There is a term that gets thrown around in schools a lot, especially in the elementary grades. It is “language arts.” I’ve often wondered how such a term came into existence, because, really, when we talk about “language arts” or “English/language arts” what we are actually talking about is grammar, although, technically, I suppose language arts includes all the aspects of both spoken and written language. My students have done a lot of work in literacy this year. As I have made it very clear from the very first day of school, I believe in literacy. I believe in reading, sharing what we reading, thinking about what we read, writing about what we read, reading what we write, and sharing what we’ve written. For most of the year, our literacy work has concentrated on reading selections and then writing in response to them. We have had a few open-writing activities from time to time, but the focus has primarily been on understanding how to write reflectively on what has been read.
Today we started something new, though. I want to use the last quarter (and a week) of school to really emphasise writing as a craft and an art-form. I know that my students can respond to what they have read. I know that they can talk (boy howdy, can they talk!!!!), but I want them to learn how to express themselves in writing, as well. We are going to do a lot of writers’ workshop activities in the room. Crafting stories, fleshing out the details, writing, proofreading, editing, revising, rewriting, proofreading again, editing again, and rewriting again. No piece of writing is ever truly complete, but we can reach a point where we can say, “Yes, I am satisfied with the quality of this writing and wish to share it with all who wish to read it!” (Of course, sometimes we write for ourselves, with no desire to share it with others. And that is okay, too.)
To kick off our writers’ workshop in Room 31, I wanted to get my class started on some of the basics of the English language: parts of speech. Now, my friends who study linguistics by profession may shudder at the definitions we use for some of the parts of speech, but I am working with young children and I want them to have a working knowledge of the words so that they can use them in their writing. I gave all of my students a pre-assessment on the parts of speech that had two sections. Section one have several lists of words that the students had to identify as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, or interjections. The second section contained a short paragraph with selected words underlined. The students had to group the words according to the aforementioned categories. So first they had a group of words and they had to give a category name, then they were given a category name and had to create the group. We will spend some time each day this week focusing on a specific part of speech while also starting some writing activities.
This is not going to be quick process, and I expect that there will be some in the class who will complain because it is hard (to which I will respond that it is a challenge and it is supposed to be because they are in fourth grade and fourth grade is challenging!), and others will tell me that they don’t want to do it (to which I will remind them that asking what they want to do is not something I do), but I think most will enjoy the opportunity to develop their writing skills and come to understand language use as an art. And if that is why we call it “language arts,” well, I can definitely live with that!