This concerned Aviva a lot because it was difficult for her to see how I was meeting my curriculum requirements. How was I getting data? How did I know if my students got it? These are all very fair questions to ask. This blog is designed to look at how I meet the different curriculum requirements while keeping my goal of creating authentic life long writers at the forefront. In my twenty years of teaching I have learned that when you foster a classroom that allows children to explore their own interests they do just that. But they are curious learners, and when you get excited about a new form of writing, they are curious to give it a try too.
Before I start talking about how I meet each specific PLO I should tell you about some of the ways I teach writing in my classroom. To begin with my students journal first thing in the morning, three days a week. I do not assign them a topic but have specifically chosen Monday and Friday as journalling days because they usually have something to share about their weekend, or about their school week. Tuesday's writing is tougher for some but I have plenty of places to find ideas to write about or a quick chat with a friend can help too. What's important is that they come up with the final decision on what they are going to write about. For some of my students they would prefer to blog, which is a completely acceptable choice at this time. Choice in both choosing a topic, and choosing the means to journal is very important in meeting my goal of creating authentic writers.
While they are doing their planners, changing their home reading books, and practicing their word work I am busy conferencing with as many as I am able during this time. Usually I can managed three conferences, sometimes more, sometimes less. When I fall behind I'll conference with students while they are journal writing too but I try not to do that too often.
During one on one conferences we talk about strengths, and areas for improvement. We set goals, or work on ways to continue to improve goals we are working on. In the second term I introduced an editing checklist that my students are encourage to use. Sometimes I take the lead in the conferences but just as often the students take the lead. They are pretty good at telling me what they are good at doing, and what they would like to get better at. But it really does depend on the student. We always review goals, and when necessary set new ones. It's a really focussed time. The teaching is very specific to each student's needs. I try to record information discussed during these conferences either right in their journals, or in their writing conference books. Sometimes though I must admit that I do forget to document our discussions. This is something I need to get better at. But these conferences happen, and happen regularly and they are a vital part of my writing program.
Most mornings we choose a special person. As a class we do a shared piece of writing that is about the special person. During this time I model writing for my students. Each round of "special person" has a different writing focus. I have used the special person story to teach my students about writing multiple sentences on a topic, adding details to sentences, setting goals, writing name poetry, and using language of sequence. We've covered mechanics like capital letters, punctuation, and simple and complex sentences. While the children think that we are just writing fun stories about our classmates, each round of stories has a purpose in my writing program.
When my students are writing I continue to conference. While conferencing I often have a few students that are still working near/with me on their writing. They know that my conferences are my number one priority during this time, but I also know for some of them just sitting near me helps them stay focussed on their writing. I love my rainbow table. It's perfect for this.
At the end of writing time we meet back as a group for writer's share. I must admit this doesn't happen as often as I'd like it to and I need to find a better way to make sure it happens. But when it does happen my students volunteer to share their writing with the class. I keep a list of who shares, and when I have a few left that haven't shared I gently remind/encourage/tell them that they will be sharing. As a class we provide feedback, feedback that is specific. I encourage my students to use words like "I like the way you..." or "I noticed that you...". I model too of course. At times have used the inside outside circle strategy so that everyone can share their writing. I think I need to do that more often.
I am lucky at my school to have access to 18 MacBook laptops. I book them often too (when the intermediate teachers aren't using them for projects). My students love writing on the laptops and I love being able to provide the opportunity to use them. It's a win win for all involved.
Now that you know a little bit about how I cover writing I'll try to show you how I meet my required curriculum.
by the teacher; stories include a beginning, middle, and end
The next three PLOs all focus around using strategies for a variety t purposes and I will speak to each of these together.
C4 It is expected that students will use strategies before writing and representing, including
C6 It is expected that students will use a strategy after writing and representing to improve their work (e.g., sharing their written work and representations, checking for completeness, adding details)
C7 It is expected that students will use writing and representing to express personal responses and likes or dislikes about experiences or texts
My students' writing often contains personal opinions on a specific topic. In addition frequently during content areas my students have to respond to what we are doing or learning. I must admit we do spend a lot of time talking about likes and dislikes and perhaps we could write about them more often. Thankfully I still have another term to ensure that this PLO is met successfully.
This writing is a very specific type of writing and does need to follow a specific lesson. We do a TON of talking around extending thinking with the think, pair, share strategy. We do write this too, and often we do it during a reading block ( to extend thinking regarding a reading concept) or a socials or science block. This is very important writing, so much so that we have used our "writing block" specifically for this type of writing. And yes, while I know my goal of our daily writing block is to create authentic writers, sometimes the curriculum is the main focus of my students' writing.
C9 It is expected that students will reflect on their writing and representing to identify their strengths and to discuss attributes of good writers and representers
The conventions side of writing is covered all the time. My students know that if their work is hard to read, it is hard to understand, and if it is hard to understand they lose their voice. They work hard to master a large range of writing conventions and when they get stumped by one, I'm there to help them master it. By do means does this mean that my students are perfect writers, but they do know what they need to do to make them better writers. This, like so many of the other PLOs mandated by my provincial government, is taught and retaught all the time.
So is my writing program perfect? Certainly not. I still have things I struggle with and I know there are many things I could improve. Which brings me back to the Bump It Up Wall that Aviva talks about. I love the idea behind that wall and I think for many of my students it would be a fantastic tool to help them improve their writing. But this year I have another group of students that I worry about, and specifically I worry about how the wall would affect them. In other years that Bump It Up Wall would be a perfect tool to add to my room, but this year my gut is telling me (based on what I know about my students) that it isn't the time for this. Who knows though. When my class starts writing non fiction it may be something I (or my student teacher) reconsiders.
I also worry about my four ELL students that receive pull out support. They are not in my classroom during our morning journal time. They aren't getting as much writing as I'd like them to get and I need to find a way to fix that too.
I also struggle with having my students want to publish their work. Most just want to write, and write, and write. Few want to create published copies of their work - published can take on many forms. Mind you they do spend a lot of time (and focus) on their initial drafts. It is something I'm looking at tweaking and perhaps it is a goal for term three. At this stage in the year I know my students are ready for this next step.
So how does my writing program compare to yours? What do you think I should add to what I'm already doing or do you think I should remove parts of what I do? As always, I'm curious to hear what you have to say.