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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why I Don't Post a Step-By-Step Writing Process Chart: Writing is a Recursive Process


Why I DON'T post a step-by-step writing process chart in my classroom!  This blog post describes in detail the recursive nature of the writing process.  We don't get students' best thinking when we force them through a lock-step process.  Rethink the nature of how writers write!
Hello again!
     Always happy to write about writing.  As I've been trying to pin more on Pinterest and post more on Instagram and Facebook to extend the reach of my blog, I keep noticing posts and pictures about the charts teachers make that show the "Steps of the Writing Process."  You know the ones.  They have something like "Brainstorm" or "Prewrite" at the top, followed by "Draft," then "Revise," "Edit," and "Publish."  Heck, twenty-seven years ago I did something similar, but not quite as fancy as what's out there today.  Within my second year of teaching writing though, and as I became more of a writer myself, I learned this step-by-step characterization was a sham.  It's simply not how writers write.   Sure, we can force students to move through the steps one at a time artificially, but that's not how we get their best thinking and writing.  Writing, instead, is a recursive process.  It's a back and forth, back and forth endeavor.  A writer might get an idea then immediately begin drafting to see where the idea goes.  After a few sentences she stops, rereads what she's written, and decides if it's working.  If not, she may change a few things here and there or change the direction of the writing entirely.  Wait!  She's already revising--she's reseeing her piece, however short it is at the moment, reenvisioning where it may go (or, on a smaller scale, where a sentence or phrase may go).  Let's say she changes just a few phrases, playing with her word choice to create desired effects or clarify meaning.   Then, she writes on.  She's drafting again.  Let's say today the writing seems to be flowing so she writes a paragraph or two.  What now?  You guessed it.  She'll go back and reread it.  Again, she's relistening to her words, rethinking her thoughts, testing the meaning, testing the effect, even thinking new thoughts generated through this process.  She may make more changes--more revisions.  It's very likely she comes across a mechanical error (or two or three) and fixes, or edits, those.  This back and forth drafting, rereading and rethinking, revising/editing, continues throughout the piece.  Revision and editing are not just tacked on at the end of drafting.  Teaching that these processes only occur after drafting may be the reason some students don't want to revise and edit; they think they are already done.

     Additionally, if our writer is part of a class or group, she may seek response along way, looking for help to troubleshoot problem areas or just seeking connection and audience.  Most writers engage in some form of sharing or response-seeking along the way, again, not necessarily waiting to be 'done' with a piece before doing so.  In my classroom, we are constantly sharing, seeking response and trouble shooting as we write (I'll address the "how to" of this in another post or maybe a Periscope broadcast!). 

     Putting "publishing" as the last step in the process is misleading, as well.  We don't formally publish everything we write, in fact, that is a rare event and occurs only when we have a real purpose for doing so.  We write much more than we could ever formally publish, for if we didn't, we wouldn't be writing nearly enough.  We write across the curriculum, too, to build, clarify and solidify our thinking.  This type of writing is informal--it serves the purpose of augmenting learning.

    When researching a topic we plan to write about, we often do spend more time prewriting, identifying specific questions we'd like to answer, studying resources and taking organized notes (often on a graphic organizer).  We next rely heavily on oral language, talking out the information we've gleaned, testing to see if we understand it well enough or if more questions have surfaced that require us to, once again, loop back, and revisit sources.  As we begin to draft, we return to the recursive process again, and as we reread, we discover holes in our thinking or arguments that require rethinking, re-researching, and rewriting.  Forward and back, forward and back...tweaking all along the way.

     I guess if you post one of those step-by-step charts, you could add arrows going back and forth to better illustrate the process.  The best way to teach the recursiveness of writing, though, is to model it.  As I think aloud, students watch and hear me brainstorm, draft, reread, question, rethink and redo continually. It's part of my modeling every day.  In fact, when I'm done modeling, I'll often ask students what they just saw me do, encouraging them to put the strategies they've just seen into their own words.  This debriefing goes a long way to ensuring students are getting the most from the modeling.    
    
     Of course,  the more teachers write themselves, the more they understand the nature of the writing process.  It changes from piece to piece, depending on many factors.  But, it's always messy and rarely, if ever, lock-steppy.  

     I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Why is it important for students to deeply understand this process?  What would you add to this characterization of the writing process?  How does this understanding affect the way you teach writing and the set-up and day-to-day running of your Writing Workshop?


 


  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss! Part I in a Series: Stella Writes An Opinion


    
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts.. 

“What do you love?  What do you not-so-love?  What bugs you at school or at home?  What would you change if you were in charge of the world, or your class, or your bedroom?”  Here are the words of Stella, the peer writing mentor your students don’t want to miss.  Why?  Because she is real.  Because she is just like your K-4 writers.  And, because she works through writing by explaining, reflecting, problem solving, and celebrating while sharing her thinking all along the wayThe quote above is her way of explaining what an opinion is to her second grade classmates.  She continues, “I mean everybody has opinions—everybody!  And what could be more fun than to write what you think about an important topic?  Now that’s power!”
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..

     These quotes are from the picture book Stella Writes An Opinion published by SDE (Staff Development for Educators).  It is just one in a series of four engaging picture books designed to delight, inspire and mentor young writers.  In this book, as in the others, Stella, with the help of her teacher and classmates, walks her way through the entire process of writing in the genre.  After defining opinion, she brainstorms topics, picks one, and explains her thinking:  “See, I’m in second grade.  In kindergarten and first grade we got to bring a morning snack if we wanted, you know, to keep us going ‘till lunchtime.  Now, we can’t bring one anymore.  We’re too old.  That bugs me, and if I was in charge it’s something I would change.”  Now, what kid can’t relate to that?  The best part about the #Stellawrites series is just this: each book makes the genre and process accessible to writers—the scenarios are completely kid-relatable.   

     Stella learns from her teacher, Ms. Merkley, she needs reasons to support her opinion, "You can't just say what you want, or what bugs you, or what you'd like to change.  To write a good opinion, you have to have reasons to support it.  Reasons!"  She ponders aloud and comes up with two reasons for her opinion, one of which is:  "I get grumpy when I'm hungry.  I mean grumpy like snappy at my friends or classmates.  "Don't touch that!"  "I know! I know!"  "Stop making that noise!"  They call this low blood sugar.  Does that ever happen to you?"

     Naturally, like so many of our writers do, Stella prematurely thinks she's done at this point.  But, then Ms. Merkely instructs the class on closings.  Now, Stella gets really stuck.  She can't think of a closing that fits and sounds like her.  She tries multiple endings (all of which are shown), thinks and rethinks, even on the school bus and at home that night.  
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..
     Finally, she perseveres and comes up with something she likes, "To conclude, morning snacks are important!  We should bring them back for second graders.  When our stomachs are happy, we're happy kids who can learn better because we can concentrate.  And, that's what school is all about."  "Yes!  I like that one!  It sounds like me, and it reminds everyone why my opinion deserves attention.  I'm glad I tried writing a few different endings, or I never would have come up with that one."

     Stella decides to "do what good writers do" and reread her writing to "make sure it says what I want it to say and sounds like I want it to sound."  Her draft and revisions/edits are shown in the book and she challenges readers to find some of her changes.
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..

    Lastly, and this is something I ADORE about these books, the writing concludes with purpose.  (When students' reading, writing, and conversations have real purpose, engagement and learning outcomes increase exponentially.)  Stella's opinion is shared with the principal who agrees the policy on student snacks should be changed:  "Once he read it, he agreed!  We get to start bringing morning snack next week!  See, I told you opinions are powerful. Who knows what we opinion writers might change?  The world needs us!" 
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..

Now, that's empowerment!  When our writers are empowered, they put forth more effort, see the reasons behind what they're doing, get the "bigger picture" and are more likely to engage in reading and writing for their own purposes outside of class.  
   
   This week, I started a series of Periscope broadcasts to highlight the #Stellawrites series.  You can view the first broadcast here
Meet Stella: A Peer Writing Mentor Your Students Don't Want to Miss (and neither do you!).  This blog post highlights some of the kid-relatable features of this opinion mentor text including illustrations and Stella's endearing language.  It also links to a Periscope broadcast about the book as well as other related posts..


Stella Writes An Opinion is featured during the first ten minutesStella and Class: Information Experts, the book about informative writing, is featured in the second half of the broadcast.  I will feature that book in Part II of this blog series.

     If you'd like to learn more about Stella, here are some related posts:
How the Stella Writes series came to be 
The Stella Writes Website with a host of instructional ideas for using the books 
Model and Celebrate the Writing Struggle with Stella 
Stella Writes Poster Set (Note now a 5th poster is available) 

Thanks for visiting!  Stay tuned for more great things from Stella!  
-Janiel 

P.S. Here's a little recent praise for Stella.  The books were featured on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  You can view the post here. 
-"Really liking Stella's "can do" attitude!  That's what I try to instill into all my students." 
-"A heroine who inspires other kids to write...Stella sounds like someone I want to introduce to teachers and students alike.  Excited to see the books!"
-"What an amazing idea!  I can't believe we haven't seen anything like this before.  I love using mentor texts as a model with students, but this offers a new way."  
  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Honoring Student Work with Purpose



Honor student work with purpose!  The best literacy instruction is grounded in real reasons to read and write.  This blog post has some ideas and resources for engaging students with purposeful, integrated literacy!
Student-authored newspaper articles are offered to our student body


Honor the work of students.  Make the work purposeful.  Have students write much more than you could ever read, respond to, or grade.  I’ve shared these mantras for years at my school, in my district, at workshops nationwide, and in my writing.  Thus, I was delighted to see this short post and video from Hienemann yesterday featuring Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke.   In the clip, Daniels talks about using the quick writing students do across the curriculum in class to start discussions or to stimulate other interactions with peers.  Additionally, he speaks to how these informal pieces are evidence of student thinking over time, and, as such, are much more informative than a letter grade or a percentage.  Using students’ work is a way of honoring their voices beyond just having them complete an assignment and turn it in for a grade.  Classrooms are places to cultivate desirous, energetic readers and writers.  The way to do this is to make the work purposeful, just as Daniels proposes.  We don’t just read and write to get a grade.  We read and write for real purposes.  

Here are a few of my favorite examples:
     In Mrs. Pledger's second grade classroom, our reading, discussion, and writing centered around the task of writing informational articles to inform the rest of the student body about Caine Monroy, a young boy from East LA, who became famous for the unique cardboard arcade he created out of boxes and other materials.  We discussed and took notes while viewing two primary source videos

then continued our investigation by closely reading an informative article.  We studied newspaper articles to educate ourselves about form and structure before writing our own.  Students were keenly engaged, knowing their work had real purpose.  They also wrote a script for an intercom announcement  to pique the school’s interest about Caine and inform students how to get their copy of a peer-authored newspaper article.   
A second grader's newspaper article that was dispersed to the whole student body!  The best literacy instruction is grounded in real reasons to read and write.  This blog post has some ideas and resources for engaging students with purposeful, integrated literacy!
 
Lily's published newspaper article.  I made 5 copies of each student's article for distribution.


    The learning sequence was a hit with these second graders and their audience.  One of my favorite parts of the learning was the conversations we had about the possible deeper meanings behind the people and events we studied.  (This discussion affected the final three sentences in Lily's article.)


     Another example of honoring the work of students and keeping purpose at the forefront happened in one of our sixth grade classrooms.  Mrs. Jacobsen and her sixth graders became so engrossed with Malala Yousafzai; reading about her, writing about her, talking about what had happened to her and her amazing courage and voice, that they decided to host a 5K run to earn money for the Malala Fund.  They created a Facebook page, fliers, buttons, and Tshirts.  The students even appeared on the local news to let people know what they were up to and how to support the cause.  They were able to raise $2200.   These students surely left our school for junior high knowing the power of reading, writing, conversation, and collaboration.  More importantly, they know the power of their own voices and the power they have to accomplish meaningful work and to put it out there into the world.
Sixth graders created their own Facebook page to advertise their 5K run to earn money for the Malala Fund.  Why?  Because they had been highly engaged in interesting, relevant reading and writing that led them to a real-world purpose!  See the blog post for more ideas and resources.

Sixth graders created this flier to advertise their 5K run to earn money for the Malala Fund.  Why?  Because they had been highly engaged in interesting, relevant reading and writing that led them to a real-world purpose!  See the blog post for more ideas and resources.
     As a K-6 literacy coach I visit classes daily.  When I walk in, I feel and see the energy when students are reading, discussing, writing, and creating to achieve a goal that reaches beyond grades and classroom walls.  Students eagerly come up to share what they are doing and why.  I love to linger in these learning spaces and soak in the excitement.  Kids want to be in these places, too.  This energy, excitement, and purpose are prime indicators of masterful teaching and learning.

   A future post will feature our school's plans to continue along this path and intrinsically motivate our K-6 students to read.  We're doing away entirely with book reports!

Happy reading, writing and thinking!  As always, I welcome your comments.   -Janiel

P.S. To learn more about the second grade newspaper article project about Caine Monroy and other learning sequences that offer high quality, purposeful tasks that motivate learners, check out my book from Corwin:
Relevant, purposeful reading and writing integrated across the curriculum.  This is teaching and learning at its best!  This blog post has an example of a lesson from the Corwin book Booster Lessons: Elevating Instruction Day by Day K-2 by Janiel Wagstaff.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Inspiring Writing by Innovating on Text Models

Hello!  I've joined "The Reading Crew" for a link up of mentor text lessons for this post.


Over the years,  I have had great fun and positive results using texts as models for innovations with young writers.  The idea is to  “borrow” language from texts as a scaffold for students.  If you’ve not tried this before, I know you’ll be pleased with the simplicity of the technique and your students’ success.  

I've created a FREE product on Teachers Pay Teachers that details how to innovate on text models.  I used the book 
"Summer is Here" by Heidi Pross Gray as an example.  
Click here to see the book on Amazon.com
 
As you’ll see, the book has beautiful lyrical language and simple, bright watercolors that may inspire the poet or scientist within to reflect on his or her own observations about signs of summer. Students can quite easily borrow Gray’s language to craft their observations or musings into their own texts.  They might also be influenced to experiment with watercolor illustration(s).



The book uses repetitive language as it explores different signs of summer.  Each two-page spread begins with "When..." followed by a noun, verb, and a phrase containing a detail.  On the second page, we see the refrain:  "Summer is here!"  Here's an example:




 It's a simple task to work with students to study and utilize Gray's language structure to brainstorm and record their own signs of summer.  For example, with very young students, you might ask them to simply follow the word “When” with an observation about something that happens in the summer. 

 

 Kindergarten sample:  “When the days get long…  Summer is here!”

 

With older students, you might do some explicit teaching about parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs), examining more deeply the language patterns Gray uses in the text and trying some on for size.



Third grade sample:  “When cool deep pools of water beckon swimmers to come out…  Summer is here!”

 

This gem of a technique dates back to the 1980s to Don Holdaway's work with shared reading.  It's a delightful way to scaffold young writers and inspire writing.  Students' writing can be used to create a class book, to publish their own individual books, or simply shared.  My FREE TPT product includes more details about how to pick appropriate text models, additional tips on using innovations on texts,  and a list of suggested book titles.

If you'd like to download the product to learn more, the link is here.
 


 Thank you for visiting my blog!  This post is brief as it is 3:30 AM and our last day of school begins in just a few hours!  I hope you enjoy the other posts on using mentor texts in this summer link-up.  There's also a raffle for some TPT gift certificates.  Here's wishing you good luck! 

Happy reading/writing/thinking!  -Janiel





 

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