Sunday, February 24, 2013

Welcome Nancy and Colleagues

The week I have been waiting for is finally here. Tomorrow my teachers are coming back to Winnipeg. Mine...and a whole lot of other people's. I am relieved that the weather has become more seasonal as I doubt that Regie Routman, Nancy McLean and Sandy Figuero own coats for 40 below.

On Tuesday we begin our third residency with Nancy at John de Graff. She will be working in two classrooms; Grade 2 and Grade 4. And that is about all I know at this point, other than that I will learn and learn and learn. I wish you could all be there and I hope that in some small way I can bring it to life on this blog. I will do my best.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

This week I want to celebrate teachers in our division who are taking what they know about Regie Routman's optimal learning model and her approach to the teaching of writing, and applying it in varied and exciting ways...

In a Grade 1/2 combined class the students are learning about weather forecasts and what your audience needs to know.  They began with conversations during their calendar time about ways you could describe different kinds of days and began making charts to describe sunny days, rainy days, snowy days and cold days.  The teacher told them that they were going to be writing forecasts for the school that would be read over the morning announcements to help students and staff be prepared for the day.  (real purpose, real audience, real fame :) ) First the teacher did a model of her own, showing what quality could look like.  Then the students worked with the teacher to create many shared weather forecasts that are read over the announcements.  They are now beginning their own individual forecasts that will be videotaped for their parents to see at Parent Teacher.

A French Immersion teacher has used the upcoming Festival du Voyageur as a means to real purpose and audience.  Her students are performing at a school assembly in February.  They will be singing a song with additional verses written by students in French.  She began by sharing the song and telling students of her idea that they could write additional verses for the performance or for a bulletin board that would also be used as a way to publish their learning and writing about the voyageur.  She modelled writing a verse herself, with much thinking aloud about the rhythm of the song and how the words needed to fit that pattern.  Several shared writes allowed further think alouds and emphasis of key teaching points.  And now they are writing their own verses.

A Grade 4 teacher is using what she has done in Language Arts in Science.  Students are researching habitats with an end goal of producing a powerpoint to share their learning with another Grade 4 class.  She has used the "I do it, we do it, we do it, we do do it" at every stage of the project.

  • She modelled doing research and using slim jims to take notes.
  • They did it together as a class.
  • They tried it alone.
  • She modelled turning her notes into an interesting powerpoint presentation with illustrations.
  • They did it together as a class.  
  • They made their own presentations. 
As we discussed the process she said two very interesting things.  The first was that at times it seemed "tedious" to her, in that it was taking much longer to do this project than in previous years and there was a lot of repetition.  The second was that the quality of these powerpoint presentations far exceeded those of previous years.  

A teacher in a culturally diverse upper elementary class used David Bouchard's If You're Not From The Prairie as inspiration.  Focussing on the page that says, "If you're not from the prairie you don't know snow", she told them they were going to write about not knowing winter if you were not from Winnipeg.  Their audience would be new Canadians who came to their school and also those who came to a Welcome Centre for new Canadians in our city.  As seven of the students were recent immigrants from places decidedly lacking in snow, it was a very engaging topic.  A Shutterfly book is in production as I write this.

Each story  includes the collaboration and support of grade level colleagues.  A climate of learning with and from each other.  A generosity of spirit and a nod to the idea that together we are stronger.

These are some of the stories I heard just this week alone.  I know there are more and I would be happy to hear... and share them.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Day 5...

We needed to make sure that every student had been celebrated in my voice before I left today.  This is more difficult than it sounds.  Thank goodness for other teachers in the room with better memories than mine because the kids wanted to be celebrated again and again.  They said things like:

  •  But I wrote another poem.
  •  But everyone needs to hear this.
  •  You haven't celebrated me for two whole days!
  •  But this review is better.
  •  Pleeeeeaaaaaasssse
All very true and compelling.  And hard to resist!  After ensuring that everyone had been celebrated, I talked again about our plans to publish and share these pieces and the need to have them perfect for our readers.  I really emphasized the readers and how writers want their writing to be the best it can be for the sake of the readers.  

Grade 2

Because we were writing free verse poetry we decided not to edit for capital letters and punctuation.  I told the students that as writers we needed to be responsible for what we could reasonably be expected to handle as a Grade 2 student and that every writer has an editor who helps with the rest.  The classroom teacher and I had decided that they would be responsible for a list of 10 - 15 words that had been on their word wall previously.  Each student chose a poem and edited for those words.  When they thought they were finished they began writing a new poem until a teacher could conference with them.  We then moved about the room, meeting with individuals, asking what they had found and directing their attention to any of the words they had missed.  Previously they had circled words they had stretched out and were unsure if they were correct or not.  Those words I described as "not Grade 2 spelling words" and said the editor (the teacher) would put those in book spelling or public spelling when she typed them.  

Grade 3
The classroom teacher reviewed with the class the things they are responsible to edit for:
  • Ending punctuation
  • Capital letters on names, I, and the start of sentences
  • Spelling words correctly that can be sound in the room and they can be reasonably expected to know
Having read Regie Routman and attending her session in the fall, the classroom teacher had been using Regie's idea of putting a dot on a line of writing as a symbol for, "there is something here you should take care of".  She had reported that her students did not like these dots and groaned whenever they saw them.  I asked if she had presented editing in terms of its importance in making our message as clear as possible for our readers and she thought there might be room for greater emphasis on that.

I modelled that with a piece of my writing and talked about how much I wanted my reader to understand and find my review valuable.  One of the observing teachers pointed out that she had heard that they were not overly fond of the dots and she wondered if they realized how helpful they were.  She encouraged them to rethink the dots and see them as "friendly dots" because without them as a guide, they would be reading the whole piece again looking for the things they were responsible for.  We heard no groans or writers saying they thought it was just fine as it was.

In one of our after school chats, the classroom teacher had described a phenomena that I have experienced and you may know as well.  You are editing with one child and you look up and you have a long tail of kids all standing in line wanting your help.  We had talked with the students earlier in the week about their job being to keep themselves writing.  Because Friday was the last day of the residency, we had everyone needing to edit at the same time.  We talked about staggering that when on your own in the room and also reminding them that standing in line was not making good use of your valuable writing time.  Instead, we suggested that they do their edit, signal their need for a conference (sign up, turn their plastic cup from green to red to show "I need you") and then go back to their writing. The Grade 3 teacher also plans to type the edited drafts, fixing up the words that are beyond grade 3 spellers herself.

And then they will put their book reviews up in a specially designed spot next to their classroom library.  The Grade 2s will publish an anthology of their own poetry, with a page by each student. So far three copies are planned for, one for their own classroom library, one for their school library and one for me to share with kids in other schools. The day that these things happen I will need to go and have a peek.  Please be understanding if I am a little late in getting to your school one day in the next couple of weeks... I will be at a very important publishing celebration.