Sunday, October 27, 2019
That morning I awoke trying to find the article I would submit for our writing group. It was to be submitted that evening. I'd had two weeks to write the article (honestly more), but I had not produced a word.
Here I sat with a deadline and nothing. I'd try rereading old pieces for revision, but none of them felt right. I tried starting a few new pieces and none of them took off.
Of course, the challenge wasn't the deadline as much as it was the writing. I know the problem. I just haven't been writing as much as I usually do.
Writing is harder when I'm not writing regularly, I find. I know this, but I have to keep reteaching myself this lesson. Because calendars. Because time. Because work. Because distraction. Because excuses.
When I got home that evening, the clock was ticking toward the deadline. I had to do something.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Once again, I wrestled through a few older articles I had in my drafts folder, but they just weren't going anywhere. Finally I decided the clock was running out, I had to write about where my feet were right now. I started a draft that was related to some work I was currently doing. Still. Every. Word. Was. Hard.
That's the challenge of not writing regularly. It's like exercise. The less you do it, the harder it is.
I've sworn myself back to some regular writing, but I can't help but wonder about the writers in our classrooms. Do they have the daily time to write? Do they have the time to play in their words? Do they have time to write the really bad stuff that hides the gems we can tease out?
When we aren't writing regularly, our young writers can struggle to get words onto a page. If we aren't writing regularly, we can find ourselves trying to push them through their struggle by giving them graphic organizers and strict guidelines for pieces. We can find ourselves wondering where their passion is in their writing, where the voice is hiding, why they struggle so much to write.
Time isn't the solution to strengthening our writing, but it certainly is the first required step.
I didn't quite make the deadline, but I wasn't far behind. (Yeah, I need an occasional deadline to push myself forward.)
It did remind me that the best way to make writing easier is to write often.
So here I am.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
In our classrooms, we work to help our learners be fearless. There's power in taking risks and pushing through the hard parts of our day. These three titles will help students to find ways to be brave.
Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes
If you love wordless picture books, you'll love Brave Molly. The story begins as Molly is working to draw a picture of a shadowy figure. Molly sees some kids outside and decides to go out to where they are. The shadowy figure seems to follow her. As she gets closer to the kids, they walk away. The boy leaves a book behind. Molly heads through the woods with the book in her backpack and the shadowy figure close behind. Molly decides to be brave and push on. Will she ever get rid of the shadow that follows her?
The Way You Might Use It:
Community Conversations: Being brave, doing the right thing, taking care of one another and the power of friendship are all certainly topics of conversation this book might inspire.
Anchor Text: We learn a lot about this character across the story. Even though there are no words, there is plenty of room to talk about what this is like. The book also provides some great opportunities to wonder together about what the shadow represents (or even if it is real), her motivation in getting the book to the boy, and how the author wanted us to feel (and the decisions made to accomplish that).
Mentor Text: The author/illustrator moved between panels, single page illustrations, and double page spreads. The panels are used to move us through time quickly. The author/illustrated used changes in color to help create mood and portray the way the character might be feeling. Young writers might find ways to try these craft moves in their own writing.
Brave Enough for Two by Jonathon Voss
Sometimes the best way to get through hard times is to have a friend by your side. Olive likes the adventures in stories, but she doesn't feel brave enough to tackle these adventures in real life. However, with Hoot by her side, Olive finds the strength to try things she finds a bit scary. This story illustrates the way hard things can be easier with a friend by your side.
The Way You Might Use It
Community Conversations: This book could help communities talk about the things that are hard for us to do or times we've been trying something a bit scary. Kids have many experiences that require them to be brave such as learning to ride a bike, playing a new sport, or going into the basement to get something for their mom. There is also some space to talk about how we can take care of each other and help our friends through the hard parts of our day from working on a hard math problem, digging into a science inquiry, or crossing the monkey bars for the first time.
Anchor Text: This book would support conversations about how characters change across time. It also demonstrates the way we can make inferences about characters based upon dialogue.
Mentor Text: This cumulative text gives young authors ways to think about adding multiple events to a story to help illustrate a point and clarify the message. The use of dialogue might also help young writers think through the ways the authors carefully select conversations that help us to learn more about the character.
When You Are Brave by Pat Zielow Miller and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Certainly kids today have many reasons they have to be brave. In this story, the character's family is moving to a new place that seems far from where they had been. The character is uneasy and feels very alone as she works to take a strong step forward. In this book, the author shares some ways we can find our courage in the hardest of times. While there is much to love about the story, the illustrations really call readers back again and again.
Community Conversations: Students will be able to identify the times the author shares that we have to be brave. Communities can begin a conversation about the way they work through hard times and find their courage.
Anchor Text: You really can't have a book about being brave without having ways to talk about the character. How do we know how the character feels? What clues did the author and illustrator give us?
Mentor Text: Young writers can have much conversation about the lead in this book. The author uses repetitive stems to strengthen the message. The author begins, "Some days when everything around you seems scary...you have to be brave. Brave as....". The author does this in other places in the book as well as uses changes in sentence length to change the pace of the reading. How does this impact the message? This book might inspire some brave writing.
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Recently, I used a video example of a small group writing lesson during guided reading. The students were writing about their reading during the lesson. Each student had their own blank book to use when writing about reading. Students began by rereading their last piece of writing, turned the page and started to write about the book they had just read with their teacher. A lot happened in less than five minutes. As the students wrote independently, the teacher supported each in writing. It was a small group of children so the teacher was able to easily support each writer as they composed and wrote their short piece about their reading.
After watching the video, our group discussed ways we might make our students more independent in this guided writing situation. What are the strategies we might teach these writers that they could carry into their independent writing? We talked about wait time. We talked about small changes in language and prompting. We talked about ways we might help students to better self-monitor.
For me, using a practice page is one way to teach writers strategies they can carry into their independent writing. Using a practice page is something I learned when teaching Reading Recovery years ago. It gives students the opportunity to build high frequency word knowledge, develop knowledge of the way words work, and creates a space for writers to ____.
Here are three ways I like to use a practice page:
Practice High-Frequency Words: High-frequency words do not follow typical spelling patterns which can make them tricky for students. They are also words used often so I want students to know them well. They need to be able to write them quickly as it frees up their attention for composition and the writing of other words. When students write these words incorrectly in their writing, the practice page can be used to write the word correctly 3-5 times. I ask students to write the word, then we cover it to see if they can write it without seeing it.
Elkonin Boxes: When working with students in guided writing, they often come to words they haven't written before. When I notice them having difficulty writing a new word, I can draw Elkonin boxes on the page to help them segment the sounds in the word. In Elkonin boxes the child listens for the sounds that would be in each box. There is a progression of teaching that gets students ready to use Elkonin boxes and ways to adjust them as students try to spell words of increasing difficulty. I most like to use these when I see students trying to write a word that fits word features we have been learning. (Here's a simple explanation of Elkonin boxes from Pioneer Valley.)
Try It: Helping students to monitor their own writing helps them make faster gains. Students often know when they are having difficulty writing a word. I teach students to use the practice page when they are unsure how to write a word. When a word seems tricky, writers go to the practice page and give it a try. Students learn to try to the word three times when they are unsure of the spelling. This is fascinating. If I see the correct the word, I ask them to pick the one they think is right. Most times they know. If none of the attempts are correct, we work to figure out the word together. This page can tell me a lot about what learners know about words. A child who randomly attempts different spellings is of greater concern than one who seems to know which part of the word is causing challenge.
Small-Group Writing: Steps for Success
Building Word Learning Routines