation. This is where the rubber meets the road. Imitation is where the rubber meets the road, because think of the cognitive use that you're going to have to employ to compose a sentence, that's higher order thinking skills to do that. You're synthesizing every time you write, it's synthesis. So instead of just filling in a comma or choosing A or B or C, you're actually composing your own sentence. Now that's a practical application. And so with this sentence, I would probably start with one together using what we call, shared writing. Now this would be a chance for you to reteach and to rehighlight the focus phrase and all that. What we do is in the example, let's say we have this [inaudible 00:03:27] "So who are we going to write about?"
Jeff: 03:29 And a kid raises his hand and says, "Jennifer." "All right, what is Jennifer? Let's think about something Jennifer can barely do?" And then they said, "She can barely hear when she wears her headphones." "Okay. Jennifer can barely hear a thing when she wears her headphones. Now we're going to start our which clause, what do we need to do before the which clause?" "Add a comma" you say, "Right, we're going to add a comma." So Jennifer can barely hear a thing, we're writing this up where the kids can see it on display, when she wears her headphones comma. So our which clause as we say, in our focus phrase, I use the comma-which to add detail. So the detail we're going to add is something about Jennifer, barely being able to hear a thing when she wears her headphones, which is why she's always yelling at everybody and everybody's always yelling at her.
Jeff: 04:23 I know I kind of borrowed from Jason Reynolds, didn't I? He said, "Which is why he's always yelling at everybody, and everybody's always yelling at him." Can we imitate that closely? Sure. Which is why she's always yelling at everybody and everybody's always yelling at her, that works for me. It's okay, you can be close to the model And while you're doing it the kids are asking, "Well, that's so close" and then "Well be as close as you want to be." And then do I have to make it the same exact amount of words? I hear people sometimes doing that in the imitation. No, no. It's supposed to be a scaffold, not a straight jacket. And if you feel good at that point, then you might let them do a paired imitation. Or you might do another one together as a class if you don't think they've quite got it. This is what we do when we have the invitation to imitate and we do a shared imitation.
Travis: 05:13 What I like about this too, the invitation to imitate starting with that shared imitation. If you have a break between the invitation to compare and contrast, and when you're asking students to imitate this pattern, it's a great, easy refresher for students. If you are looking at a more complex pattern. As we are getting into the patterns of power, we're going to run into some pretty complex patterns so this is a great space for students to continue to form their understanding of this pattern with you aiding them and you putting it into an authentic space for them.
Jeff: 05:52 In fact, timing wise, sometimes I want you to be able to have the flexibility of allowing two days for imitation, maybe even three. Don't worry about taking time for the kids to practically apply this, this is where the learning's happening. Remember I said, imitation is where the rubber meets the road. This is where in that practical application, they're really having to test and think through what the comma-which actually does, and that we need to put a comma before which, and that's going to be a little clause that goes back and describes as soon as it precedes it. I use the comma-which to add detail, in our original sentence it was Mr. Charles could barely hear a thing, that was the initial sentence in our imitation. Jennifer can barely hear a thing when she wears her headphones as our first sentence, and then comma-which, comma, which is why he's always yelling at everybody and everybody's always yelling at him. And we learned about that balance of parallelism. And we tried it out, comma, which is why she's always yelling at everybody. And everybody's always yelling at her.
Jeff: 06:58 We use the authors in our classroom to teach us, to give us patterns, to try out and see how they fit in our own voice. We will develop our own voices. This is not copying it's imitation. You find some similar patterns, but you don't copy the content.
Travis: 07:21 And if you want deeper look at this, inside the Patterns of Power book. If you take a look at page 48, we've put together a really nice visual flow chart for you to walk you through this process of the invitation to imitate, stopping at the shared imitation, which is the most teacher support you're going to give. Through paired imitation and into independent imitation, where that's the least teacher support, where you are handing the reins over to individual students. And you are that guide on the side, moving through the classroom and offering support, or just having casual conversations and being curious and inquisitive.
Jeff: 08:05 Yeah. Just talking to the kids down, having nothing to write about. We'll think about that. Say I don't have anything to write about, comma, which is why I'm not writing anything right now that would work. But you can't use that now because that's mine. You have to try your own. So we just keep having these conversations. We looked for some good ones, especially if we want to ask the kids to share them out loud so they can hear that pattern. Not only are they seeing that pattern, they're hearing that pattern. They're getting the syntax, our flow of language, the way our sentences go together and are put together that you learn so many different things on so many different levels throughout this process. But the imitation is the ultimate practical application. But we'll go to more of that later. You wanted to talk about some pitfalls, didn't you Travis? About imitation?
Travis: 08:55 Yeah, absolutely. So there's one pitfall in this invitation where you as a teacher might be worrying that student imitations are either too close to, or too far away from the models that we're using.
Jeff: 09:12 You know, Travis, I'm glad you said that, because people do worry. And sometimes people count the number of words that it's supposed to be that close and they put blank spaces and all that. I don't want to do that, especially not in middle school or high school. I think it's a chance for them to try it out and they'll just naturally happen. They'll tie into it. Now, I don't want you to worry about it because this is not something you should gnash your teeth over. If I'm really struggling with the pattern, I'm probably going to copy it down almost exactly as it is. If I'm feeling way out there and feeling like taking a risk, I'm going to do something maybe a little different and maybe that'll be awesome. And maybe it won't.
Jeff: 09:56 If the kids are always asking me, "Can I do this? Can I do that? And I say, "I don't know why don't you try it and see what happens? And then we can talk about it later. We can see when you share it, did it work the way you wanted it to work? Does it do the thing you want it to do?" I don't like to advertise. Hey, do whatever you want. But if a kid asked me, "Can I do this? Or can I do that?" I say, "Well, let's try it. Or if you want to try it, and then we can see what happens. We can see if it works or not." But don't be afraid that they're too close to the model. That's just them using that scaffold a little longer and maybe give them some more chances to do imitations if that was what happened, but don't stress.
Travis: 10:39 And if I can add to that as well, if you allow students the space to try out this imitation on their own, what you see them produce, that's a great tool for you to assess their learning. You can see where they are in the understanding of this pattern through checking out what they do afterwards, what they complete and what they share with you. So this is great for you as a teaching tool to know, okay, maybe tomorrow we need to go to another invitation to imitate, or maybe we can move into a space. Because it seems like students have it and they're ready. And they will be able to apply this into their own writing in the near future.
Jeff: 11:22 We just need to have some patience with approximation because remember they're going to move toward correctness. They're not going to just arrive there one day. So don't forget. You can take more than a day. You can use varying levels of scaffolds or shared imitation, paired imitation, independent imitation. Any of those things give us the possibility for that ultimate practical application, where we use a sentence that was written by Jason Reynolds, as an inspiration. See you can't make kids right, but you can inspire them to. And some of the kids who struggle with writing really like this invitation, cause it's a small bite-sized chunk and then we can share it. Because what do you want to do after you write something, you want to share it. And what do you do when you share?
Travis: 12:09 When we share that's a perfect opportunity to celebrate our student writers.
Jeff: 12:14 Celebrate good times. Come on.
Jeff: 12:19 Hey, you know what? That makes me think these people should come back for the next episode of the POPCast, the Patterns of Power Podcast, which will be out in a couple of weeks. So please come back and hear about the invitation to celebrate because it's going to be a lot of fun.
Travis: 12:37 Oh yeah, absolutely.
Travis: 12:43 Thanks for tuning in with us this week. We want to give a quick shout out to our sponsor, Stenhouse Publishers, that's S-T-E-N-H-O-U-S-E .com to access their website.
Jeff: 12:55 We thank them for their gracious support.
Travis: 12:58 And we look forward to chatting with you soon.