Since the start of school, my students have done a lot of writing in my class. Most of that writing has been in response to the texts that I have read, sometimes for the purpose of demonstrating comprehension, sometimes for making connections, and sometimes for expressing opinions. I am implementing more opinion-piece writing in my class now, and today we started the next phase: persuasive writing.
I gave the students a fairly simple writing prompt to pre-assess their persuasive writing skills. I decided to do this without giving any direct instruction on how to write a persuasion piece so that I could best understand what they already know about this particular style of writing. This was the writing prompt:
Each year, our district examines the classes and activities that are currently offered and decides if there are new programs that should be made available. Think of a class or activity you feel our school should have a write a letter to our principal to persuade her to accept your idea.
I have the students 30 minutes to think, plan, and write their letters. Some were done in five minutes or less and were encouraged to add more details. Others took the entire time. I haven’t had a chance to review all of the letters yet, but I was pleased to see that many took the assignment very seriously. Several wanted to know if our principal would actually read these letters. (I will give them to her and let her decide if she has the time to read them or not!) Others wanted to know if these suggested programs would actually be implemented. I told them that I can’t guarantee it, but I did have a student last year write a persuasive letter regarding the return of our building’s chess club and his arguments were strong enough that we are looking into it for after ISAT testing this year.
We will be doing more work with persuasive writing next week, including learning how to use Inspiration 8 to outline the essays and organise ideas while working with a doctoral candidate who is going to be using my class and a fifth grade class as part of her research.
On a completely different note, I just wanted to make a quick announcement that our building has officially crossed the 125,000-minute mark for our reading! We still have a long way to go, though, so we need everyone–students, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbours, everyone–to log their minutes! My hair is getting longer by the day!
I try to take a balanced approach to literacy instruction in my classroom, so some days the students read stories from our basal reader, other days they read from leveled books, and still yet other days they read from chapter books that have been assigned to reading groups. We also do a variety of writing activities, although our biggest focus so far this year has been writing in response to a read text.
This week we read an excerpt from the story My Name Is Maria Isabel. My students really enjoyed this story, and several asked if they could check out the book from our library. After looking in the library and not seeing it, I mentioned something about it to our amazing librarian, who immediately said, “Oh, we have that! It is in the lit library in the back with other large sets. I don’t have a copy out here, though.” (Fun aside: I tell my students that, as a generalist educator, I know everything, but if I ever have a question, I ask the librarian, because librarians know more than everything!)
Near the end of Maria Isabel’s story, she writes a brief essay about her greatest wish, which is for her teacher to call her by her full name, Maria Isabel Salvator Lopez, instead of Mary Lopez, which is what the teacher had been calling her most of the year. (Other aside: I make sure that all of the students let me know at the beginning of the year what they want to be called, because I believe names are incredibly important. My first name is Alexander, but it would drive me crazy if people called me that all day; I have always been Alex.)
Today I wanted my students to start writing opinion pieces, and realised that building off Maria Isabel’s story would be a great way to do it. So I asked the students to write a brief essay on their own greatest wishes. They had to describe what their wish was, why they wanted it, and then draw a picture to go along with it. My original intention was to post them on one of our bulletin boards. However, some of the students’ responses were so very personal that I don’t think it would be fair to them to share their wishes along with their names.
That being said, I wanted to share some of them here. Out of respect for my students’ privacy, I am not going to include any details that would identify them, and I will only share their topic sentences. (I’ve also corrected spelling.)
My greatest wish is:
- for my dog to meet a girl dog and have puppies.
- to be a great inventor and invent time travel.
- to live with my grandparents.
- to meet Justin Bieber.
- to have unlimited money and to be a veterinarian.
- for a time machine.
- to have a Dodge Viper SRT.
- that my mom and dad would get back together.
- for a toy poodle.
- to drive a police car.
- to have the Force.
- to have a billion googol dollars.
- to live with my dad.
- to be a famous singer.
- that my best friend will move back here.
- to be a WWE superstar.
- to have a BB gun.
- is getting a big mansion and money.
- to be able to see my best friend.
Surprisingly, not one of my students asked me what my greatest wish is. (If anyone asked, I would tell them that it is to have a reason to make a trio of pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving next year.) I am pleased that my students took this writing assignment seriously. We will do many opinion pieces in the future. This was very much an early assignment meant to help my gauge my students’ understanding of how to express an opinion in writing. I didn’t expect the depth of feeling that was included! As happens so often, my students have gone above and beyond what I expected.
But I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, my class is awesome!
I have written about the math curriculum I am using this year before. I really like the way it provides various strategies for mastering arithmetic concepts, the way it introduces geometry throughout the year, and the way the material “spirals” to review old material while simultaneously introducing new ideas.
The curriculum started with a unit on the foundations of multiplication with a brief introduction to division. After a short geometry unit on quadrilaterals, we started another arithmetic unit on addition and subtraction. After breezing through the addition lessons, we started working on subtraction this week. I initially expected that it would move as quickly as the addition work did, but I was surprised to learn that this was not the case.
While my students grasp the concept of subtraction and know the process, they do not have the automaticity on subtracting greater numbers that I would like them to have. So we took some time today to do some extra practice. After going over some review problems, I gave the students a practice worksheet that gave them time to really work on subtracting in a variety of ways.
The goal is not just for them to be able to do the operation quickly and accurately, but also with confidence. I firmly believe that the greatest delay in performing basic arithmetic operations comes from a lack of confidence in one’s skills. I saw this most clearly by the number of students who were using their fingers to count back when subtracting. It isn’t that using one’s fingers is a bad thing, mind you. Remember, our entire number system is essentially based on the fact that we have fingers–ten of them, to be specific. But it is a much slower process than simply knowing how to subtract.
We will keep working on this, of course, and revisit the concepts throughout the year. I have confidence in my own students and know that they can master subtraction. They just need time to practice!
Longtime readers may recall that last year, as the result of the professional inquiry group I was participating in (and still am, for that matter), I had learned about an amazing internet-based writing resource called Storybird. Using Storybird was such a big deal for my class that I ended up writing about it twice. All of my students from last year still have their accounts with Storybird that were set up by me and I learned recently that some of them are still using it, which I think is absolutely awesome.
I have been intending on getting my students started with it again this year but have been delayed due to a wide variety of circumstances. This finally changed today when I went to use the computer lab.
After taking our weekly multiplication quiz, I gave the students a brief overview of Storybird, taught them their usernames and password, gave some basic instructions and rules, and let them get started. They have an assignment to use Storybird to write an alternate ending to the classic Cinderella tale (yes, I used this same assignment last year), but they also have the opportunity to use this for any of their own writing. Some students wanted to know if they could bring their own writing into the lab next week so they could use them on Storybird. The answer is, of course, that they absolutely can! There are two ways to use Storybird: first, use illustrations to bring out stories, and second, to bring in stories and find illustrations that help finish telling the story.
I haven’t seen as eager a response to using Storybird this year as last, as far as students logging in from home and writing stories already, but I have complete confidence that this will become another excellent resource to help my students become better, and stronger, writers!