Thanks to Stacey, Dana, Tara, Betsy, Anna, and Beth, the amazing writers and thinkers who host the Slice of Life community every Tuesday. Everyone is welcome to join with posts or comments at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com!
This afternoon, I got to work with one of our third-grade teachers as her students work their way through the first week of their opinion writing unit. I committed to working with a group of struggling writers for a few days in a row in an effort to jump start them. We'll see how that goes... Admittedly, this work is a deviation from the usual choice and independence that we strive for in writing workshops, but we are experimenting with gradual release of writers who tend not to produce too much.
Yesterday, the five of us (the four students and I) thought of various ideas around what they might want to change, and we tried to write a collaborative piece about having a classroom pet. This didn't go so well. They each took different reasons to work on, reasons that we had thought up together, but... J. wrote almost nothing, M. wrote very little, and P. struggled because he didn't think that we should have a pet in the classroom. T. wrote a lot, but some of his work lost focus. Because I wanted them to feel like they accomplished something big, I combined their work and made copies for each of them. They were a little miffed that the pencil didn't show up on the copies, and they were also wishing that they had written more.
"Don't worry," I said. "We will have another chance to write a piece together today."
They were thrilled to see that I had Sharpies for them to use. (I didn't tell them that they each had different colors so I'd know who wrote what and that they had pens so that they couldn't erase!)
I first had them give me a bunch of ideas about why they liked their teacher, and I wrote their reasons, memories, stories, and examples on Post-its. They discovered that the reasons, the examples, and the stories sort of "team up," and the Post-its allowed us to move ideas around into groupings. Once we sorted the Post-its, we worked on balancing the piles a little--making sure that there were enough examples and details for each of the reasons. With minimal debate, each of the four students committed to write each of the four piles.
I worked on having them verbalize what they were going to write until T. and J. were basically bursting.
“Please, can we just get writing?” T. said. (Yes, he really did say that.)
M. was VERY worried by spelling. The permanence of the pen was a little debilitating to her at first, but once she got going and let go of the concept of perfect spelling, she got a fair amount written.
We did not touch on introduction or conclusion, but we’ll get there. For right now, just grouping like information and including details to develop their ideas was enough. Tomorrow, I’m thinking we will write about one of their essential teachers, working through the same process but more quickly, trying to get to the concept of introducing and concluding statements. Ultimately, I want them to take the confidence they're gaining as writers and transfer the skills they are practicing to topics of their own choosing and pieces that they plan and write on their own.
Gearing up for March!