Monday, December 29, 2008

Encoding and Decoding

An article in the September, 2008, issue of Educational Leadership (a publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) looks at how phonics are taught and should be taught. In her article, “Why Phonics Teaching Must Change,” author Jeannine Herron refers to recent reading and brain research for clues on how children can learn to read efficiently. The focus of the article is the difference between decoding (going from printed letter to sound in reading words) and encoding (going from sound to letter in constructing words.) She concludes that phonics instruction should “focus on students constructing words before trying to read them.” In programs where children are encouraged to construct the spelling of words so that they may write, this is already happening. That is one of the pluses of using a writing workshop model in working with young children. See my earlier post, “Hiss Joins the Party” for one description of how that can be encouraged.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Developing as Readers through Writing Workshop

In addition to honing their writing skills through Writing Workshop, students also develop their skills as readers. When we read books from children's literature, we practice noticing the language and other elements that authors use in their writing. We discuss how those choices affect us as readers. I have seen this kind of focus carry over to the students' independent reading. The other day a student brought me a book he was reading. He was in my language group last year and is in Natasha's this year. He was excited about a phrase in the book in which the author describes someone's face as lit up "like a Christmas tree." He said, "Listen to this!" As he shared this simile with me, his face was also lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of those moments that teachers treasure.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Questions and Answers

We are currently focusing on writing Question and Answer Non-Fiction in Writing Workshop. For this unit I am again drawing ideas from First Grade Writers by Stephanie Parsons. After reading several books of this type and analyzing them, we have begun working to write our own. I have done mini-lessons on generating a question that one is interested in and has some knowledge about, as well as the ability to learn more. Then I modeled choosing a question and planning out a book based on that question. It has to be a broad enough question to generate a variety of answers to keep the book interesting. One child came up with the question, "What color are hippos?" and we talked about how that would be a very short book. We have also talked about fact-checking our information. Several students now have non-fiction books on their topics to support them as they gather and check information. We have also looked a few things up on kid-friendly Internet sites.

By the end of the week some students had finished a first book and begun a second one. Others were working to expand their first books. After Thanksgiving each will choose one from what they have written to revise and edit in preparation for another celebration.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Five Little Pumpkins

Halloween is always a fun time with young children. Last week we used Halloween rhymes and songs for reading practice. Five Little Pumpkins is a group favorite. Students enjoyed taking turns being the pumpkins. We checked to be sure each pumpkin had the correct label (first pumpkin, second pumpkin, etc.) Students could refer to the pocket chart if they forgot their lines. At the end the pumpkins enjoyed "rolling out of sight!"

Monday, October 27, 2008

Word Study 5 Ways

I have for many years included some version of word study in my program. Word study is a time when we focus on the way words work, including phonics, frequently used words, chunks that are elements of a variety of words (sometimes referred to as word families), and spelling patterns. I have drawn on resources such as Pinnell and Fountas's Word Matters. Over the years I have tried a variety of formats.

This year I am trying an approach from a book I have been reading this fall, About the Author by Katie Ray Wood with Lisa B. Cleaveland. She includes a sheet that has a checklist of ways for students to practice a group of frequently used words to help them add those words to their spelling (and reading) vocabulary. Students are to choose 5 ways to practice from the checklist. The list includes techniques I have used before. What I like is that students can choose from the list which gives them more investment. The list includes everything from rainbow words (writing the words using different colors for each letter) to play dough words to back writing. The students so far seem to be enjoying exploring the different ways and each is developing favorites. Back writing is a general favorite though initially it gave some of them pause, as they asked, "What should we use to write on people's backs?"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pattern Books

We began our Pattern Book unit last week. In this unit I use ideas from First Grade Writers by Stephanie Parsons. We began by reading several pattern books over several days: A Party and Our Granny by Joy Cowley, In the Sky by Peter and Sheryl Sloan, This Train by Paul Collicutt, and When I Was Young by Jamie Lee Curtis. After we read each book, we talked about what the writer was doing in the book and how that affected us as readers. Then we worked to come up with a name for the pattern. We came up with names such as Making a List, Pairs of Opposites, and 1-2-1-2 (or see-saw). We are making a chart of these observations.

After we had analyzed several pattern books, I did a mini-lesson on deciding on a pattern to try and starting a book based on it. Now the students are working on their own pattern books. Over time we will read more books, analyze them, and add them to our chart. We will also see which of us are trying the different patterns and techniques in our own writing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Celebrate! Celebrate!

We had fun on Friday as the students shared the pieces they had chosen to "fancy up" for our celebration. Some had chosen a one page piece to share. Of those who chose a booklet, most wanted to read just one page, but one read his whole booklet. They were a supportive audience for their fellow writers. We will continue to work on our reading our work, as some voices were too soft to hear clearly. After all had shared, I poured out some juice and gave a toast to their work this past month.

Next week we will begin a focus on pattern books, drawing from First Grade Writers by Stephanie Parsons.

Some of the students who were in my language group last year had noticed our preparations for the celebration. They asked me to get out the books I kept that they wrote last year. (They took some of their books home.) I had had them on display in our book area last year, but had packed them away for the summer. I have put some out now to join the new ones from this year's group. (Our classroom is a mixed age group with students six to eight years old.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Celebration Excitement

This week each person has chosen one piece of writing from his/her writing folder to share on Friday, when we will have our first celebration of our writing. We have had mini-lessons on how to fix-up and fancy-up our writing (drawn in part from Launching the Writing Workshop), and everyone has been busy working on the piece that is chosen: seeing if all the words are there, and adding any missing ones; for some, working on being sure there are spaces between words; adding to the pictures and coloring the pictures; perhaps, choosing a couple of important words and getting those in dictionary spelling. Some are adding construction paper covers.

Our celebration will be simple since it is our first one. Still the young writers are getting excited. We will read our stories to each other and toast our efforts with juice.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

This is the time of year when I find my mind whirling with all the mini-lessons I want to do. I am starting to see the potential coming out in my young writers, and they are so new to so much of this writing work.

I have to slow myself down and remember that we have the whole year. I also need to remember that too much, too soon is never a good idea. We have begun using pre-made booklets in Writers Workshop, following a mini-lesson from Launching the Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins and Leah Mermelstein. Most of the students have taken to using the booklets with enthusiasm, and it is helping them to expand their pieces more.

I am currently reading About the Authors by Katie Wood Ray with Lisa B. Cleaveland. This book focuses on the K-2 Writing Workshop. In this book they talk about starting the year with pre-made booklets. It is something that I want to think about for next year. Years ago, before I started doing the Writing Workshop approach, I would start the year by giving my six year old writers blank booklets made by folding together several sheets of legal size paper and stapling them. It always worked to get most of the children making books that included both pictures and words.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Courageous Writers

Today we worked together to make a list of all the things we have learned/talked about that writers do. The kids came up with a great list that included "They think first about what to write," "They tell true stories about their lives," and "If they don't know how to spell a word, they say it slowly and write down the sounds they hear." I told them examples of each item in the list that I had seen members of our group doing in Writing Workshop.

This year our Lower School is focusing on 5 C's to help make our philosophy more explicit to our students. One of the 5 C's is being Courageous. I told my writers that I have seen each of them being a courageous writer, whether writing a word he/she was unsure of how to spell or reading a piece to the group or doing the best to write or draw something when it was hard.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Revisiting Our Writing

We have covered a lot over the past couple of weeks. As I watch my young writers and conference with them, I realize that quite a few are starting a new piece every day. As I look over their sheets, I see that they are often putting down a couple of sentences and then moving to something else. I remember conferences with these students where they told me out loud more than what has made it onto their papers.

So yesterday I did a mini-lesson to remind them that there are often rich possibilities in adding to a previous piece. In the mini-lesson I flipped back through the chart tablet that I have been using for mini-lessons, commenting fondly on different stories I had written. Then I paused at one I had done about a trip I took to the zoo. I reread it and then commented, "You know, I did a lot more than see the polar bears that day." Then I closed my eyes and recalled how much I loved the aviary. I described the birds and their singing and all the plants. "It made me feel like I was in a tropical forest." Then I opened my eyes and proclaimed that I wanted to add that to my story. With excitement I did so. Then I recalled specific pieces children had been working on and remembered what those writers had told me out loud.

As I sent them to their writing spots, I asked each to look over all that they have been working on and to see if one piece was one that could be extended. It was neat to watch them going carefully over their work. I think several were quite surprised by how much they have written. Most found something to add to among their papers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hiss Joins the Party

Some years ago, a fellow teacher referred to how teachers are often like cooks. When we first try a lesson, we may follow closely a very set plan (or recipe) whether someone else's or our own. Over time we begin to vary the recipes and improvise some.

Last year I stuck pretty closely to the "recipes" I was using, both from Lucy Calkins and from others such as Stephanie Parsons(First Grade Writers) and Katie Wood Ray. This year I am starting to play around more with the basic recipes.

We have already had a Writing Workshop mini-lesson on stretching out words and writing down the sounds you hear. Today in our word study time, I used an idea I got from Deb Renner Smith's blog, Writing and Reading Lessons, to reinforce the practice of stretching out words. She featured reading ideas centered on Beanie Babies ( I took the idea of using Hiss the Snake and flipped it around to stretching the words, hearing the sounds, and writing down the letters for those sounds. I used a format based on one described by Richard Gentry (Breaking the Code: The New Science of Beginning Reading and Writing) among others.

I began by introducing Hiss and saying I liked him to help me stretch out words because he is so good at stretching. As I stretched Hiss, I slowly said the word s-n-a-ke. (Maybe not the best word as it begins with a consonant blend, but it was so appropriate for Hiss.) As I pronounced the letters, I asked the students to raise a finger, starting with the thumb, for every sound they heard. The kids ended up with numbers from 2 to 4. I asked what was the first sound they heard, etc. until we had identified the 4 sounds. Then I asked each of them to draw 4 boxes, one for each sound we heard. Next I enunciated the sounds one at at time and asked for volunteers to tell us what letter they would use for that sound. Each ended up recording either s-n-a-k or s-n-a-c. I emphasized that we were not recording the dictionary spelling of snake, but the sounds we could hear in the word. We went on to do several c-v-c words based on pictures that I had (top, etc.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lower Case Moons

Well, it looks like I'm not making my initial goal of blogging every school day. I was out Friday as we went up to Massachusetts for our new granddaughter's naming ceremony.

Spending time with our 3 1/2 year old granddaughter Rachel (big sister of the new baby) always gets me thinking about how children develop their language and thinking skills. We went to a restaurant Friday night. Rachel looked at three large round lights on the wall behind our table and said they were "three full moons." Then turning and looking at three smaller, also round, recessed lights on the ceiling, she proclaimed, "Those are lower case moons." Then she laughed and I had to join her, adding a high five. In his book, Five Minds for the Future, Howard Gardner talks about the "synthesizing mind" which integrates ideas from different disciplines. It seems to me that this kind of playing around with categories and making connections between round objects, moons, and the idea of lower case letters is the kind of thing that lays the foundations for a synthesizing mind.

I hope that as we rightly work on the "nuts and bolts" of Writing Workshop, we also continue to celebrate the language children use, the creativity they express, and the connections they make every day as they construct their understanding of the world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When I'm Done mini-lesson

Today I did a mini-lesson based on one in Launching the Writing Workshop focused on what they should do when they think they are done. I had printed out the poster from the CD and mounted it. As always we first reviewed (briefly!) what we had done in our previous lesson. I went back to the story I had written yesterday about losing my first tooth. I modeled adding to the picture and then adding to the words. When I finished I read it over again, and decided it was done for now. Then I modeled getting another piece of paper to start a new piece. I showed them the poster and asked them point by point if I had done what the poster said. They identified that I had. Then I asked them to show me that they could do the things on the poster.

We had a great writing time. I have a TA, an Upper School student named Hannah. She was a big help, as it gave me a second person to do mini-conferences with some of the students, helping the ones who had a harder time getting started putting their ideas on paper. Most started out working on the piece they began yesterday. Several finished those pieces and then began another one. We had no announcements of "I'm done!" before Writing Workshop was over. Several had trouble stopping when it was time. In our sharing time I asked one person to share what she did: She added to the beginning of her story, because she remembered something that happened before what she wrote yesterday. She added a piece of paper on top of what she wrote yesterday. Then several others shared what they had done.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Second Writing Workshop

Today we sat again in our meeting spot. I had the chart that I wrote on for our last mini-lesson. I asked the children what they remembered that I did last time. They were able to tell a lot of the things I did. Then I went through the process again, writing a new piece. I thought of an idea (closing my eyes), drew it, and then wrote about it. Today I wrote about a memory I have of when I was 6 and I was the only one in my class that had not lost a tooth. I hoped all year that I would lose one. Then on the last day of school, my first tooth came out. I dripped blood all over my report card!
The children then came up with their ideas and shared them with a person sitting by them. (I will set up regular writing partners later when I know the children better.) Once they shared, I sent them off to their writing spots. It was a productive day. Everyone got a picture and at least some writing down. All of them came up with an idea that they were excited about. A few are at a very beginning place with their letter/sound recall, so I conferenced with them to provide extra support as they worked. When we stopped writing, I gave them all their new writing folders and explained the system for the front flap with the green dot being for work they will continue to work on, and the back flap with the green dot being for work they believe they are finished with. One of the students had attached a second piece of paper to add to his story. When we had our sharing time at the end of writing I had him share what he had done.
Next time I will do a mini-lesson about what to do when you are done.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Writing workshop introduction

Today I worked with all of the new-timers in Sky Class. I introduced the writing workshop, basing my mini-lesson on the first lesson in Lucy Calkin's Launching the Writing Workshop. I modeled deciding what to write about: I talked about how much I liked pandas, but verbalized that I had no real experiences with pandas. I then talked about remembering when I went to the beach with my son Ike and my granddaughter Rachel. I closed my eyes and described what I was seeing in my mind. I remembered walking on the beach and wading in the water with Rachel. The water was calm at first. Then all the sudden a big wave hit us. I looked at Rachel. I was worried that it would scare her, but then she laughed. I then sketched a picture on chart paper of what I remembered and labeled parts of the picture. Then pointing at the paper I planned out my first sentence; "I went to the beach with Ike and Rachel." I began to write it, talking about how if I was not sure what letters to write, I said the word and listened to what letters I could hear. I then finished my story, read it over, and showed how if I wanted to change something (e.g. put beach instead of ocean), I would cross it out and write above it.

Then I asked each of them to close their eyes and think about something that each had done and to picture it. I had each turn to another and share the idea. I showed the paper choices, then called one person at a time to choose a sheet of paper and find a space to begin drawing and writing.

Once they settled down, I circulated and checked in with individuals. Most easily drew their ideas. Some went easily on from this to writing. Others were stuck on beginning the writing part. When that happened I had the student tell me about the picture, then I slowly said the first sentence he/she told me , pointing to the place on the paper where it should be written. Some needed help figuring out what letters to write, and students near them helped some. By the end of our time, about half had filled the half page set aside for writing and told a coherent story of something they had experienced. One other wrote that much but her sentences were disconnected. The rest had written from 1 to 3 sentences. For those whose writing was not readable , I wrote beneath what they told me, telling them they had done the kid writing and now I was doing the grown-up writing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Welcome to the Sky Class Blog!

Welcome to my Sky Class Blog! I am exploring blogging as a new means of communciation. It is Saturday morning and I am here in Matthew's room in Middle School with 10 other teachers learning about blogs and wikis and how we can use them as teachers at CFS. I hope this will be a place to post my thoughts about teaching in general as well as notes on my experiences implementing the Writing Workshop model in my language group.