Happy Columbus Day! I wish I could personally thank Columbus because without him, I don’t think I’d ever feel caught up. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that feeling “caught up” won’t really happen until mid June, but I guess that’s just the kind of year it’s going to be. I don’t know what it is about this school year, but for the first time in a long time, I just feel like the list gets longer and never shorter. As I like to say, new years bring a new “normal” and I guess it’s just taking me a little longer to adapt to this year’s “normal”. That being said, I really do want to be a better blogger so I’ve been (nerd alert) planning when/what I’m going to post about so that I don’t have a month between posts. Oy!
Anyway, I wanted to talk about writing in my classroom this year. I always feel like every year I start over with how I teach writing and without any sort of district curriculum, I never feel like I’m doing a good job of teaching writing. For several years, my writing block consisted of mostly grammar topics and a few prompts. I hated this and I know my students hated it too. Then, one year I tried just doing Six Traits and spent LOTS of money on kits, workbooks, and workshops, and I discovered, that just teaching traits can be overwhelming and I’d find any excuse to skip writing during the day. Another year I only did Writer’s Workshop and I truly LOVED it. My students were creating amazing creative stories, and I was impressed with their ideas. However, their mechanics, grammar, and ability to write to a prompt left a lot to be desired. I decided to start doing research on the best approach to teaching 4th graders and that too, was too much information and many of the ideas weren’t applicable since most students (through no fault of theirs or their teachers) had very sporadic exposure to writing. Again, with no district guidance some teachers taught a lot of writing and some didn’t teach much at all. It made it hard to find a common starting place with my students.
Fast forward to this summer. As I was blog stalking, I came across Amanda Madden’s new blog. I have been a long time fan of her teacher website and have bought many materials from her store Teacher’s Clubhouse. I noticed she had started a series of posts about how she implements writing in her class and I was hooked. I literally copied/pasted her posts into a word document that now resides in my writing binder. I LOVED how she explained that she teaches a monthly genre but still has the students writing pieces of their choice through writing workshop. I did some CCSS research on 4th grade writing standards and now this is my tentative plan for my yearlong writing units:
- September: Conventions
- October: Paragraph Writing
- November: Narratives
- December/January: Autobiographies
- February: Research (Biographies)
- March: Opinion
- April: Poetry
- May-June: TBD
My favorite part of Amanda’s plan was that not only did she teach her students to write certain genres, but when they were finished working on their genre pieces, they then wrote pieces of their choice during Writer’s Workshop. Taking her lead, this is how my writing block is timed out:
- Mini-Lesson (10 minutes)
- Application of strategy to genre piece (30 minutes)
- First draft writing of free choice (15 minutes)
- Sharing (5 minutes)
I feel very lucky that this year I have a full hour of uninterrupted writing time that actually makes this system work. And, so far it IS working. I actually really love this time of day and I feel especially happy when I see what my students are producing. I mean, I know teaching paragraphs will be an ongoing lesson throughout the year, but that’s okay, and that’s why I left May and June open. I will assess what genres my students need to work on and then focus on those skills for the remainder of the school year.
After I felt like I had a good plan, I realized I needed to get my students set up for success. Again, I looked to Amanda. (as I’m writing this, I feel like a stalker and I hope I don’t scare her if she ever reads this) I had previously bought many of her writing tools from her shop, so I opened them up and decided how I wanted to incorporate them within my class. Here is a breakdown of the writing binders my students are currently using. For the record, I love this method and I’m glad I took the time to set them up in this way.
In each student’s binder, they have a plastic pencil pouch with three pens and 5 paper clips. Each pen represents a different step of the Writing Process. Blue: First Drafts, Green: Revising, and Red: Editing. The paperclips are for the students to separate each of their first drafts as they finish them. I additionally have a bin where they can get more pens and clips if they need them as they write. At first I was hesitant to have them write their first drafts in pen, but then I realized one amazing fact as they started. By using a pen, they had no reason to ask to sharpen a pencil. There were no noise distractions from students who were avoiding writing. It has actually turned out to be a beautiful thing!
Next, we have the cover for their writing binder. Since I took this picture, I have had the students glue in a picture I took of them while they were writing and they colored the borders. It is just a fun way for them to personalize their binders.
Enter organization. I went out and bought enough tabs for each of my students to have four. I am planning on reusing these (along with the pouches) for several years. Since they are actually plastic rather than paper tabs, they may last a while. Here’s hoping. I broke down the tabs into four sections…
Tab 1: Genre writing. This is where students will put any materials that we use in class for their writing pieces such as graphic organizers and or examples we do in class. This tab also has notebook paper for students to use on their drafts.
Tab 2: First drafts. When students are done working on their genre pieces, they will write in their First Drafts section of their binder. Here they will write at least five stories (hence, five paper clips), before they choose once piece to move through the writing process.
Tab 3: (not shown) Writing Process pieces. I didn’t include a picture of this tab, because my students aren’t quite there yet. Some are almost there, so this week I will be teaching editing and revising mini-lessons to help them with this step. But, once they write five first drafts, they will move the story of their choice to this tab so they can focus on this story as they move through the writing process.
Finally, we have Tab 4: Tools. This is where students will keep any and all tools they use in class. Examples include their writing record form: (below)…idea inspired by Amanda click here for her version.
A copy of their heart map for ideas of topics to write about…
A list of frequently used words courtesy of Kristin…
and~ A “Have a Go” sheet for words they find they need help spelling. Idea inspired by Amanda. Click here for her version.
As always, this is a work in progress, but I have to say that I am truly feeling better about giving my students a well-rounded writing experience. I just want to thank the teachers like Amanda who have helped me to get to this point. I am grateful for your help and ideas and am now a better teacher because of the generosity of teachers like them. I hope that someone else can find inspiration from this post and can use some of the ideas I presented.
Have a great Columbus Day… I’ll be back this week ( I promise! I already have the post typed up) to talk about teaching nonfiction text features in my classroom. Til then, have a great week!