Tweet By:

Let's hear it for active reading, thinking, dialogue, and quick bursts of informal writing using Thinking Boxes!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poetry Month: Honoring R

Happy Poetry Month!  Here are two shorties from a second grade poet I had in my class several years ago (I'll refer to her as "R")...

As you can see, she had a knack for imagery, simplicity and profundity--putting words together in innovative ways.  We have a wall labeled "Poetry Place" in our classroom--a sort of 'open microphone' for anytime poetry.  I start the year with poetry on purpose.  Students experience quick success, surprise themselves and each other, smile about writing and get hooked!  I model jotting some words to capture small moments, reread my developing pieces with 'poetry reverence' (you can make almost anything sound good depending on your tone and timing) and things take off from there.  R planned to publish her small moment poetry in a book (that's why you see the edited spelling).  Tonight, I honor R, and think of the many little poets I've had the joy of working with over the years.  Where are they now?  Do they still compose poetry?

Pencils move
and stop
ceiling stares
to capture small moments
hanging there?

Here, here!
This wall is reserved
just for you
Post your thoughts
        your minutes 
        your imaginings.
We want to hear them.
Together we grow.

I am lonely
I power up and post
remembering little writers
brave, risk takers
Who have they become?
In a world so connected
it is oddly silent.
And lastly, one of my favorite's from R.  She wrote this after we took a "Poetry Walk."  It was the first snowy day of the season so we grabbed our clipboards and went outside to see what we could capture.

Love that kind of capturing!  Have you captured any small moments today?

Pass a Note or Two: Making Even the Youngest Children Writers

Over the last few weeks, during several inservice sessions, I’ve shared this simple, yet keenly purposeful way to get even the youngest children writing.  Parents/teachers have raved about the idea, so I thought I’d put together a short post. 

Here’s the scene:  You’re driving and realize it’s time for dinner.  You stop at a McDonalds’ drive through.  The line is hideously long.  You, being a clever encourager of writing in all ways all days, reach for a sticky note and scrawl, “I love you.  You’re a great kid!,” passing it back to your child.

Depending on your child’s age and abilities, he may read the note or naturally ask, “What does this say?” 

“It says, ‘I love you.  You’re a great kid!’ I’d love it if you wrote one for me.”  (Since you are prepared, your child already has a canvas bag in the back next to his seat filled with books, colored pencils, pens, paper and sticky notes.)

“Here, Mom!”

You grab the scribbled note.  “Oh, this is great.  Read it to me.”

“It says, ‘You are fun!’ ”

Cue McDonald’s recording, “Today!  Try our new caramel, marshmallow encrusted latte with chocolate sauce!  Go ahead and order when you’re ready…”

Kids love writing notes back and forth and, with our lives as busy as they are, brief stops like this while traveling in the car present perfect opportunities to encourage a bit of writing.  I’ve done this with my son since he was very small and he writes sticky notes for all kinds of reasons now (actually if you refer to my Nov. 13, 2013 post, you’ll see sometimes things have gotten a bit out of hand).   In fact, he’s an avid six year old writer who views writing as just part of the stuff he does every day.  This is one strategy that helped get the writing ball rolling. 

As always, happy writing!  -Janiel

P.S. Just for fun:  Here’s a poem (Poetry Month!!) written by one of my second graders about passing notes.  Enjoy and go pass some notes!
Passing Notes
Passing notes
anything, perhaps
But when the teacher catches
I stop dead in my tracks


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Endless Possibilities with Educreations!

Hello!  I’m working on a keynote presentation I’ll be doing at the Gulf Coast Writing Conference this summer titled, “Why Am I Writing This?  Capitalizing on Purpose in the Writing Classroom.”  Planning to infuse some technology ideas, I came across a great example of using Educreations (a free ipad app) for sharing and celebrating writing.  Here a kindergarten student* shares his intentions in his writing by simply taking a picture, recording audio, then using tools to highlight specific aspects of the piece by circling them as he discusses each one.  Not only is this a unique way to celebrate student writing, but it adds purpose since students can teach others all kinds of writing lessons.  Just think of students contemplating how their writing might influence the writing of others! There’s a powerful motivator for them to engage with their writing at  higher levels.  Educreations can be posted on the internet and shared, increasing students’ potential audience.    
*This also happens to be my son, Max :)

Here is another: This is just me modeling another use of the app.  (It's a very basic example, using simple text from Students can take a photo of an excerpt from text then use the tools to highlight how they are using and elaborating on text evidence to support their opinions/arguments, while talking out how a speech or piece of writing might develop.  Obviously, a splash of fun is added by using the app, but more importantly, especially for students who are struggling, the app may support them in learning to use text evidence for a variety of purposes.  Additionally, students might photo excerpts of texts, then highlight, create annotations, and discuss portions to prepare for sharing in book clubs or for other purposes.  Excitement galore!

Educreations is more than simple to use! Students (and even non-techie adults like me) can figure it out in minutes.  There are endless ways the tool might be used and countless examples you can browse at  Get an account and share it with students. They’ll undoubtedly invent new and surprising ways to use the application.

Enjoy!  I’d love to hear how you use Educreations!  Have a wonderful reading/writing/thinking week!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Got Grammar? Conventions and Grammar in Real Writing Contexts (Extended Blog Post)

Hello!  A shorter version of this post appeared on Scholastic's Frizzle blog last week.  The extended version found here includes a few more details and an upper elementary student's writing sample.  As always, I welcome and invite your comments! 

     Cheryl’s eyes bugged out a bit as she perused her students’ writing.  “Why do their pieces look like this?  Where are the capitals, the punctuation?  I teach mechanics and grammar daily, but they don’t apply the lessons when they write.  And, when I ask them to edit, they seldom do.” 
     This is a common issue, one that is a source of frustration for many teachers.  Yes, we must help students produce loads of writing with joy and purpose every day.  But we also want our writers to master conventions and grammar.  (Refer to the Common Core Language Anchor Standards:  (1) Students will demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing and speaking; (2) Students will demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.) 
     Here are some practical tips that may work for you or the teachers you work with: 

     First consider, how are grammar and writing conventions taught?  Students are successful applying skills when they are taught in the actual context of writing.  One context I like to use is the “Morning Message.”  Each day (or class period), I write a message to my students in the form of a letter.  When they arrive, they look for it since it serves a real purpose: to communicate about our scheduled activities or other important matters.  We read it together, discuss the content, then take just a few minutes to observe how the author (me) correctly used language conventions.  Over the course of several messages, we’ll circle capitals, end marks, quotations, contractions, verbs, pronouns, homonyms, etc. and discuss their proper usage in the context.  It’s also effective to make intentional mistakes in the message, especially those that mirror errors you see in students’ writing (run-on sentences are a favorite).  Guide students to find errors, discuss how they affect the writing, and work out solutions.  For example, we might take a run-on and jot or talk about multiple ways to break the ideas into independent, punctuated sentences.   
     Once a skill or convention has appeared in the message numerous times, it is added to a running list on a poster titled “Skills Writers Use,” accompanied by an example of its proper usage (students help me pick a reference they’ll remember and understand).  Older students might keep the list in a language arts notebook.  Highlighted conventions can then be noted in reading contexts, too. 
     What types of conventions and grammatical issues should be addressed in your messages?  Grade level standards are a guide.  But, for even more relevance, browse your students’ writing and adjust your message to reflect the skills and conventions they struggle with most.  You’ll see patterns.  Don’t be discouraged if the same errors pop-up again and again.  Continue to review them in the “Morning Message,” note them while reading, and with time and opportunity for reflection in their own writing (explained below), students will improve dramatically.  Just be sure not to overload them with too many new issues before they’re showing real proof of understanding in their everyday writing of those already covered.  As we all know, it’s hard to make progress as learners when we’re overwhelmed.  Instead, focus on what’s most important, those errors that are most egregious in students’ writing, and address these first over time.   
     Now here’s a golden ticket.  After about six weeks of school have passed, as students complete drafts they’d like to (or are assigned to) publish in written form, ask them to go back and circle things they know, just like they do in the “Morning Message.”  Encourage them to refer to the list of “Skills Writers Use” as a scaffold.  This becomes a backdoor way into editing that truly works.  It’s motivating to writers to look for what they’ve done well rather than what they have done wrong.  Instead, students hum along, positively reinforcing themselves by circling what they did right and they often find mistakes and fix them.  Viola…editing without pain! 
Note how second grader C.J. crossed out the capital M in the middle of the third sentence, fixed it with a lower case m, and circled it.  Plus, notice how proficient he is in self-monitoring the many skills he’s used correctly!  True mastery has occurred when skills are shown automatically in everyday writing.

      Nurture your writers even more by celebrating their findings on the document camera.  This is another golden ticket that doesn’t take much time and really pays off!  By sharing student writing on a document camera, the child is able to briefly discuss his or her findings or problem solving (editing), while mechanics and usage are reviewed, once again in context, for all writers.  A sense of confidence and capability emerges in the classroom community, and students become helpful sources of support for one another.  
     How frequently might you ask students to circle things they know in their writing?  Anytime a draft is going through to written publication, editing is appropriate.  But remember, we don’t want to just wait and tack editing on at the end of formal writing.  It must be part of a routine focus for learning to really stick.  Students should be producing all kinds of writing informally across the curriculum throughout the day, along with all types of process writing, the majority of which won’t be taken through to formal publishing.  So, two or three times each week, cash in another golden ticket by asking students to grab any piece and spend three minutes circling things they know, then two minutes sharing with a partner.  Celebrate one example with the class.  Such techniques keep conventions and grammar in proper focus.  The issues are grappled with routinely, within real contexts; but the majority of time is safe-guarded for composing and growing writers’ craft (these will be topics of future posts!). 

Sixth grader Shandra found several conventions she used correctly and made some corrections along the way.  While sharing with a partner, she reworked fragments into complete sentences and fixed many (though not all) verb tenses!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Got Grammar? My Scholastic Frizzle Blog Post

If you'd like to read my post on teaching and reinforcing grammar, mechanics and conventions in real writing contexts, visit the Scholastic Frizzle Blog:

I'll post a longer version with a sixth grade student sample on this page soon  (just got home from school and my young son is calling).  It demonstrates the same idea but with a grammar focus.

Thanks for the support Scholastic!

Happy writing to everyone!  And, Happy World Read Aloud Day!  What did you read?