Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Monarch Butterflies and More!

Whew! This year has been a whirlwind already! We have accomplished so much in such a short period of time. I am really impressed with my student's work ethic this year. They are hard workers, and I look for that to be a strong indicator of success in 4th grade. We recently finished an opinion letter about the monarch butterfly. The students learned about the danger monarch butterflies are in because of careless human mistakes. We are cutting down milkweed, a plant that the monarchs rely on for food and to lay their eggs. The students wrote letters to our mayor and asked him to plant milkweed in our local parks. They had to add information pulled from multiple texts to support their opinion that the monarch butterflies need our help. The letters were great! Having an actual audience for their work apart from one another was really helpful. The students loved the idea that the actual mayor, who in their minds is a celebrity, was going to read their letters and listen to their opinion. The letters were great. They are asking me daily if the mayor has written back yet.

During this unit we also dissected the poem A Chrysalis' Diary from Joyful Noise: A Poem for Two Voices. The students took a daily entry from the poem and determined the meaning of the lines, difficult words in the text, and the emotions of our narrator. It was a great way to tie in some figurative language skills that we had taught previously through mini lessons.

My students also just finished up a Cinderella Around the World unit. This was such a fun unit! I loved it and so did the kids. They analyzed the different story elements of Cinderella stories from around the world through close reads, graphic organizers, and then a culminating writing of a Cinderella story with their own twist. It was a great literary analysis project. Their writing was very creative and they were really engaged in the process.

I guess I can say that this year has been really great so far. I have a few students who have had previous behavior issues before this school year. I am really pleased at how well these students have acted in my classroom and with their peers. They have impressed with their ability to work comfortably with others and how the conversations we are having in my classroom are really shaping their work ethic as well. Only time will tell if this continues, but so far so good. I am continually excited about the work we are doing. I hope my kids are too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

School Daze

I am literally in a daze at this point...a school daze. This will be my second full week of school. I am finally beginning to get my bearings about me. We have wasted no time in my class diving into instruction. The students have already written a small opinion piece about swimming with sharks. We did this to coincide with Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. The kids loved learning about the different sharks and the handful of sharks that some people believe are safe to swim with. We are also in the middle of a research project on immigration as well. We have read texts such as Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey, first hand accounts of children who have immigrated to America through Scholastic's Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today, and taken a virtual field trip of Ellis Island also produced by Scholastic. It has been an exciting unit of study. The students are beginning to finish their research papers and we are hoping to share them within the next few days. I have already tried to establish an environment in which my students feel comfortable sharing their writing with one another. Many are already excited about the opportunity to express themselves through the written word daily. Writing has been something that has not been a major part of their educational career for most of my students. Many teachers felt the strain of standardized tests and have overlooked writing with students. This is something we aim to fix this year in our school. We have implemented a writing initiative in our school where writing has become the center of our instruction. If students read about it, they write about it. If students can have a conversation about a topic, they can write about that conversation. Writing has to become as easy to these students as breathing. I know they will get there. I am already amazed at what some of my students can do with words. I look forward to seeing growth in my students' writing as well as growth in their relationships with one another and myself.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Aren't those words synonymous with educational great Harry Wong? He preaches that a good educator begs, borrows, and steals good educational/classroom management practices. That the study of these good practices will only lead to higher student achievement. Harry Wong also believes that a classroom with practiced procedure and ritual is a classroom where a student feels comfortable and knows what to expect. Thus the routine and procedure of the establishment of a community of writers through the format of a writer's workshop should in turn create a classroom of high expectations and clear routine. This should directly impact student achievement. Throughout the past two days I have spent my time beg, borrowing, and stealing ideas from some of the top writing teachers in the country through intense research on the topics of classroom management and building a community of writers. Many of these educators say the same thing: conversations are crucial, respect is imperative, and writing should be done daily. I found a great set of writing tips from former pro baseball player turned author turned teacher educator on writing instruction, Larry Colton, that I just had to share. He accumulated these tips for teachers through his research on the topic of writing instruction in our schools today. I leave you with his findings: 

  1. Did you ever see any of your teachers revise anything? Probably not. In fact, most of us never saw a teacher write anything other than lesson plans, brief notes, and comments on students’ work. We never saw them write or revise a report, story, poem, research paper, editorial or persuasive essay. So don’t be like those teachers.
  2. Writing is about discipline.
  3. A writing teacher’s job is to find any way for a student to dig deeper into their writing, to want to make it better.
  4. Revisioning is not finishing what you get wrong. Revision is using your power as a writer.
  5. Learning to write is not linear. It is not A-B-C. We learn writing by doing it, not by reading books or taking classes. It’s like losing weight…you don’t do it by reading a book, you exercise.
  6. If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.
  7. An athletic team or musical group practices for months, sometimes going over the same play or piece hundreds of times. Writing should be no different.
  8. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but it should be communal. Borrow. Steal. Share.
  9. The secret to teaching revision? Model as much as you demand. Show them how it works. You may be surprised how many will want to try what they have seen you do.
  10. Copy editing and reviewing first drafts is not the best use of a teacher’s time. Burnout and insanity are the consequences.
  11. It is important that the editing system in our classrooms does not put extraordinary demands on writers who have learning problems. If these children know they must find every single misspelled word in a dictionary, they will write with safer words, choosing big when they wanted to say enormous
  12. Simply correcting spelling and punctuation isn’t rewriting.
  13. A teacher must first convey to students that their ideas are valid. Then they must convince them that what they wrote can be changed, and more specifically, improved.
  14. Let the creator loose and put aside that voice in you that says to be proper, conventional, rational. Don’t be some in a tweed suit from a snooty college with a doctorate in literature who is critical of everything. Don’t let your ego try to control and manipulate things.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

We are FAMILY....

Wow...Overwhelmed doesn't even begin to describe how I feel today. I have been researching on the effects of establishing this community, this little family, of writers in my classroom today and am blown away by the amount of writing research I have found through the National Writing Project's website. Article after article filled my browser with information on the positive impacts seen by other teachers who established these tight knit communities of writers in their classroom. Many teachers across the U.S. and our little state of Mississippi claim that there just isn't enough time to write in the classroom. There is not enough time to teach the skills necessary to prepare students for state tests and teach writing. I am there with you. Teachers who are teaching upper elementary through high school all feel the pain of tight schedules and an overwhelming number of skills to be taught, but it can be done and research shows it is vital to our students. Deborah Dean and Adrienne Warren, NWP teachers who have established writing communities in their classrooms, state in their article "Informal and Shared: Writing to Create Community": "As a teacher you have to evaluate the benefits of what we gain against what we give up." Another famous educational mind, Sam M. Intrator, states in his article "The Engaged Classroom"," Classrooms are powerful places. They can be dynamic settings that launch dreams and delight minds or arid places that diminish hope and deplete energy." These words ring so true to me. As an educator I am solely responsible for establishing what my classroom will look and feel like for my students. I will have a community of learners engaged in conversation, writing, and the sharing of those works or a basal reader and worksheet based classroom that is monotonous and boring. Judy Willis, neurologist turned teacher educator, is famous for her brain research on particular educational strategies. In an interview with the NWP entitled "Writing and the Brain: Neuroscience Shows the Pathway to Learning", Willis states "Greater activation throughout the brain occurs when information is acquired through the diversity of experiences provided by peer collaboration." Peer collaboration in my mind equals a community. A community in which I am very anxious to begin creating with my next group of students. The Institute of Education Science and the US Department of Education paired up to create a book found online entitled: Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers. In the chapter entitled "Establishing a Community of Writers" there are five steps that an educator can follow to create this community of writers. The steps are:
  1. Teachers should participate as a member of the writing community- I feel this is vital. Students need to see you write. They need to see your process. Students need to witness you share your experiences through writing so they can feel comfortable doing that as well. 
  2. Give students writing choices- This is important as well. Students feel like their writing is relevant and purposeful if they determine the direction they want their writing to take. 
  3. Encourage students to collaborate as writers- This is imperative for a community of writers to form.If I am stuck I go to a friend, a peer, a colleague to help me kick start my brain. We need to give students opportunities to do this within the classroom.
  4. Provide students with opportunities to give and receive feedback throughout the writing process- Students need to learn to work hand in hand with their peers. They have to learn effective ways to critique and encourage.
  5. Publish students' writing and extend the community beyond the classroom- Make your students feel like the authors they are. Publish writing in the hallway, in a blog, in a portfolio....something! Students need an audience! 
My journey has just begun! I am excited to see where else my research leads me and begin deciding where my personal research will need to go in order to add to the field of education. The anticipation of August is building! :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Changing the world one writing assignment at a time...

This is going to be my attempt at blogging through my school year. I have a nagging question that simply needs an answer and I intend to find the solution. How will creating a community of writers impact classroom management and student achievement? Throughout the 2013-2014 school year I began creating a community within my classroom where we read texts, shared ideas, wrote about these pressing thoughts, and then shared these writings with one another. I began to see a community form without even intentionally meaning to produce one. I had very few discipline issues and my students writing excelled. I want to know can this community be replicated and is there a connection between creating an environment where students share their writings, create a sense of family, and a tone of respect for all learners and instructors and student achievement.