It has been a long-time goal of mine to help my students write more authentically. Authentic writing, for me, is writing that is real–not realistic, nor based on reality, but real as in from the heart and mind of the author. Authentic writing is something you mean and something you intend. This can be challenging when you are being told what to write and when to write, but I believe it is possible. To borrow a phrase from a book that I read this summer, I want my students to write pieces that they want to write and that the audience wants to read.
I was expressing this goal to my district’s elementary literacy coach and she had some ideas. Students often tell us they have nothing to write about or they don’t know what to write about. Her strategy for helping them overcome this writer’s block is to do something she calls “weekend writing.” I have no idea if this was an original idea she developed, if it was something she adapted, or if it is a strategy she lifted directly from another teacher, but I had never heard of it before and was excited to try it out with my class, as it seems to get at the heart of authentic writing.
After discussing and planning, we arranged for her to visit my class today to introduce the topic. She showed the students the graphic organizer for weekend writing and modeled how she would fill it out. I assisted in the process. After the organizer was completed, she and I had a conversation about what was written. This is a key component of the writing process that often gets overlooked. If students can talk to each other about what they did or what they think, they can write about it!
Once we had modeled it for the students, we gave them the graphic organizers and set them on the task of jotting down some ideas about what they did over the weekend, writing things like who they were with, what they did inside, what they did outside, what they ate, and where they went. As she told one student who said he had nothing to write, “Everyone was with someone and ate something over the weekend!” He realised this was true and immediately wrote far more than he had in previous weeks!
Students then turned to their elbow partners to discuss one single thing they recorded. As they talked, their partner asked probing questions such as “why did you do that?” or “what did you think about it?” Then students were given just five minutes to start writing. Instead of claiming they had nothing to write, each student was able to write something about their weekend that was important to them.
Tomorrow we will revisit weekend writing and explore how we can use these brief ideas, or “small moments,” as Writing Workshop guru Lucy Calkins calls them, to develop longer passages of authentic writing. I am hopeful that this writing will then transfer to students’ other writing as they think about ways to capture brief ideas and expand on them.
Oh, and the highlight of my weekend? Making a perfect batch of pumpkin French toast on Saturday morning! (Friends and family who are connected with me on social media have seen this picture already. It is too fantastic to not share. Click on the image for a link to the recipe!)
Today was the second day of the Illinois Joint Annual Conference. There were so many panel discussions, carousel discussions, and learning labs, in addition to the second general session and the exhibition hall, that I found myself wishing, more than once, that Hermione Granger’s time-turner really existed so that I could have gone to everything!
Alas, I only had so many hours in the day, so I had to pick and choose what to do with my time and also make sure that I remembered to do important things like eating. (As it was, after eating an apple at 7:30 in the morning and an oatmeal raisin cookie around 8:45, I didn’t eat again until nearly 1 pm. Oops.)
I started my day with a visit with my wife, who is at this conference with me, to the IASB book store and saw several books that I want to add to my professional collection, such as Todd Whitaker’s “Shifting the Monkey” and Tony Wagner’s “Creating Innovators.” I also found a series of picture books by “Star Wars: Jedi Academy” series author Jeffrey Brown that I want for my personal library. Then we stopped by the Educational Environments Exhibit Hall to see some amazing examples of brilliant school design (including the Award of Distinction-winning Urbana Early Childhood Center).
For the couple of hours we wandered through the Exhibition Hall, talking to vendors about issues such as educational technology, creative learning resources, data management systems, innovative security tools, and modular carpeting. A I was particularly impressed with BoardShare, which has developed a cost-effective tool that allows you to turn any flat surface into an interactive board, and Scribfolio, which takes simple abstract figures and allows students to create pictures that tell a story. We attended a learning laboratory presentation about health and wellness that included ideas for utilising wearable technology, such as Humana’s 100-Day Dash. (I am now brainstorming ways we can use pedometers to develop a similar challenge for my school community.)
The morning ended with a panel session presented by Reyna Hernandez, the Illinois State Board of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of English Language Learning and Early Childhood. She spoke about the ISBE Family Engagement Framework and shared some wonderful research on best practices for engaging families across all areas in a way that would promote longterm sustainability. One of my favourite statements came near the end of her presentation when she told us that while buy-in is good, it is even better for parents and members of the community to feel ownership for school initiatives. How do we make this possible? By involving them in all aspects of the decision-making processes.
After a late lunch, I attended another panel session with my mother on student-led conferences and left eager to use them for parent-teacher conferences in the Spring. The concept is simple: instead of teachers meeting with parents to tell them how their students are doing, parents and teachers meet with the students so that they, the students, can explain why they are doing it! The session was presented by teachers and administrators from Belleville, Illinois, and I was very impressed with the planning that went into place before this conference model was implemented.
Day two of JAC 2015 was definitely an incredibly busy, very full day, but I have so many awesome ideas that I can hardly wait to bring back to my school and district!
Every now and then I make outlandish claims to students just to see if they are really paying attention to what I am saying. And sometimes those outlandish claims turn into really fun quick projects for my class.
Today provided one of those opportunities.
Each Monday morning in our class meeting, the students get a chance to share what they did over the weekend. The vast majority of my class mentioned staying up to see the super blood moon and the lunar eclipse that happened last night. After every student shared, I told them what I did: took a nap on Saturday afternoon, watched the new Cinderella movie that evening, and orchestrated the lunar eclipse on Sunday evening.
One student said, “Wow, that’s awesome. Mr. Valencic!”
The rest of the class said, “Wait… what?! You didn’t cause the lunar eclipse!”
I said, “Oh, really? Okay, you have ten minutes to prove me wrong. You’ve got your Chromebooks and our science books. Go for it!”
For the next ten minutes, nearly every student in my class was reading articles about lunar eclipses and learning more about what causes a blood moon and a super moon. Then they shared with each other what they learned. There were discussions about the rotation of the earth and the orbit of the moon and the earth’s orbit around the sun (one student said something about the sun orbiting the earth but his classmate’s quickly corrected him). And they all convincingly proved that I didn’t actually cause the eclipse.
I did get to take a nice long nap on Saturday afternoon, though, and I really did watch the new Cinderella movie that evening.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned having a guest post of sorts go up on Kirby Larson’s blog. I also mentioned that I was going to start incorporating her Teacher Tuesday concept on my blog with Student Saturdays. I am not going to use any of my students’ names, first, last, or even initials. I will just be featuring a different student’s response to a few questions I asked them each Saturday. I actually meant to start this two weeks ago, but you know, life…
Anyway, today is the first Student Saturday feature. I am not going to edit my students’ responses at all. I want this to be their voices sharing their ideas without any interference from me! My goal is to let each student have an opportunity to share a little bit about him- or herself with visitors to our blog. If you have any questions or remarks for them, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I will pass them on!
- What is your all-time favorite book? Why?
I don’t have a favorite book all the ones I read are really good so I can’t really tell
- Tell about a recent story, poem, or essay you have written. Why did you write it?
It’s called The Tale Of The Two Princess’s I wrote it because I felt like writing a book
- What has been the most challenging thing you have learned to do in math?
I don’t really know maybe two digit by two digit multiplication.
- What has been the best research project or science experiment you have done?
My French Explorer report.
- Who is your favorite person in all of history? Why?
In all of history maybe Leonardo Da Vinci because he was an awesome artist
- What is your favorite activity in P.E.? Why?
FOUR CORNER DODGEBALL AND BLOB TAG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because they the awesomest games of all time
- What do you prefer to do during recess? Why?
In recess I like to play SORRY!! because it is awesome
- Describe fourth grade in just one word!
So there you have it! Have a great weekend! School starts again on Monday!
It is a surreal experience to have someone else ask you to contribute to their blog. It is still surreal when all they do is ask for people willing to contribute and you send an email or a tweet and you get an affirmative response.
My guest blogging experience started with the Nerdy Book Club in June 2012. (I’ve only written one guest post there; I should see about doing another soon.) The following summer, author Kirby Larson had written a guest post and asked for teachers willing to be a part of a writing project with her. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity, and thus struck up the most unexpected (for me) teacher-author relationships. I wrote a post for Kirby and, as a token of appreciation for being one of the first to reply, received a copy of her Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky. It humbles me, as a relatively inexperienced teacher at an obscure school in a small urban community in the middle of cornfields, to have an award-winning author talk to me, share with me, and be a part of my classroom.
Today marks the second time I have been a guest on Kirby’s blog. She asked several teachers to play a game: she would give a list of questions, and we would answer. The responses have been going up every Tuesday since the start of the school year. I’m not going to steal Kirby’s site traffic by posting the questions, or my answers here. If you want to see them, you’ll have to click the link and visit her blog! I am going to steal her idea, though. Starting this Saturday, I am going to feature responses from my students to questions about reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, physical education, fine arts, and recess. I have 23 students in my class. Student Saturday posts will go up each Saturday starting this week and continuing on through just about the end of the year. This is going to be my first serious attempt at student guest blogging. I hope it’ll be fun! I will continue to follow my rule of not using any student names on my blog, though, but this will hopefully give a sneak peek (not a sneak peak) into the thoughts of my students.