Sunday, November 6, 2011

Celebration Time!

A week and a half ago we wrapped up our first unit of study with a celebration of the students' efforts. Each student had chosen one book from their first efforts to publish. They re-read their choices, making sure that they could read them, that all the words were there, and that the book made sense and kept to its big idea. Revisions were made where needed. Then each book got a construction paper cover with title and author added to it.

For the celebration each student took a turn to sit on the Author's Bench (our regular classroom bench transformed by a piece of fabric for the occasion.) Since our unit of study was focused on where writers get ideas, the students told where they got the ideas for their books and then each read a page and showed the illustration. When the sharings were done, I passed a plate of fruit and each student chose a piece. We then raised our fruit and toasted our hard work.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Word Study 5 Ways

In Language Group we work on studying how words are put together. We cover common spelling patterns. And we practice reading and writing frequently used words. The goal is that these words become part of the children's reading and writing vocabularies, part of the words that the children can read and write without having to break them down.

I have used various approaches to studying frequently used words over the years. The one I like best is from About the Author: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers by Katie Ray Wood with Lisa B. Cleaveland. Each student is given a sheet each week with five words from our Word Wall along with a checklist of ways to practice those words. Students are to choose five ways to practice from the checklist. Choosing how to practice the words adds to the students' investment. The list includes everything from rainbow words (writing the words using rainbow colors) to making the words with Unifix letter cubes to back writing to stamping them with letter stamps. A couple of years ago one of the students came up with the idea of finding and pointing out the words on the Word Wall. That way was taken up by the other students and now is on the list each week. This year’s students enjoy exploring the different ways, and each is developing favorites.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Generated Spelling

In writing workshop I encourage students to generate spellings for words that they do not know how to spell. The beginning goal in writing workshop is for students to get their ideas onto paper, so that they can develop those ideas into cohesive pieces of writing. Young students who are concerned primarily with spelling words conventionally tend to be more conservative writers: “I love my mom. I love my dad. I love my dog.” They like to stick to words they are sure they know how to spell. Or they rely on others to help them spell, which undercuts their developing independence as a writer. Or they take so long to look for the spelling of a word, they forget what they were going to say next.

A willingness to use generated spelling frees the student to focus on getting those ideas into writing. I find once a student makes this step, the writing becomes more varied, and the student works with more confidence. When I ask students to generate spellings, I ask them to stretch the words out and write down the letters that represent the sounds they hear. The goal is for them to represent the words phonetically. As their understandings of words develop, they can draw on what they learn about how words work, for example using two l’s in spelling wall because they have learned to spell “ball.”

An additional value is that the process of generating spelling is a type of encoding. There is research that shows that the process of working to encode words supports a child’s developing reading skills.

In other parts of our language group work, we do word study. In word study we work to add frequently used words to both the students’ reading and spelling vocabularies. Over time we also begin to explore common spelling patterns and word families. So encouraging generated spelling in writing workshop does not mean that spelling is not important. What is important is to explore it in areas that do not undercut the student's developing independence as a writer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teach the Writer part 2

I recently posted on my thoughts on the idea of "Teach the writer not the writing." Recently as I was catching up on some of the blogs that I follow, I found a wonderful post at Two Writing Teachers by Ruth Ayers on this very topic. It expresses the idea so well. Here is a link to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Teach the Writer

"Teach the writer, not the writing." This is a phrase that I have heard from leaders of Writing Workshop, including Lucy Calkins and Katie Wood Ray. It is a point that Katie made in her workshop with us in August. I knew what she was talking about. I could picture myself last year conferencing with one of my six year old students. She had a nearly completed book that I felt had serious problems. Yet she was so proud of it. As I looked at her beaming over her book, I looked at it again. I focused first on what she was doing well. She was telling a story that she was excited about. Her book consistently focused on that story, and she had an interesting structure with a repeated pattern that added to her story. My concern was that she had rushed through her pages and had left out a number of words. She also had not put spaces between her words. Her spelling was semi-phonetic, so the leaving out of words and lack of spacing added to the difficulty of reading her piece, even for her. Yet what a lot of work it would take for her to go back and fix this piece of writing. I needed to focus on what she needed as a writer rather than what this particular piece needed.

I took a breath and considered my next words carefully. Then I pointed out the things she was doing well in her book. As the conference wound up, I told her that I admired her skill as story teller. But I added a request. I said, “I love your stories, and I can tell you’re excited about them. I think because you are excited you rush, and then you leave words out. That makes it harder for me to read your wonderful stories. The next time you start a book, I want you to stop after each page and read it over carefully. Be sure all the words of your story are there.” I made a note in my record book to check in with her early in her next book project to remind her of this. I also made a note to include her in a group with others who would benefit from a mini-lesson on spacing words later. Her development as a writer and her developing confidence as a writer were far more important than how that particular piece turned out.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beginning Writing Workshop

On the second full day of school we began Writing Workshop. We have not yet assigned students to the language groups in which they will continue their writing work throughout the year. Thus we began as a whole class. For the first day I led a mini-lesson focused on the kinds of books students might want to make. I shared some favorite books from our classroom collection of children’s literature. I also shared some books that students have made in previous years, using them to illustrate a wide range of topics, as well as to help new students see what their books might look like. Then I sent a few at a time to choose a blank booklet (some with lines, some without) with which to begin.

As all three of the Sky teachers were there, we were able to assist students who needed help. New students also learned that their classmates could be good helpers. By the end of this first workshop time everyone had settled on an idea for a book and had at least written a title or begun by making illustrations. A number of students were several pages into writing and illustrating. The first thing we heard from one student as she entered the classroom the next day was, “Can I work on my book today?”

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Day with Katie Wood Ray

On August 11, 2011, Katie Wood Ray came to our school and spent the day working with a group of teachers from Early School, Lower School, and Middle School on writing workshop. The morning focused on preschool through lower elementary and the afternoon on upper elementary/early middle school. Many of us stayed for the whole day, as the presentations and discussions were relevant to the work all of us do with our students.

Those who have read my blog before know that I regularly draw ideas and inspiration from the work of Katie Wood Ray. The past two summers I have attended two-day institutes sponsored by Heinemann featuring Katie and Lisa B. Cleaveland, with whom she wrote my favorite writing workshop book, About the Authors: Writing Workshop with our Youngest Writers.

Highlights on the 11th included exploring ideas and routines for Units of Study, working on strategies to use when conferencing with students, and expanding our understanding of the idea of approximation, which helps us have appropriate expectations for our students. We loved seeing video of conferences, especially seeing Katie tackle a particularly difficult one with a reluctant writer. All of us have been challenged by this kind of student and admired the patience, care, and tenacity that Katie brought to this conference.

The day did not disappoint. It was a perfect way to feed my excitement about the coming school year. Oh the many possibilities that await my students and me in Writing Workshop!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poetry Study

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. I love Regie Routman’s emphasis on reading and talking about poetry by children. From Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parsons I draw mini-lessons that help the children focus on specific aspects of poetry such as how to decide on line breaks. From Katie Wood Ray I get the basic structure I use in our study as we read various examples of poetry by both children and adults and discuss what we notice the authors doing in their poems. I also incorporate lessons of my own that I have developed over the years.

As always, some students “catch on” to poetry more quickly than others. Often some of the students who are most prolific with prose writing can be hesitant about poetry. Working together we help each other learn some of the ins and outs of this kind of writing. We talk about how important it is to read our poems out loud as we write them to get a feel for how they sound. As one students said, “I read it and it sounded more like a story so I changed it to make it sound more like a poem.” Another student talked about making her poem sound more “poety.”

At the end of our unit each student chose one poem to put in our group’s poetry collection. I also got to choose one poem written by each student for the collection. We then edited and revised the poems using peer conferences and student/teacher conferences. The booklet of poems was ready in time to share on Grandparents’ Day with our visitors, which made it extra special.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Structure Study

In January we’ve been doing a Unit of Study based on the structure that authors use in their books. We have looked at some books where the structure is a clear, repeated pattern. We also have looked at some books that have a traditional story pattern, such as describe a problem, tell some unsuccessful ways to solve it, then solve it. One student described this in one book as “the character’s happy, then sad, then still sad, then happy again.”

When I conference with them, I am asking them about the structure of their books. It is easier for some to be aware of and articulate this than others. I am hoping that as we analyze more books and as I share examples of what classmates are doing, all the students will become more aware of structure and more intentional in the use of structure in writing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Illustration Study Celebration

Not long before Winter Break we celebrated the books that the students published as part of our illustration study. At our celebration each student told about his/her book, read a selection, and talked about how illustrations added to the writing. We toasted our efforts with brownies this time.