Sunday, November 18, 2012

Independence and Repertoire: Part 1

When I was talking to one of our Teacher's College staff developer, Emily Smith, she talked about building independence and repertoire for students as they work through the writing process. Since then, I have been thinking about what that means for all genres at all levels. What are the tools that students have that help them build independence, confidence and skill? What are the tools that we can offer students that help them to understand the skills that they acquire and the pathways that exist for generalization? Although I at first envisioned this post as a single one, I have decided to break it into two parts; the first part is about tools for independence and the second part will be about building repertoire for students.

1. Charts
Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli who are the authors of Smarter Charts wrote a great guest blog post at If you missed this post, I highly recommend reading it because they write all about how to create, use, and retire charts in classrooms. For me, I think that charts increase accountability for students. If students participate in the creation of the chart, have daily access to it while doing their work, and understand that the charts have answers to frequently asked questions, then students learn that these charts build independence. The charts are a step along the path of gradual release. Another powerful post I recently read is on the blog, To Make a Prairie by Vicki Vinton. Thinking about some of what Vicki wrote makes me really want to see students involved in the development of charts and also moving in the direction of not needing the charts. While I love to see charts evolve, remind and inspire children, I also love to see them retire as students become independent.

2. Goal-setting
I am looking forward to the release of the new units of study from Lucy Calkins and Heinemann Press due out in March 2013 because I know that one of the emphases will be on students setting goals for themselves. When Emily visited our fifth-graders in October, she taught students about checklists that they can use during their writing process; they could use these checklists not only to evaluate their work in progress, but also to set goals for themselves. Many of our students have continued to use the checklists and monitor their goals. I think that it is SO important for students to learn to set goals for themselves because by doing so, they take ownership of their learning and they build independence. 

3. Mentor Texts
Mentor texts are my favorite teaching tool and I think that the more we can get students to recognize craft moves, the more that we can get students to use those craft moves in their own writing. As a writer, I can't tell you how many times I have heard that the best way to improve my writing is to read. And read. And read. When we model to students how to study craft moves and writing impact, mentor texts become important tools for students to build Independence.

4. Partners
That old saying about teaching a man to fish comes to my mind whenever I think of writing partners. It's a lot of work to teach students how to be effective partners. They have to learn their roles, how to listen, how to recognize and evaluate good writing, and how to give meaningful feedback. However, how useful partnerships can be for busy teachers! If the goal is to lift the level of student work and we can get students to help us do that, what amazing independence we are building in our classrooms!

5. Writer's Notebooks
I'm saving the most important tool for building independence for last...the more that we can teach students that their notebook is a source for topics, revision, strategies, quotes, characters, conversations, and many other lessons we teach, the more independently students will cycle through the writing process in all genres.

As an elementary coach of several grades, I love the all encompassing aspect of independence and repertoire. Students build both during and throughout grades and the more that we explicitly teach these skills, the better for students as learners.  "Your job, students, is to take these skills that I teach you and apply them to all types of your writing on your own, without me." What an important message to send to all students of all grades and levels. The second part of this post will be about building repertoire for students and I'd love to hear about other ways that you are teaching independence and repertoire to your students. Please feel free to share in the comments.

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