The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Engaged Writers

I’ve been piloting the Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study writing workshop program with my class this year. This series has been around for a long time but has recently changed. For each grade level, she outlines four specific writing units that cover informative, narrative, and opinion writing. My fourth graders learn how to write realistic fiction, persuasive essays, literary persuasive essays, and historical essays. We have been working on persuasive essays for the past two weeks now.

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This unit starts with the students writing simple opinion pieces. We did one together with a very basic thesis: I like ice cream. The students helped to come up with three reasons and then they had to identify at least three facts that supported each detail. This is a very basic essay outline, but it gets them started with the writing process. Then they started writing about a person who was very important to them and they had to again list at least three reasons why and provide at least three facts to support each reason.

Right about this time was when I witnessed something miraculous in my classroom of twenty-six diverse learners: all of them were engaged in writing.

Not some.

Not most.

All.

Every. Single. Student.

To put this in context, I had a student just a few days tell me in no uncertain terms how much he hated writing and how much he hated me for making him write and how much he hated this school for letting me make him write.

And he was writing.

The entire time.

If I were the kind of person who cried (which I’m not), I would have had tears in my eyes (but I didn’t). “Surely,” I thought, “this is just a fluke.”

The next day I had all of my students engaged in writing again.

Not some.

Not most.

All.

Every. Single. Student.

This has gone on for nearly two weeks. When I tell my class it is time for Writers’ Workshop there are some students who actually cheer. Others grab their notebooks and get writing before I even get a chance to get to our minilesson. (They don’t appreciate having to put their writing down to listen to me, either.)

Yes, some students get stuck and their pencils pause over their papers for a few minutes. but I have seen my classroom become a community of writers over the past couple of days. Their opinion pieces range from people who are important to them (moms and dads figure prominently in these essays,although at least one student wrote about her big brother and another student wrote about a classmate), to literary figures (Harry Potter is a hero to at least one girl in my class), to wrestling star John Cena (a man who drew my attention when I learned about his support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation), to Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie (my all-time favourite, if-I-could-only-eat-one-kind-of-pie-ever-again-for-the-rest-of-my-life-favourite pie).

It has been awesome seeing my students engaged in writing. They are sharing their writing with each other and sharing it with me and they are finding ways to add details, add depth, improve word choice, and clean up conventions but, more importantly, they are learning how to share the ideas that form in their minds and put them in writing.

I know there are other writing workshop models, curricula, and guides out there and I am sure that they work well, too, but I am really glad that I got to learn about the Lucy Calkins’ series and try it out this year. I love seeing my students growing as authors!

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