I learned how to teach writing from Lucy Calkins - mostly through reading her books and using the teaching resources that came out of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. I read her monumental work, The Art of Teaching Writing (1994), and that changed everything. I bought the Units of Study for For Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5 (2007) and used it in my 4th grade classroom for five years...until I bought the newer grade-level set and used it for several years after that. I traveled to New York City to attend Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Institutes three times to learn in person how to best teach writing to elementary school students. I learned how to teach primary writing from Katie Wood Ray. I read her books, In Pictures and Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study (2010) and About the Authors: Writing Workshop With Our Youngest Writers (2005). I also read Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom (1999) and Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop (2006). I traveled to Asheville, NC to hear and see her in person and it changed everything. Again.
I was blessed with having the resources to support my passion. I know that many of you reading this do not have the resources to travel to New York City for writing institutes, the time to sit and read lengthy books, or simply don't have the crazy drive I do for learning about writing instruction.
But, the fact remains that it does take self-directed learning to strengthen our practice when it comes to teaching writing. In every single school in which I have taught, there have been teachers who admit outright that they don't like to teach writing, don't understand how to teach writing, would rather set their hair on fire than teach writing. It is the first thing to go when schedules get tight. And, you know because I've said it here, where I teach, writing is no longer assessed on the state level in elementary school. I hope that the removal of the state writing test in 5th grade in my state and district does not deter all teachers from fiercely protecting writing time, from teaching writing with a sense of urgency, and from actively pursuing their own advancement in writing instruction pedagogy.
So, back to brass tacks. I would be so happy if this blog was a place you could come to for a little self-directed learning. I am going to try to post more hands-on, try-it-in-your room lessons as we go along. Please let me know if this is helpful to you. Or not.
I mentioned last week that we are going to be starting a nonfiction writing unit in first grade next week. I had started out calling it a Literary Nonfiction unit; but, I think it could be more practical than literary. Perhaps a mix of both!
Literary and Practical Nonfiction - Lesson 1 - Immersion
I believe that when you are beginning any new unit, a day or two of immersion is critically important. By this, I mean introducing writers to a mode of writing by showing them lots of different examples of that kind of writing. I like to make this an inquiry- based exploration. Instead of me sitting in front of the class, pointing out the features of the writing that I would like them to notice, I pass out examples of the writing to the students so that they can put their own hands and eyes on the text and notice the writers' and illustrators' moves on the pages. I pass out sticky notes along with the books, and encourage the students to spend some time in the pages of the books, writing down what they notice about the writing as they go.
I will begin the immersion lesson by reading an example of a nonfiction book aloud. I will make notes on the ways the authors have presented information in the text as I read. I have chosen Whales and Dolphins, by Judy Allen and Mike Bostock to read to the students. I love this book for so many reasons (colorful, table of contents, subject matter, index). But my favorite feature, and the one that I will highlight with the students, is the use of flaps within the book. Each topic is spread across two pages, and on the right side of each two-page spread, there is a vertical half-page flap that has questions about that topic written on it. In order to find out the answers, the reader lifts the flap! So interactive and engaging - and definitely something some of our first grade writers might want to try!! I might share with them that I used this book as a model for a paper book that I wrote for our Virginia Brook Trout project a few years ago (see picture inset above).
After I have finished modeling what I want the students to do, I will pair them up and ask them to choose one of the books from our stack of nonfiction examples. Then I will send them on their way to explore their books just as I did mine. You may decide to extend this lesson to two days if your students are engaged and working well and are self-directed enough to stay on task with this work. At whatever point you feel like the class has extrapolated all that they can from working in pairs, exploring the books and taking notes, call them back and create a class chart based on what they noticed.
The next steps will be six or seven lessons taught each day or so that focus on one interesting way that authors present factual information to their readers. I will read a book with a new "text twist" and invite the students to try the presentation move if they so choose. In my post last Wednesday, I listed those books and the writers' moves I am going to highlight in this unit. I also mentioned that every student in our classroom will be choosing one of the four seasons as their topic. By narrowing the array of subjects the students are working on in the room, I believe I can support them better in their writing process. They will still have choice, but it will be choice within a subject in which they already have a knowledge base (seasons). I found that it was way too optimistic to think that first graders working on their first nonfiction writing could manage to research and write at the same time!
I hope that these few brass tacks I've shared today can be the beginning of your self-directed learning. If you want more of this kind of post, please comment below.
I can't wait to get started!!!