Monday, March 18, 2013


In January we did a Unit of Study on Small Moment writing in Writing Workshop. After that we took a couple of weeks during which I let children work on whatever pieces inspired them.

Our most recent Unit of Study has been poetry. For my lessons I draw from resources such as Regie Routman's Kids' Poems: Teaching First Graders to Love Writing Poetry, Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parson's Poetry: Powerful Thought in Tiny Packages, which is part of Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum, and my frequent source of inspiration, About the Authors: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray with Lisa B. Cleaveland. When I read Regie Routman’s book some years ago, it inspired me to begin saving poetry from my students each year. Now I have a sizable collection of poetry by kids that we can study together to inspire our own poetry. I also draw on books such as Little Dog Poems by Kristine O’Connell George and Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman.

At the end of our unit each student will choose one poem to put in our group’s poetry collection. I also get to choose one poem written by each student for the collection. We will edit and revise the poems using peer conferences and student/teacher conferences. I hope the booklet of poems will be ready in time to share on the upcoming Grandparents’ and Grandfriends’ Day with our visitors.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Illustration Study Celebration

 We wrapped up our Illustration Study recently. Each student chose a book in which he/she had used interesting illustration techniques. We made covers for the books out of construction paper. Then on Wednesday each had a turn to sit on the bench and share from the book. Afterwords we toasted their efforts with ice water accompanied by cookies.

Here is the chart we put together as we studied illustration strategies in Writing Workshop. We recorded our "noticings" about the illustration strategies we studied and made note of which of the students had tried those strategies.

Since the celebration we have worked on a Halloween Big Book together. We have also had a couple of Nuts and Bolts mini-lessons to look at important writing habits. This coming week we will begin a new Unit of Study on ways to structure text.

Word Study

I have fine-tuned my Word Study program this year. For a number of years, the Word Wall and Word Study 5 Ways (from Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland’s About the Authors: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers) have been at the heart of our practice of frequently used words. I am continuing that while drawing the words I use from Patricia M. Cunningham’s What Really Matters in Spelling: Research-Based Strategies and Activities. Many of the words are the same ones I have used before, but she makes some choices in order to be sure a range of consonants, blends, and vowel patterns are represented.

In addition she incorporates the study of word families (rhyming words, chunks) into the Word Wall work. While I have done this kind of work with my students, I have not connected it directly to the Word Wall before. This past week we took a break from adding five words per week to our wall (25 words so far). Instead we explored word families based on words we have added to the Word Wall so far.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Illustration Study

We began Writing Workshop as a whole class during the first couple of weeks of school. In those sessions we worked on the basic idea of writing workshop and the kind of work we would do at this time. We covered what conferences are, talked some about how to get ideas for our writing, and looked at ways to stretch our ideas and add details. Then the workshop moved into our language group time.

For the first week in language group I have focused on some of the "nuts and bolts" of the workshop (drawing on a title from Lucy Calkin's Units of Study for Primary Writing.) For example, we had a lesson on stretching out words and recording the sounds we hear to generate spellings for words we do not know how to spell conventionally. (For more on this see an earlier post on generated spelling.)

Now we have begun focusing on an illustration study, looking at the illustration decisions that different authors and illustrators make and how those decisions can enhance the writing in the books. This study was inspired by Katie Wood Ray’s book, In Pictures and In Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study. We have begun a chart of our "noticings" as we study different books. I love how the children often point out things that I had not noticed. They are sharp observers!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Boy Writers

Another summer read for me has been Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher. This book explores some of the particular challenges that many boys bring to writing workshop, challenges such as their love of including violence in their work and their earthy humor. He is clear to recognize that every boy writer, indeed every writer, is unique. Yet he points out that these qualities are often found in the writings of boys as a group.

This spoke to me because I have often struggled to find the balance between letting students find their voices in their own stories, driven by their own topics and interests, and wanting them to also be aware of the impact of their choices, particularly when they are incorporating violence or what might be seen as inappropriate humor into their works. I also want them to branch out beyond the popular culture infused topics (super heroes, Star Wars, video games) that they often embrace.

This book has no easy answers, but it does show how simply disallowing these types of writing can lead to some students disengaging from writing workshop. I remember when our school participated in a simulcast with children's author, Mo Willems. He referred to how he "shamelessly" copied Charles Schultz's Peanuts in his early writings as a child, and how much he learned in the process. While I want them to grow into developing their own characters, my students' use of super heroes can help them develop stories that they relate to and that gives them incentive to work on their writing skills.

And the humor, ah yes. At the end of last school year my students went through all their writings from the year. Not even I had read every piece of writing in their folders. They passed back to me any pieces that they did not want to take home with them. As I looked through them I found one poem about farts that one of my boys had written. I had to admit it was hilarious. He had used language effectively to create a humorous poem. I'm not sure what my reaction would have been if he had read it to me when he wrote it. This book helps me prepare for such times.

Summer Reading: Opening Minds

Summer is a great time to catch up on books I have been wanting to read. I have been looking forward to Peter H. Johnston's Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Minds. I loved his earlier book, Choice Words, which explored how the words teachers choose when they respond to their students can have a major impact.

In Changing Minds, this idea is explored further. It has given me food for thought as I prepare for this new school year. Peter Johnston draws on research and anecdotal observations to show how some words ("You are so smart." "You are so good at math or art or writing, etc.") support a static view of students that can undercut further effort and result in students playing it safe. Other words ("Wow, you worked really hard on this." "I can see the strategy you used to solve this." "You have communicated your idea clearly.") support a more process oriented approach to learning that encourages students to stretch, risk, and grow. He goes on to further explore how our words can set the tone for our classroom and for our students' interactions with others.

The words I use as I teach, at times, just come from habit. This year I want to keep Changing Minds in my mind and make more intentional choices about the words I use as I respond to my students.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Angela Johnson Unit of Study

In January all of Sky Class did a study of the works of Angela Johnson. This study was inspired by Authors as Mentors by Lucy Calkins and Amanda Hartman, which is part of Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum. Each of the teachers took a turn teaching a mini-lesson to the whole class, while students continued the study and their writings in the framework of language group. Tom and Natasha’s groups used the study as a way to focus on “small moments.” As my group had already done a unit on “small moment” stories, we used Angela Johnson’s work to inspire us in adding details to our writing and trying out other techniques we noticed in her writing.