Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 4...And Write Some More

I have not been sad to see a Friday come since I was in Grade 2 or 3. But I am getting used to spending my afternoons (and evenings!) writing and I am feeling a little blue that tomorrow is our last day. I had not realized how much I missed kids noticing my earrings and giving me pictures.

But don't worry, this is not going to be a mournful tale. Today was absolute joy. Let me tell you about it.

Grade 2
If I am really honest, I was a little worried after yesterday. I was concerned that free verse was just too big a change for such young writers. I fretted that perhaps I had not done enough modelling and shared writing, that I had moved to the "you do it" too quickly. Today I am reminded of one of the biggest lessons I learned in the years I worked with Sandra Herbst:

Trust the process.

And so I did. As the teachers and I looked at the writing yesterday and observed the children having some difficulty in starting their poems and even more difficulty in keeping themselves writing, we decided that they needed more modelling on how to make your writing look like a poem and how to stretch out those juicy words so you could use them in your writing. This is assessment FOR learning, not failure. The students had shown us what we needed to do.

We had thirteen writers left to celebrate so I celebrated six of them, really concentrating on the lines and how you decided where to make a line break and how it sounded different when you did so.
Then they stood up and faced a new direction on the carpet and sat down to watch me model another poem. This time I wrote in "kid writing", showing them how I stretched out the words so that I could write my message. I also suggested they circle a word if they thought it didn't look right, and then to move on with the important job of getting their wonderful poems onto the paper. Another quick movement break and we were able to celebrate seven more poets and their poems.

Off they went to write, this time with blank paper and greater confidence. Every writer started to write immediately. The dictionaries did not come out, words were stretched and circled and writers kept themselves writing. All over the room. It was a thing of beauty.

Grade 3
As I walked into the room a student asked if we were going to celebrate more of their book reviews today. When I nodded, he cheered. As we sat together on the carpet and later, when the students had moved to their desks to write, the atmosphere in the room was truly joyful. They enthusiastically appreciated each other's writing and their commitment to writing more reviews was genuine. These kids kept themselves reading and writing for the entire workshop.

Tomorrow our goal is to maintain the joy and ... do just a little bit of editing.

I was reminded of the importance and power of celebration today by an eight year old writer. As he was moving into the seat beside me so that we could celebrate his writing, I said that I had thought we had celebrated already but that I realized I had done a public conference with him the day before and not a celebration. And he said, "Yeah and this is the most important part." He's in great company. Regie Routman just might agree with him.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day 3.... The students wrote!

I am going to talk about both writing workshops as I begin because we followed a similar process in both. We began with the public conferences I described yesterday, another form of we do it. I explained that we were going to do some conferences to help us get started writing and that a student would sit beside me in front of the class.  I would ask questions and talk with that student about what they were going to write about and how they were going to get started.  If you wanted to do this, you could volunteer and the classroom teacher would select someone for me. The others were reminded that their job was to listen out of respect for their classmate and to listen for ideas they might use in their own writing.  After each conference, I asked the listeners what they had learned from the writer.  Their responses are starting to be more about what we can do as writers and less about content of the writing.

I recorded some key words on a sticky for each of the volunteers and explained how they were just a reminder, not something you had to copy.  It is still my contention that these notes cause me more trouble in K-2 than they are worth.  You almost need a modelling session on how to use the sticky note.    I am resisting this because it worked just fine at Grade 3.  If you use this strategy with younger students and have success... please share your secret.

After 4 or 5 conferences we sent off those ready to write and had a quick private conversation with those left.  I had the benefit of several teachers in the room.  If I had been on my own, they would have been just about how each writer would start, allowing me to quickly begin roving amongst the writers, stopping to read, celebrate and support.  My goal was to keep moving and I met it, although I must admit it took greater determination and self-control (on my part!) in Grade 2.

Grade 2
I did a Think Aloud about how I had decided when to change lines in our candy poem and then moved into the public conferences. When I sent them off to write, some students were able to start right away but many showed signs of needing more support.  Two issues seemed to be causing them pause:

  • figuring out how to spell the words they wanted 
  • the differences structurally in writing free verse poems and a journal entry or a story
After a few minutes of writing, I stopped them and shared a classmate's beginning.  I celebrated how he had been using his personal dictionary to look up every word and that when I reminded him of how we had stretched out delicious (dulishus) in our candy poem, he tried it with some words.  I encouraged them to use that idea in their own writing.  Five minutes later I stopped them and celebrated a classmate who was making his writing look like a poem and reminded them to try that as well.

Students continued to write and the teacher and I continued to circulate and encourage and support.  We came together for the last fifteen minutes of the day for some celebration conferences.  Again I asked a child to sit beside me, facing the group.  I chose some poems and writers to celebrate line by line, focusing on those that looked like poems and those where students had taken risks and tried to write the words they needed for their poem.  I told them that we would celebrate everyone, just not all today.The kids were clearly excited to celebrate each other and were a very appreciative audience.  We had conversations about what we were learning from each writer.  They see themselves as poetry writers.  

In our after school reflection we made a few decisions:

  • Blank paper might help them move away from filling each line as it seemed that lined paper was providing too much structure for them to write free verse.
  • They need more modelling and shared experiences.  Most of them were not quite ready to write on their own. 
  • We need to focus on keeping yourself writing, using what you know to spell the words you want to use and making our writing look and sound like a poem.
Tomorrow we will spend significant time providing this support and then giving them another block of time for writing.

Grade 3
The frontloading, modelling and shared practice were just right for this group.  After our public conferences they all got started immediately with writing.  Assessment FOR learning at its most obvious.  The writing flowed out of almost everyone, they clearly understood the genre and the criteria.   Many finished in 15-20 minutes and we celebrated extensively.  Again, this was a teaching time, another opportunity to name and describe what is important in a book review... this time with a real live example.  I read each review twice and celebrated almost line by line.

The students were interested and excited to share and celebrate.  They knew they had written well because of the responses they were getting from the audience.

I have read the pieces we did not celebrate earlier and have made notes on what I want to celebrate when we get together tomorrow.  That will take the first 20 minutes or so tomorrow and then we will return to writing, some finishing, some revising and some beginning a new one.

Thank you to those responsible for reminding me to take photos today.  Enjoy our draft writing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Day 2 We Do It

Grade 2

Imagine that you are a Grade 2 student and then imagine that you were not at school on Monday. Imagine that on Tuesday when you return someone is reading a poem about how her left foot and her eagle hurt. Imagine how confused you would be. Thankfully, enough of the students remembered what an "ego" was and we got sorted out.

You can't make this stuff up. I love it.

I reread my poem and made a few revisions, telling the kids that writers do that, they come back and make some changes. I confessed that my poem really wasn't about my left foot and so changed the title to Growing Older. This is very funny to seven year olds. I also read a couple of poems written by students their age, to remind them that poems could be about anything, that often a feeling was involved, and that they could be long or short.

The classroom teacher and I had selected three possible topics from the stickies students had written the day before. We had asked them to think of a topic that we might all know enough about to write together. The three were: candy, TV, and milk. I told them that we wouldn't be voting but that instead we would hear some thoughts on each topic and then I would choose on the basis of what they said and response from the group. I used Nancy's language and told them that no ideas would be wasted and that if we didn't pick the one they wanted they could always write about it tomorrow. And it worked. We did not get bogged down in deciding or pouting.

I forgot to take a picture of the poem but I may just be able to remember most of it... I reread it that many times!

We LOVE candy!

It tastes

It feels

It looks

WE LOVE CANDY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Almost got it. They were very excited by their poem and read with gusto. In hindsight, I wish I had talked more about the decisions I made about when to change lines. I will start that way tomorrow because I am not sure they get that yet. We have talked about how poems have white space and we have looked at how poems are placed on the page. Tomorrow we will see what is what because we will write our first poems independently. I will not forget to take pictures.

The classroom teacher made an observation today that we both found interesting. She said that several students who are normally very quiet offered thoughts and suggestions. My hunch is that it is due to the frontloading and support provided by the model and shared writing. 

Grade 3
I began by rereading my review and making a few revisions. Thank you to those who have written to say that you will be checking the book out. I will be sharing that with the Grade 3s tomorrow!

Our goal was to write a shared review of a picture book previously shared with the class. The classroom teacher and I had decided the night before that we would co-construct criteria with the students before moving into writing. We did not use the full process as described by Anne Davies but an adaptation of it. It was not the teacher's intent that these reviews all sound the same so our criteria is a combination of things you must have and choices you could make. When I forget to take pictures it is apparently for the day, so here, to the best of my recollection is our criteria:

-title and author of book
 -hooks the reader- grabs their attention
 -maybe a recommendation
 - no spoiler (don't tell the end)

Middle( Need at least 2 of:)
-details about the story
-tell about the characters
-convince the reader
-give your opinion

-make a recommendation
-make a plea
-let your reader know you are done

To add a little movement break, the students paired up and discussed the book and what could be included in the review. Again I gave my talk about me being the decision maker and I used a tip I picked up from watching Ruth Gauvreau do shared writing. I jotted some of the things the students said on the side of the paper. It allows us to hang onto those ideas if we need them later and it makes the kids feel heard. That, along with the reminder that if you really think something is a good idea, you can use it in your own writing,  helps keep the shared writing going.

I will include a picture of the review tomorrow (I hope) but for now I will say that somebody started us off with a question because the book was full of questions and we went on from there. It is not a long review but it met all of our criteria and as a group we declared it good to go.

Tomorrow we will begin with more "We do it", this time in the form of public conferences. I will ask for a volunteer to sit beside me while the others watch and learn. I will ask the writer some questions to help them get started on their piece. I will tell the audience that their job is to listen for things they might need in their own writing. This chance to remind and show what is important is what makes it a "We do".  We will do 3-5 of them and send those ready off to write.  Anyone not ready will have a quick, private conversation with the classroom teacher or me and then we will do roving conferences among the writers.  No pulling up a chair and staying with one student the whole time.  Regie says that if the support has been provided they will be ready to write.  That is why I was glad to hear the question, "When do we get to write?".  I also got the question, "Would it be okay if we wrote a poem at home tonight?" .  I pretended to think about it long and hard and then said, "I think that would be okay with me." 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking Back on Day 1

I have now written a book review and a free verse poem. They are still in draft form but not bad output for an afternoon. I have also met about fifty (I forgot to count or ask!) students in Grades 2 and 3 who were astounded by the sight of six teachers in their room. How great is that? The mere presence of six of us is enough to cause excitement. Trust me, this is not true in all professions.

Both lessons went largely as planned and in my view, met or worked toward the goals I described yesterday. The power of frontloading was evident as students talked about what they know or have noticed about free verse poetry or book reviews. Thank you to a teacher who sent the following links for book reviews and trailers on youtube. Frontloading can come in many formats.

She has used these for writing book reviews but also for stimulating interest in books and reported that after viewing one of these, the book in question would enjoy an upswing in popularity.

In Grade 3...

I chose to model a review of a novel I love. I was really unsure, even as I wrote the first few lines, whether I should use a book of my own or a children's book. I went with Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver because I thought I could write with more authenticity and passion. I told the kids my audience was my book club and my purpose was to convince them all to read this book so we could talk about it. As at least one member of my book club just might read this, I need to admit to making that story a little more compelling than it really is. They have read it. But most of them missed the meeting where we talked about it! It can't be a surprise to you that writers sometimes change things to get a better story. :)

Here is the review I modelled today:

Here are the things the students noticed me do:

In our after school planning we decided that tomorrow we will start by rereading my review. I will probably make a couple of revisions and then we will return to our list of "What can be in a book review". From this list we plan to build criteria for the reviews we will write together and individually. Nancy (our resident writer at John de Graff and my teacher) did not necessarily do this with every class but it did happen some of the time. We are choosing to do it because the students are accustomed to it and we think it will meet our needs. We will also move into the "we do it" phase tomorrow, doing a shared write of a review of a book the teacher plans to read in the morning. We know they are ready, because as one student said when asked what they had noticed me do, "Well you sure took charge of things. You did all of the talking."

 And that would define modelling. It may also mean that I need to work on being a little more subtle.

In Grade 2...

The teacher and students shared with me all that they had learned from reading free verse poetry. The chart speaks for itself:

I shared my thinking about how I might decide what to write about and I jotted some of the ideas I came up with on my chart paper. I said that I would ask myself questions like:
What do you like to do?
What do you know lots about?
What is something that you care about or have strong feelings about?

I decided to write about the plantar fasciitis in my left foot. Perfect choice you are thinking, and so poetic. Here is my poem:

Again we talked about what they noticed me do as a writer that they might try. In preparation for our shared writing tomorrow, I asked them each to take a sticky note and write down a topic we might all know enough about to write about it together. The teacher and I selected three that we will present tomorrow for the group to choose. One of the things I learned from Nancy was to remember that in Shared Writing I hold the pen. That means final decisions are mine. Nancy told the students that when they were writing they could choose to use ideas that they liked but for now we were going with this. It worked beautifully for her.  Tomorrow afternoon we will see how it works for me as we move into the "We do it" stage of the OLM.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Writing Residency

This week I am going to work with two teachers in our very own writing residency.  It is modelled after the amazing residency that has been going on at John de Graff for the past three years with Nancy McLean, a gifted literacy coach and associate of Regie Routman's.  I have been sharing all I have learned from Nancy with many of you in various formats, some that come very close to a residency.  But this is the first time I am going to co-teach in the same two classrooms every afternoon for a whole week!  Together, we will take the kids through the optimal learning model, every step of the way.  Can you tell I am excited?!  (This is a rhetorical question :) )

Just like Nancy, I have been emailing the teachers on and off for a month or so.  A couple of weeks ago, they decided on their writing genres.  One class will do free verse poetry and the other, book reviews.  Our next step was to decide on the audience we would be writing for and an authentic purpose for writing.  One of the key elements of Regie Routman's approach to writing is that there is an authentic purpose for writing and a real audience and both are shared with students from the outset.  When they know these two things, they care more about the writing and are therefore more engaged and committed to the project.
So here is what we have decided:

Grade 2
Genre: Free verse poetry
Purpose: Kids writing poetry for kids.  We think there is not enough of it in the world and believe that kids would like to read poetry written by other kids. We are going to publish a book of poetry for our classroom library and school library.
Audience: Students in our classroom and school.

Grade 3
Genre: Book reviews
Purpose: Our reviews are going to be published on a bulletin board near our classroom library.  We want to share great books we have read with others.
Audience: Students in our class.

Another key to Regie's approach is the importance of frontloading.  I think of this as experiences the writers will need in advance of actually writing themselves.  Both teachers have spent some time in the last week or two providing their students with some experiences that will set them up for success.

Grade 2
The teacher first asked students what they knew about poetry all ready.  I have not yet seen this chart but my hunch is that one of the things they knew was that poetry must rhyme.  Then she  read many free verse poems, written by both adults and children, to them.  And of course, they talked.

Grade 3
The teacher shared book reviews of some books she had used as Read Alouds and how they had helped her make book choices.  She also shared some student written reviews (  From these samples they began a list of what can be included in a book review which will become our criteria later in the week.  Each student has also selected two books that they might like to review.

Monday afternoon, the frontloading continues with a sharing of what they have already learned and the first stage of the Optimal Learning Model (OLM) ... the "I do it".  Think gradual release of responsibility and you will know that this is the modelling or demonstration done by the teacher.  This is not new, many of you have been writing in front of your students for years.  What is clearer to me now though, is that sharing my thinking as a writer is as important as doing the writing.  Showing them what a writer does and thinks, and why they do it.  Not just telling them.

In our email exchange today, I shared some goals I have for tomorrow:

Grade 2 writers will:

  • know the audience and purpose of our writing
  • see and talk about how poetry is different from other kinds of writing
  • see how a writer thinks about choosing a topic for a poem
  • see and talk about how you keep yourself going as a writer: stretching out words, checking word walls/personal dictionaries, trying it and moving on
  • see that writers think and change their minds

Grade 3 writers will:

  •  know the audience and purpose for our book reviews
  • see a model of a book review written with a specific purpose and audience in mind
  • see and hear that a writer thinks about their message and their audience
  • see (and soon understand) that writers think and change their minds as they write
  • talk about what they see
  • notice what is important in a book review
Stay tuned.  My hope is that I write, even briefly, about what we do and learn each day.