There are many aspects that I love about my job as our district's Writing and Social Studies Coordinator, but one of my favorites is that I get to go to Teachers College at Columbia University a few times a year for day-long workshops on all different aspects of literacy. If you ever have a chance to attend a session, take it! In the meantime, a quick reminder: the Teachers College Reunion is on March 22. It is free and open to anyone with an interest in reading and writing. You are guaranteed to leave this day inspired and full of ideas for teaching!
The most recent workshop that I attended was an all day presentation from Shanna Schwartz. Although it was specifically geared toward second-grade teachers, I kept a running list of the ideas and suggestions that ring true in every unit across multiple grades.
Some tips for literacy in classrooms:
- During read-alouds, do a lot of asking what the author is doing to make us feel a certain way. Encourage students to do this whenever possible.
- End any accountable talk conversation by verbalizing (or writing on chart paper) a summary or mini-essay of that conversation. Really good conversations should end with conclusions. As this practice becomes more of a routine in your classroom, ask students, “Does anyone want to practice ending our conversation today?”
- Many of us do far too little on telling students what words mean and our students need vocabulary! Shanna uses a 3-part definition to expand vocabulary:
- Say what the word is.
- Give an analogy and a sentence.
- Say what the word is not. (This does not have to be an antonym, but does need to be related to the word in a way that the kids can understand.)
- Being able to use more words for characters and traits helps us understand characters better. Children tend to use approximations of words and we, as teachers, want to move kids toward accuracy to help them understand their characters more deeply.
Some general tips for writing workshop:
- Read students many examples of what you are asking them to write. You can’t read them enough. Why? This will help them move away from formulaic writing and keep their own voices ringing loud and true in their writing. You want to establish the understanding that there are more than one way to write a story or an information book or an argument. Whatever you can do to honor and develop students’ voices in their writing, do it!
- At the beginning of any writing unit, the number one thing is to have energy and excitement. Don’t correct anything on the first day! Walk around spreading energy and using the line, “Yes, and...” to keep students going. (BTW, “Yes, and...” is a powerful way to teach throughout any unit!)
- Drawing works really well to get some students to begin to write at higher grade levels, as well as primary ones. Drawing is not just limited to narrative writing, but also works for other genres, as well.
Some tips when thinking more specifically about argument/opinion writing:
- Keep a suggestion box in the room for students to put debate ideas into and visit the suggestions often. Make debate part of your daily routine.
- Understand the difference between reasons and examples. If it answers the question of why, it’s a reason but if it answers the questions of what or when, it’s an example.
- Use the phrase “Consider...” a lot in your classroom and you will find that students will be readier to write opinions and arguments.
More to come about opinion writing for young children, as that was the focus of the workshop. However, Shanna gave too many important reminders about overall literacy to not share those, as well.
Off to cheer for the Patriots!