Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Slice of Life: Living the Life of a Writer

"I write every day for two hours. But it's what I do for the other twenty-two hours that allows me to write."                     Don Murray
(This post is cross-posted at my other blog:  Merely Day by Day where you'll find my Slice of Life posts for the next 31...yes, 31...days.)

I found this Donald Murray quote on Ralph Fletcher's site.  It made me think.  Write for two hours a day?  I can't imagine it.  I'm not really much of a writer.  I go through writing spells.  Though I don't consider myself a writer, there are times in my life when I can remember writing being an important part of it.  There have been times when I've gotten myself into a writing routine.  Honestly, I've felt the most balanced in those times.  There were my poetry years - years of school in which I focused my writing on poetry.  There were my survival years - the years that writing helped me to balance all I was trying to do.  There were my training years - the years that writing about all I was learning helped me to learn to work as a literacy coach.  There were the remembering years - the years I used writing to help cope with the loss of my grandparents.

I'm not much of a writer, but I can remember people who have walked beside me trying to put me on a writing path.  I've read a few books about writing.  I have a few notebooks of writing.  When I think about it, it was probably my move to technology that is partially responsible for my latest writing crisis.  As I moved to carrying a phone, having a laptop, being wired, it seemed to become unnecessary, almost inconvenient, to get out my notebook.  I struggled to find my new routine.

I'm not much of a writer, but I do believe it is important to write if I am going to be a teacher of writing.  So when I saw the Slice of Life Challenge start rolling through my Twitter feed #slice2012, when I had friends talking about Two Writing Teachers' Challenge, when I was reading about the challenge on blogs like Michelle Nero's Literacy Learning Zone, when I went to Dublin Literacy Conference and Ruth Ayers mentioned it, well, I felt it was calling me.

So I'm committing here to the challenge.  Mostly, I've decided I'm going to use this challenge to think more about the teaching of writing.  In Wondrous Words p. 225, Katie Wood Ray reminds us, "Sometimes I will create experiences for myself as a writer so that I can know what they feel like and later share them with students."  So for the next 31 days I'll be posting stories that I hope to use later in Writer's Workshop with my students.  I am going to do the writing work I ask my young writers to do everyday.  For the next 31 days I'm committing to trying to get back into the habit of writing.  I'm hoping to find my routine again in these 31 days.  Maybe I'll even determine if the best place for my thinking about writing is a notebook or some tech device.

I will not be posting my Slice of Life posts on this blog, but instead they will be visible at my Merely Day by Day blog.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Publishing" Our Writing

Audience is a powerful motivator in writing.  When you know a piece is going out into the world, you are much more careful with your words.  When you know a piece is going out in the world, you're willing to work hard on your message for your readers.  In my transition to using more digital tools in our classroom, I still find the time to write during Writer's Workshop to be essential.  There's something about capturing the stories of young writers in their words and pictures.

In our classroom, we've started "publishing" some of our favorite pieces digitally using Pixie.  Though there are many other ways you can accomplish this with other software, Pixie has worked for us as it is a software we have much experience using.  In Pixie, students take a picture of each page of their story, then record their voice on each page.  After taking pictures and recording I am able to turn these into a Podcast that can be shared via email with parents, on our blog, or on our news page.  There's nothing quite like seeing the pictures and hearing the voice of the author.  (Note:  You can also create a video which has sharper pictures, but takes more memory.  Podcasts are more easily shared though some quality is lost.)

Students manage this process on their own as I conference with writers.  Students take the pictures, record the voice, and get the story recorded to the best of their abilities.  The only thing I do is convert it to a Podcast which students could probably learn to do too.  

Here are a few examples of published pieces:  



I Love the Piano

The Forget Man

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Keeping Learning Conversational

Our literacy block is 150 minutes long.  You'd think that would be plenty of time for first graders to read, write, learn about words, and talk together about literacy.  However, it is amazing how easily that time can slip away.  That's without even considering the interruptions of fire drills, a tooth that has fallen out, announcements over the intercom, assemblies we must attend, a late arrival, or those other little interruptions that can take time off the clock.

Sometimes in the rush to make sure we have time for Reader's Workshop, Writer's Workshop, and word study, it is easy to forget the power of keeping learning conversational.  Keeping the learning across our day conversational means thinking not only about the point of my teaching, but also about the responses of the children in our conversation.  Watching their body language, thinking along with them, and responding genuinely to their comments is what makes the workshop a perfect place to learn.

Conversations in Conferring
Writer's workshop is one of the places where I really try to be sure I keep the learning conversational.  Over the years I've tried to learn to "teach the writer not the writing".  Taking careful notes for each writer, considering writing over time, and considering the focus of our study help me to do this.   In the rush to keep conferences short, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is a conversation about learning.  I use a flexible structure during these conversations:

Listen:  First I talk with the writer about their current work.  Sometimes I ask, "What are you working on?", "How's it going?" (thanks, Carl Anderson) or comment "I've noticed you've been really working on this piece.  I can't wait to hear about it.".  Then I usually ask students to read their story to me.  While I am thinking about what is next for this writer during this time, I am focused on the meaning of their story.  To begin I keep my conversation about the story responding genuinely to their message.  During this time I try to be sure the child is in charge of the conversation.  

Reflect:  After listening to the story, I try to take a moment to consider what is next for this writer.  Often I come to the conference with a possible focus that has evolved from previous conversations, the child's own goals for writing, and/or the learning we are doing about writing in our classroom.  I try not to get drawn into little problems with a particular piece that are not consistent challenges for the writer.  I also try not to get caught up in challenges with conventions that can be solved editing later in the piece.  This is a conversation about the writer.

Teach:  During this time I have a conversation about the writer about what is next.  Sometimes that means talking further about the goals the writer has set for himself/herself.  We look for places in the writing where he/she may be accomplishing this and places where maybe we can work on this.  Sometimes I make a teaching point with the writer that is closely related to our focus lessons.  It is easy to get caught up in looking for what is wrong with the writing, but I actually find it more powerful to look for what is right.  Finding what is working for young writers, and naming it for them, usually is a much more powerful way to make shifts in learning.  I try to stick to one point here and only one point.  I don't want to take the child away from his/her focus or spend too long in one place.

Plan:  This summer I talked with a group about Patrick Allen's book, Conferring.  Though his book is more about conferring in Reader's Workshop, conferring in Writer's Workshop is the same.  One of the biggest ah-has I took away was the importance of being clear about the plan as we exit.  Here the conversation is about what is next.  What does all this talking we've been doing mean to the writer?  Again, I like the student to control most of this conversation.  I genuinely want to know what they plan to do next.

I enjoy making time in our day for these small conversations with young writers.  I learn so much from them every day and find the work they do inspiring.

Here are a few previous posts about talking with learners:
Discovering What Kids Know
Conferring Ain't Easy
Conferring:  Improving Conversations with Readers
The Conversation Begins

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Penny and Her Song

Recently I was given an ARC for Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes to be released February 28, 2012.  I was pretty excited when it was placed in my hands.  Kevin Henkes is one of my favorite authors.  His books are always a hit in the classroom.  The children in my classroom can easily identify with his characters who have many of the same experiences and feelings they have.  We love that, like the young writers in our classroom, Kevin Henkes writes his stories AND creates his illustrations.

Of course, immediately I noticed that Penny and Her Song is the size of a beginning chapter book.  When I opened the book I found that is exactly what Henkes has done.  He has written this story in two chapters about Penny who wants to share her song with her family.  Penny goes to her mom to her share her song, but her mom is worried she'll wake the babies.  She goes to her dad to share her song, but he is worried she'll wake the babies.  Finally in chapter two Penny gets to share her beautiful song and a dance party ensues.

Young readers who have been eagerly awaiting their entry into the chapter book club will be happy with this book.  Kevin Henkes has used a story structure young readers will be able to understand.  The repetition of the phrases throughout the story not only make it easier for young readers to read independently, but also add an irresistible rhythm to the story.  Most of all, young readers will love Penny.  She's delightful as she waits patiently to share her song (a lesson Lilly, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, might be able to use).  Penny is the perfect big sister!

I'm not going to lie, I love Kevin Henkes in picture book format where his illustrations dance on the pages around his words.  He is such a talented storyteller and illustrator.  However, kids everywhere excitedly wait to move into chapter books and this is the perfect bridge to joining that club.  I'm hoping Kevin Henkes will continue to create his magic in regular picture book formats, but in his spare time I'm happy to see him send these beginning chapter books to young readers who love his work.  There will always be plenty of room on our library shelves.

Penny and Her Song will be released at the end of the month.  I can't wait to add it to our classroom library.  (I suppose it is unlikely, but I'm hoping soon we'll be able to find it in reader format as I think the book lends itself nicely to that.)

Kevin Henkes talks about Penny and Her Song here.

I just had to share this video of Kevin Henkes sharing his thinking as an illustrator.  My students will love peeking into the process of his storytelling.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tagging in Evernote

Evernote is my new app I can't live without.  I have it on my computer.  I have it on my phone.  I have it on my Kindle.  I use it at home.  I use it at school.  With Evernote I'm able to work with or without a WiFi connection.

I spent last summer starting to use it and have fallen more in love with it every day.  Though most use Evernote for their daily lives, I have discovered using it in my classroom has made my life so much simpler.  Though I'm still not quite as quick as I'd like to be typing my notes, I've found it to the be the perfect way to track the learning in our classroom.  (You can read more about the ways I use Evernote in the classroom at Choice Literacy in "Capturing Student Learning with Evernote.")

While keeping notes in Evernote has helped me to capture student learning, tagging has simplified organization and my ability to reflect on these notes.  In my notebook each student has his/her own notebook, but finding particular pieces of information can still be daunting.  By tagging, I am able to search notes by student name, topic of learning, or other key words.

When conferring with a child I record information in the note and then tag it for easy retrieval.  I tag each note with the student name, the workshop in which we conferred, the concept/understanding/focus of our conversation, and other key words that might help me later locate, sort or group notes.

Here are a few examples:
  • In a recent reading conference with Caden I sat down to chat about nonfiction.  Caden was reading a book about foxes.  He had divided his paper in half and had written two questions he had about foxes.  Upon talking to him I realized he was using the pictures to ask questions and not the words.  He had looked at a picture of a fox on a rock and asked, "Why do foxes sleep on rocks?"  However the text was about the bushy tail of the fox and how it helped the fox to survive.  I tagged this note:  Caden, Reader's Workshop, nonfiction, questioning, pictures and text.
  • In a recent conversation with Meredith during Writer's Workshop I listened to her piece about losing her tooth.  Meredith read what she had written so far and I listened to her story.  As many first graders do, she turned to me often to add more to the story she had not included in her piece but wanted me to know.  We talked about all of those interesting parts of her story she might want to add so other readers would know exactly what happened.  It isn't every day your mom accidentally knocks your tooth out!  Meredith has been working on developing her writing so we found places in the story where she had already accomplished this and places she might want to go back to add.  I tagged this note:  Meredith, Writer's Workshop, personal narrative, details, developing writing.
  • Gabby had been working on making her own fact families when I sat down beside her in math workshop.  She had drawn a triangle with the numbers 30, 16, and 46.  I was blown away by her thinking.  Gabby's many examples of self-created fact families not only demonstrated an understanding of the relationship between addition and subtraction, but also pointed to a flexible understanding of using tens and place value concepts.  Keeping up with Gabby is going to be tough!  I tagged this note:  Gabby, Math Workshop, fact families, addition/subtraction relationship, place value, tens.
These are just a few examples from my virtual notebook.  Tagging makes it easy for me to later retrieve these notes to look closely at learning.  If I have a conference with Gabby's parents I can just search "Gabby" and all of her notes will come up.  If I want to look at the learning around nonfiction in our classroom I can just search "nonfiction" and notes from every conversation about nonfiction will be found.  I'm discovering tagging to be important in Evernote, blogging, collecting bookmarks and many other parts of my virtual world.  The transition away from paper is surely helping to keep me organized, and effective tagging is an essential part of this process.