Last year I used Writer’s Notebook to reinforce and teach new writing techniques. Students looked forward to using and sharing their writings. I didn’t realize the full impact of the Writer’s Notebook activities until the following September when former students shared recent writings from their 8th grade language arts class. Within these writings were all of the compositional risks and advanced writing techniques that I had taught through Writer’s Notebook. The pieces were high school level writings. Each of the students contributed use of the Writer’s Notebook as the vehicle that enabled them make these advanced writing techniques part of their writing style. It just doesn’t get any better than this!
Last week (or was it the week before), I visited Paul Albert’s/Karen Wagner’s 6th grade class and introduced “three-in-three.” First, I shared with students a three-in-three I had written on demand in another class. I allowed this class to give me a topic and “summer” was chosen. I wrote for three minutes, trying my best to produce interesting, thoughtful three-word phrases. The students watched attentively and, I must admit, I felt the pressure to produce. When I was finished, I reviewed my list with students and then asked the students to select their own topic and create their own three-in-three. Some students thought of a topic immediately while others needed some help (photos on their writer’s notebook covers were a great source for topics). The students wrote furiously for three minutes and then eagerly shared their lists. I was so impressed with their ideas which included alliteration, onomatopoeia, vivid descriptors, repetition, and actions. The students seemed pleased with their entries. Another rewarding writer’s notebook experience! Thanks to Paul and Karen for sharing their class time and students with me.
After the Writer’s Notebook training in the Spring I began the writing activities. I was shocked at how excited the children were to write in their binders. Even my most reluctant writers were anxious to start the new writing activities and everyone wanted to share what they wrote. They also were interested in watching me model the activities, as they seem to always want to know information about their teachers. After working all year on picture and poem prompts it was so nice to watch what the writing process is really suppose to be. The children love the activities and I’ve learned so much about each of them when they shared what they wrote in the Author’s Chair. Some of their favorite activities are questioning, list your gripes, three words, and sharing sentences. The question that I had was what am I suppose to do with the information gathered, especially as third grade is the first year for Writer’s Notebook. How do I incorporate it into Writer’s Workshop? After reading other posts, I see that is what we are all working on! I have seen two incidents of transferring the information. Priscilla Muller asked to be Pen pals with my class. When the children started writing their letters I watched as some of them took their Writer’s Notebook to use information they had written about themselves to include in their letters. Not one student came to me and said “I don’t know what to write.” It was a small step but it convinced me that Writer’s Notebook works. I’ve also had students ask if they could go back and answer some of the questions they listed in their binders the day before for one of the activities. They were excited because they had some answers. I never expected them to actually want to go back and answer the questions. Next year I will start Writer’s Notebook much sooner. The bottom line for me is the children not only enjoy the writing activities but are genuinely interested in the process. I can’t ask for more than that.
Last night I spent some time at Smithville School where Suzy Kline, author of the Horrible Harry series, was sharing her experiences as a writer with students, parents, and staff. Suzy’s presentation totally engaged everyone in the room regardless of age, profession, whatever. For me, the sterling moment came when Suzy actually held up her own notebook and talked about how she carries it with her and makes notes to record experiences. In fact, she had several notebooks, a scrapbook, drafts…Even better, Suzy gave examples of things in her notebooks that she actually used in her published books. What a moment! Although I was already sold on writer’s notebook, Suzy Kline’s presentation affirmed my belief that the time we have spent developing and implementing writer’s notebook is worthwhile.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Smithville School is acknowledged in Horrible Harry and The Goog with the Smithville boiler room being the source for an illustration. You’ll have to read the book to understand this reference. Kudos to Smithville School and heartfelt appreciation to Suzy Kline!
When I read the Launching Strategy: History of a Name from Aimee Buckner, it reminded me of a strategy one of my professors demonstrated last semester at Stockton to get students thinking and writing about themselves. She had us make a list of words and phrases that described who we are and where we come from. We then turned those lists into poems. The poems were really special and it was a pleasure to write and share them in our class.
I decided to try this exercise with my third graders. Our first step was to spend some time reviewing the “All About Me!” graphic organizer that we created in December. From this, we made a list of people, places, things, and events that are really important parts of who we are. Next, I modeled how to turn my list into a poem and then students worked on creating their own. I was ecstatic with the results! They were so good, that I decided to turn them into Mother’s Day gifts using Voicethread. I hope our Mom’s love their virtual gifts!
~ Jenna Wyks, 3rd Grade, Smithville
This week, we combined two of my favorite things going right now: The Writer’s Notebook and Voicethread. It all began about a week ago… I took my third graders to the computer lab to show them how to create pictures using Max Write. Their pictures were then saved, printed, and placed in the “Marvelous Mini-Lessons” section of their Notebooks. The next day, we read two stories that featured several similes (Quick as a Cricket and Owl Moon). After reading, students had to create a list of 20 sentences that each contained a simile to describe their picture. Then, they worked with a partner to rework and refine their sentences. Next, they uploaded their pictures into Voicethread and they had to “gimme” their ten best simile sentences which were recorded onto their Voicethread picture. What was so awesome about this lesson was how diligent the kids were about writing their similes. Since it was going to be on the Internet “for all the world to see,” they worked so hard to create really great similes so that they would look like “a really smart bunch of third graders!” You should have seen how many thesauruses and dictionaries were being passed around!
~ Jenna Wyks, 3rd Grade, Smithville
This morning I went into a fourth grade class and taught a lesson on point of view. We started off by discussing the term and what they thought that it meant. They were familiar with the term. I then read them the book The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and the excerpt from Amy buckner’s book about Mikey’s Muffins. We shared some ideas of what they could write about and away they went. For a first attempt at this grade level I thought the kids did well. The biggest problem I saw was that they had trouble staying in the other person’s character. They kept switching back and forth from the other person’s point of view to their own. The teacher is going to continue to work on this and see if they can get better at staying in the other person’s point of view.
Can I change my password…way too old to remember …where is the math blog…everyone enjoy the day…
Today I was observing a teacher of 8th grade language arts during writing. At one point during the lesson, his students were asked to share “bling and brag” from their most recent persuasive pieces. Lo and behold, several students shared examples of hyphenated modifiers and magic threes. These techniques had been introduced during writer’s notebook activities – transfer in action…wow! Kudos to teacher Jeff Morris and his students (and to Janice Malone for her collaboration with them).
Sometimes, resources shared with teachers can take on a life of their own. At a recent training session focusing on implementing the technology standards for students, I shared a site called “Build Your Wild Self.” I learned about this site from reading Kevin Jarrett’s blog. Kevin is an amazing technology teacher in the Nothfield school district. He proposed using the site for creating avatars (digital representations of a person) and for learning about science.
The site is sponsored by New York Zoos and Aquarium and the Wildlife Conservation. It allows students to create a digital picture of themselves. They can go further and create a “wild image” that contains various animal body parts. The site then goes on to explain how these adaptations actually help the animal.
I originally taught teachers to use the site to create avatars for their students to use with a product called Voicethread, a wonderful collaborative web 2.0 tool that allows multiple people to comment on a document using a microphone. Brian Dunn, a n innovative 5th grade teacher, taught his students to use these avatars in voicethread as they posted on blogs for a literature circle project. For instance, one student reading Mansion in the Mist posted this blog entry where he uploaded a picture related to the chapter of the novel and commented about it. As you view the post, you can see the avatars of various people who commented on his entry including his teacher, the school librarian, and other students.
Although this was my original plan for using the “Build Your Wild Self” site, I learned that some staff members used it as a springboard for a writer’s notebook entry. Teachers have brought their class down to the lab and let their students “go wild.” After they completed their picture, they learned about the animal adaptations they had chosen. Finally, they went back to the classroom to write an entry about the experience in their writer’s notebooks.
It is exciting for me to see how teachers take resources and use them in a variety of ways to meet their individual needs.