Sunday, March 17, 2013

Editing : The Final Frontier

If you don't have a quality piece of writing, who cares if the punctuation is just right?

Nancy McLean made this statement to us as teachers, just before going into the Grade 4 classroom to demonstrate working on editing.  It is a strong statement for Nancy, an educator who never misses an opportunity to lift up a learner, be they student or teacher. She said it in her gentle, celebratory way with her beautiful southern accent ensuring that it could never sound harsh or critical.  But she said it very intentionally and explicitly so that we as teachers would remember and share with students that writing is about the message first and the conventions later.

Nancy went on to say that:

Editing can be approached with joy.

You can respectfully turn it back to the writer.

In the classroom, Nancy began by having the students collectively write "I can statements".  She told them that they were doing this because they were getting to be such good writers that she wanted to create a list to remind them of the good writing they could do all the time.  To reiterate that the message is the most important part of writing, she asked for things they could do to make their message just right for their reader.

The list created by the students began in this way:

What Good Writers Do in Grade 4

I can write a hook to get the reader interested.
I can reread to make sure it makes sense for the reader.
I can use descriptive words so the reader can: feel my emotions, get a picture in his/her head.
I can cross out instead of erasing because it shows my thinking over time.
I can use details to make my writing more interesting to the reader.

Nancy told the students and classroom teacher that they would add to this list as they continued to grow as writers.

She then brought them back to thinking about the letters they were writing.  After reminding them that these letters were going to be a gift for their intended reader, Nancy talked about how they would copy the letters on pretty paper in their very best handwriting.  She said that once we have our very best writing, we edit.  We edit out of care and respect for our reader.  Editing is not about the message, it is about the conventions.  "Conventions" means that there are certain ways we do things when we are making our writing public.

Working with the editing criteria already established by the classroom teacher, Nancy told the students that they were going to work on editing for punctuation and capitalization only, that we would save spelling for the next time.  She explained that she would model how to do this with one student to teach everyone how to do it and then they would do it on their own.  We would not be helping them, she said, because they were old enough and good enough writers to do this on their own.

You get to do this by yourself.  

You get to be your own teacher.

Nancy worked with one student, showing how to take a coloured pencil to make the necessary changes. After modelling how to read line by line looking for punctuation at the end of each sentence and a capital following it, Nancy broke the process down into steps:

1. Reread one last time to make sure it makes sense.
2. Reread line by line looking for where punctuation needs to end a sentence.
3. Reread line by line putting in capital letters.
4. After you reread 3-4 times and think you are done, put it on the corner of your desk for the teacher to  see.

She then set a high standard, saying that they were expected to find all of the places where punctuation and capitals should go. This was softened a bit by the addition of the notion that they would be given one freebie.  All students got immediately down to editing, just as they had done with writing.  They knew what to do.

The next day, after reviewing the papers that night, Nancy began with celebration.

  • I noticed you using your editing pencil many times.
  • I saw that many of you added capitals and periods. 
  • Thank you for making it clear to your reader.
  • The reason I am handing this responsibility over to you is that we have discovered we teachers have been doing it for you.  That isn't giving you enough credit.  You can do this.  It is time for you to take care of this.
With the classroom teacher, Nancy had noticed that the students rarely capitalized "I".  Together they reviewed the editing chart that described how "I" is always capitalized.  Students were given their letters and the responsibility of editing for the word "I". When they returned to the carpet, Nancy told them that this would be the one and only time they would edit for "I"  and that now that they were taking responsibility for their own editing, they should always just write it with a capital letter the first time.  

Editing for spelling came next.  Nancy again connected the purpose for this back to respect for the reader, saying that spelling errors are very distracting for the reader.  They take away from the power of your message.  Students were told that they were responsible for "Grade 4 words", words we should reasonably expect you to be able to spell or words that you could find in the classroom.

This post is a description of two editing lessons in a Grade 4 classroom.  Stay tuned for some conclusions Nancy helped us draw about editing, her recommendations on what to do when writers come back with their editing only partially done and some of my recent experiences with this part of the process.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Power of Celebration

"These children put pen to paper without fear."

This was an observation made at the beginning of the second day of the writing residency.  By the end of the morning even those new to the residency knew one of the reasons why.  Celebration.  With Nancy and Regie as our mentors, we have learned to celebrate each and every writer in a very detailed way.

"Celebrating is teaching."  (Nancy McLean & Regie Routman, Winnipeg, 2013)

The first time through a piece, Nancy usually reads all of it. Then she celebrates the writers line by line.  She starts with the title, stopping to say, "I love how your title captures the gist of your story in just two words.  That is just what good writers do." and continues on to the lead, " Let me read that again.  You had me hooked with this line.  I HAD to read more." She celebrates every line, reading most of it twice and saying things about the message like:

There is so much to celebrate here.

When I read this part, my heart beat a little faster.

I had to smile because this sounded just like you talking.

As your reader I was thinking... something big is coming.

This part touched my heart.

Some of the celebration also included comments about the craft of writing:

Listen to that great lead.

This part shows that you are thinking about your reader.

Your writing shows evidence of revision, of you thinking and changing your mind as a writer.

These lines really help me get a picture in my mind.

I want to make sure that I am really clear here.  All of the celebration recorded above is for one writer.  Let me say that again. One writer. This week we heard that we should be publicly celebrating 3-4 writers four times a week.

Another gift from the week was the connection made between celebration and whole-part-whole teaching.  When we are celebrating we are working with the whole child, it is about so much more than writing.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Observing in Grade 2 and Grade 4

Tuesday was so full of observing, talking,and thinking about writing that finding the time (and energy!) to actually write was beyond me. I have decided to be kind to myself (learned this in Grade 4 where they are writing about random acts of kindness) and just be a little behind.

Grade 2...

Nancy had received letters from the Grade 2s, introducing themselves and their writing to her. She introduced herself to them by answering the questions they had asked her in their letters. Describing her answers as stories about her life, she told the students that the stories of our lives can be gifts for other people. As Nancy talked, the students occasionally interjected tidbits about themselves, as we all know they are inclined to do. Nancy would listen and say, "Now that
would be an interesting story." or "You could write about that!". She was able to use their propensity for slipping stories about themselves into almost everything as a teaching point and a way to make them feel great. I will be borrowing that. Thank you Nancy.

The modelling of choosing a topic from your life to write about began with a verbal list of several possibilities. Nancy decided to write a small moment story from her trip to Hawaii. She told the students that there was more to write about but that she wanted to focus on one part of it that they, her audience, might enjoy.

Telling students that "Good writers usually tell their story first.", Nancy did an oral rehearsal.Then she said that writers try to write about one special thing that happened rather than a list of things.

Language I heard during the think aloud included:

I want my title to be catchy. I want it to be a mystery kind of title.
I always want to start with a hook. TTYP and what does that mean?
Notice I am thinking aloud. This is the kind of thinking writers do.
See how I am skipping lines.
Let me reread.
I am writing quickly because I want to get this down.
And now I want to wrap it up for my reader.

The lesson concluded with a scaffolded conversation with a student and his journal. With skillful questioning, Nancy showed a part that she found interesting and asked if he would consider writing about that the next day. In previous times I have had kids develop criteria for journals. I have also shown them how to select a topic from their weekend and develop a small moment. I have not 'mined' the journal or Writer's Notebook for ideas to use for small moment stories. If I had, I may not have abandoned them.

Grade 4....

Don't we always begin with celebration? Nancy had been sent a first draft students had done on writing a letter to someone who was kind to them. Let's listen to what she said:

First I enjoyed your letters for the message. Then I went through looking for certain things. I noticed that you as a class are:
-rereading and thinking about your reader
-using great leads
- every one of you had a letter that sounded like you were speaking to that person.
-you included specific acts of kindness

Next came a public conference with a student. I tried to capture Nancy's language because I always find it instructive.

_________ do I have your permission to celebrate your writing and maybe make a suggestion?


I wrote on stickies what I want to celebrate and then at the bottom I have a question to help you improve because that is what teachers do. I want to start by telling you what this writing does to me as your reader.

It makes me feel...

It sounds like you, like you are talking with your mom.

A goal for this class as writers is that you need to tell more, you need to give more detail for your reader. If you tell more, the reader gets more of a picture. I want you to think about which of the 3 ideas in your piece that you might want to tell more about. Which is the most important to you?

Nancy and the classroom teacher, after reviewing the letters, decided that elaboration was the goal. Through a public conference with a student, Nancy showed the class how to cut and tape a paper so that an insert could be added. This very concrete strategy appealed to most students and allowed them to see and share their evidence of elaboration.

Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!