“She grabbed a gray crayon and put pants on me.” The Importance of Feedback

I have been in a writing slump, but then I read this post from Two Writing Teachers about the book Feedback that Moves Writers Forward.  It left me with food for thought, a book to add to my summer reading list, and inspiration for a blog post.

The feedback we give our young writers is so important, be it formally or informally.  Our words can encourage, lift, or stifle their work. I know this as a teacher, but have seen it up close as a mother.

My son will be entering sixth grade this fall and has loved drawing and writing since before he could actually write or read. Even before he entered Kindergarten spent his days filling page after page with drawings that made stories.

In Kindergarten, he loved to write books.  And since he was in kindergarten, his books were mainly pictures that he narrated for us.  I would come home from work and he would have stacks of pages, stacked up in a specific order, ready to share with me.  He would tell me what was happening, complete with dialogue and sound effects.

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As you can see from the picture above, his characters didn’t have bodies.  The arms and legs came right out of the heads.  I got that developmentally he should have been drawing people with bodies, but he didn’t want to draw people that way.  At one point his teacher sent something home about this and I sat with him to help.  Turns out, he knew exactly how to draw the way she expected, he just didn’t like the way that looked.  He liked his way of drawing.   He was making an artistic choice. (One reason I try to find out WHY a student made a choice in his/her writing before dispensing feedback about it.)

You can see a video of him talking about one specific experience here.  “She grabbed a gray crayon and put pants on me.”    There have been plenty of times he told the story of his teacher “vandalizing” (the word Troy uses) his work.  I wasn’t there when this happened, I didn’t see it.  However, I did see how it affected him and his desire to create.

Luckily, since then, he has had teachers who provided feedback that made him proud of his work and encouraged to create more.  To grow. To move forward.  Teachers that read his personal blog and left him encouraging comments.  Teachers that return his hyperbole filled emails in the summer time.   It is because of those teachers that he will continue to move forward in his writing.

 

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I think of Troy’s experience every time I consider picking up a pen and writing on a student’s work.  How at the end of his elementary career, he still gets fired up about the teacher who didn’t like his drawings six years ago.

I very rarely write directly on my writers’ drafts.  Instead I leave comments on google docs, give verbal feedback in conferences, or use post-its.  My job is not to pick at each tiny mistake.  It is not my writing.  The writing belongs to a child.

My goal is not to create perfect writing, but motivated writers.

I can’t wait to get Feedback that Moves Writers Forward and learn more about moving my young writers forward!

 

SOL #14 – Gotta Love a Good Writing Mini-lesson!

My writers gathered on the ground, crisscross applesauce, for today’s mini-lesson.  It was an idea from Craft Lessons by Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portalupi about word choice.  I explained to the students that we would be reading Shrek for a purpose today – to find alternatives to the word walk.

I read.  At the end of each page I stopped so students could share the synonyms they had heard.  A student added them to our anchor chart.

They were enthralled with the ugly guy who breaths fire, eats pheasant, and is looking for his even uglier princess.  Very engaged, listening for the words that were used instead of walk.

“Why do you think the author is using all of these words that we don’t normally hear, all in one book?” I asked.

“Because it makes it funnier,” they answered.

“Some of the children kept hugging and kissing him, and there was nothing he could do to make them stop,” I read.

“Some people don’t like to be hugged,” a student empathized.

And when he found his princess and they started to recite rhymes to each other!    They loved it!

Said Shrek:

“Oh, ghastly you,

With lips of blue,

Your ruddy eyes

With carmine sties

Enchant me.

I could go on,

I know you know

The reason why

I love you so –

You’re ugh-ly!”

We finished and I sent them off to slice, paying attention to the verbs they choose to use.  No one is too old to enjoy a good picture book!

 

 

SOL #9 – No Offense

Light chatter filled the room and stories were being shared.  It was writing workshop. A small group of students were sitting around my table, chatting.  A few slice ideas were being passed around.  Writing was happening in notebooks and on iPads.

“I don’t know how to end this,” one of my girls said, pen in hand.  The statement wasn’t directed at anyone specifically.

“Just say The End,” replied another.

“I can’t do that!  Ms. Bless said that I can’t do that,” said the first.  “I always remember Ms. Bless telling me not to say The End.”  She was referring to third grade, because I have been lucky enough to have some of my students in both third and now fifth.  It is good to know that several of my lessons have stuck.  Because then she continued, “She also always told me not to say no offense.  Because if I say ‘No offense,’ I just shouldn’t say what I was going to say after that. It’s probably offensive.”    I love that I have been able to build onto what I have already taught some of my kids about writing and life.  🙂

I pulled up a slideshow of ideas for narrative endings and passed my computer to her.  (She knows how to take a mentor and use it.) Then, I turned to talk to another student.   The chatting and writing continued, but I’m not sure what was being said.

She eventually passed me back my computer, as I continued to work with other students – seamless.   A sign that we know each other, we are a team, and words aren’t always necessary.

“No offense, but…” and then she stopped.  We made eye contact.  “Never mind.”

Text to Speech in Writing Workshop

In a 1:1 district, where every kid has a device, technology is always present and used every Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 11.46.47 AMday.  However, sometimes looking for all of the newest ways to integrate technology causes you not see the most obvious ones.  This is how I felt when I read the chapter in Use Your Words about Technology Tools. Specifically, the section about “Text to Speech.”

My students have used “Text to Speech” before – to listen to text that is beyond their independent reading level, especially for research.   However, Deveny says that she uses it daily in order to listen to her writing.  Not in place of reading your text aloud, but in addition to what we ask the kids to do – you know the thing you are constantly reminding them of during conferring, but they never actually do?

Deveny suggests using the “Text to Speech” that is already part of your device to listen to your writing and revise/edit.  Of course!   This will be huge in writing workshop this year!  It will become part of my writing checklist and I have a feeling kids will enjoy it (especially because you can change the accent of the voice), so they will actually use it!

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Just one of the many insights I have gained from this book, useful in my writing life and in my writing workshop for my students.

 

Querencia

In his book Write Like This, Kelly Gallagher shares six real world writing purposes and different ways to get kids to start writing with each in mind.  I’m going to try at least one example from each chapter.  Although this is written with high school in mind, I think most of the ideas can be adjusted for middle and intermediate elementary school.  And the real world writing purposes:51RYe58cBjL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Express and Reflect √

Inform and Explain – Trying this one today!

Evaluate and Judge

Inquire and Explore √

Analyze and Interpret

Take a Stand/Propose a Solution

There are so many great ideas for Inform and Explain.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “You Should Know”  Biographical Paper (“Find an ‘average’ person in your life with an ‘above average’ story.”)
  • How does _______work?
  • Unwritten Rules  (Inspired by The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian)
  • My Favorite Words

 …

Today I am going to try “My Favorite Words.” Christina, this one is for you, my word loving friend! The word I decided to write about isn’t in all dictionaries and I hadn’t actually heard of it until today:  querencia.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 11.42.27 AMQuerencia

noun

Definition according to www.merriam-webster.com:  “an area in the arena taken by the bull for a defensive stand in a bullfight”

Origin according to www.merriam-webster.com:  “Spanish, fondness, haunt of an animal, favorite spot, querencia, from querer to want, like, love (from Latin quaerere to seek, gain, obtain, ask) + -encia -ence (from Latin -entia)”

I’m not a huge word person, so when approaching this idea, I searched around a little on Pinterest for words.  (To clarify:  I consider myself a reader and writer.  It’s just that I’m not one to use big words when a simple one to do.  I love stories, words strung together.)  In my search I found this:

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 This word alone didn’t stand out, it is it’s definition that struck me.  “the place where you are your most authentic self”  This is a powerful word and got me to thinking about my querencia. Do I have one?

For a very long time, I don’t think that I had a querencia.  I’m not sure I do now.   At this point, my home is becoming a place I am comfortable.  Each new memory, each laugh, erases some of the damage done.  Each smile makes me feel safer.  One day, this home may become a place that I can draw strength, my querencia.

I think the place that I have always been able to be closest to my authentic self is in the presence of children.   Standing among kids, I have always been able to take chances – dance, twirl, joke, and even sing.  I have always drawn strength from my time with them and not needed courage to be myself.

I hope that my classroom can be a querencia for my students, as well.  I hope that my students feel safe, at home, and accepted each year.  I hope that my students have a querencia in their life, but if they don’t – I hope our classroom can be that place for each of them.

#btbc16

Shopping Carts

Most of the chapters of Write Like This are organized by purpose.  In the Express and Reflect chapter, one idea I tried is childhood games.

Today I’m trying “Things I find disturbing…”  from the Inquire and Explore chapter.  The idea is to write a list and then choose something from the list to write long about – Why do you find that thing disturbing.

Another option he suggests is for students to research using the newspaper and find articles that are disturbing to them, research, and then write about that.  However, based on the horrible things I am sure to find in the news this week, I am going to go a little less research-based and more light-hearted…shopping carts.  Here is my flash draft…

Why do I find people leaving shopping carts in the parking lot, not in the cart corral, so annoying?

I have very early memories of sitting in the car hoping my mother would not get back out of the car to yell at the person leaving the shopping cart in the parking lot.  I have other memories of my mother reprimanding people for leaving the shopping cart in the parking lot. 

Oh, and there is that time that my aunt, my mother’s twin, got out of the car. My mom, my sisters, cousins, and I sat watching her chew out some unsuspecting shopper.  Awkward!

I am not the type of person to give a random stranger a piece of my mind.  When I see a shopping cart sitting alone in the middle of the parking lot, I push it to a corral or push it inside.  My son is used to it at this point.  If the person that left it there is still near, a dirty look is all I share. 

As a new mom, getting the groceries and the kid in the car wasn’t simple.  However, I was never willing to leave the cart, so I started parking right next to the cart corrals.  Problem solved.  Try it people!

For some reason, there are never cart corrals near the handicapped parking…What’s with that?  Yet, I once saw a lady that was obviously having trouble walking, push her cart up to the other carts in front and then struggle back to her car in the handicapped lane.  I remember thinking, “If she can do it, why can’t everyone?!”

So, I guess my answer is that putting shopping carts away has been ingrained in me since childhood.  I wonder if one day my son with have the same issue?

What grates on your nerves?

#btbc16

 

New Grade Level…New LC Units of Study

I am moving to fifth grade after three years in third and I couldn’t be more excited!  However, it does require some extra preparation this summer.  It’s nothing that I haven’t done already:  My district adopted LC Units of Study for Writing the summer before my first year as a classroom teacher and I spent that summer reading the third grade units.

Since I know I’m not the only one needing to prepare for a new grade level, I thought I would share how I approach the Units of Study for a new grade level.

1.  I read each Unit of Study book, taking notes on each session.

Yes, I know Lucy is wordy and goes on and on.  The very first unit I read, I read EVERYTHING, which I would recommend if you have never used Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 10.35.31 PM.pngthem before.  However, after that it isn’t really necessary to read each word on each page.  Within each session, the main points are in bold, it isn’t necessary to read all of the dialogue/text after that unless you don’t understand what is being said.

When I take notes, I try not to put my own thoughts or take out what I know won’t work.  I try my best to keep it as it is.  These notes come in so useful because I can copy, paste, and adjust into my plans during the school year.  This has really been a time saver in the long run.  Plus, I am a big picture person and I am more effective if I know what is coming.

2.  I read in the genre, looking for mentor texts appropriate for the grade level.

The units name some mentor texts, but there are so many more out there.  I read as much as I can, after all I need to be ready to write with the kids!

A few additional thoughts…download

  • During the year, as I am teaching a unit, I read the dialogue that LC includes for each session before I teach it.
  • I put in a lot of my own lessons into the LC units, more each year as I get to know the kids, standards, and units better.
  • I’m finding that the fifth grade writing units, especially the Memoir one I am working through now, is more “fluffy” than the third grade ones.  Anyone else?
  • Don’t be scared of LC or the Units of Study!
  • My dog snores…

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