Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer Adventures

For the last two weeks, I've been taking a class about teaching writing at Miami University, sponsored by the Ohio Writing Project, which is an extension of the National Writing Project.  OWP has given my time to work on some writing I'm doing with my good friend Holly Mueller.  We're working on a professional book about literacy in intermediate grades.  We get an hour of writing time each morning in class and I'm trying to take full advantage of using it for our book.  An hour of writing each day!  That's something I rarely give myself.  It's been great!

On Friday, I had to give a 90 minute interactive demonstration to my fellow OWPers.  It's one of the requirements of the class and it was so much fun!  I centered my presentation around writing narratives/memoirs.  I  have found that, in the past, my students struggle to write a story about a time in their lives without explaining more than necessary.  This year, I attempted to have them zoom in on a specific part of a story they wanted to tell.  I had great results with it and the kids enjoyed all of the different writing they got to do.  I used three mentor texts to help guide my instruction.
Looking Back by Lois Lowry

Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher
Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka

We do many different types of writing with these books.  But before we start reading these famous authors' books, we read two picture books:
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

After reading these two books, the kids write about a special time they spent with someone older than them.  Then, we move on to the three memoirs written by well known authors.  I read a variety of stories to them, centered around the same themes  For example, one day we read funny stories from our mentor texts, one day we read stories about home, and one day we read stories about changing and growing up.  Another fun thing to throw in is what groceries for a week looks like around the world.  We talk about what we notice and where we would like to travel and where we're glad we don't live.  Then, students write about a food memory.  This is one of the most powerful stories they have.  It's also the one I chose to take into a longer piece.  Reading stories and doing short writings based off them is an easy, nonthreatening way to get kids engaged with writing and not overwhelmed by the idea of it.

After we have done a two weeks of idea generation for various memories, we choose one or two that we think we can make a decent story out of.  We talk about the elements of story and what we think our stories should or should not include.  Once the decision about which piece to work on, I have the kids draw a circle and divide it into six slices (like a pizza).  In each slice, they have to chronologically place an event in their story.  Here's what mine looked like:
My food memory was of traveling to Japan to visit my sister-in-law and all of the interesting food options we encountered there.  After I modeled this, my class did they same thing with their memories.  When our "pizzas" were filled in, we each chose ONE slice that we zoomed in on for a longer piece.  I chose slice #2, eating a breakfast of rice with fish flakes.  Ugh.  Again, here's what mine looked like (I wrote in front of the class so they could see how it looks to struggle with getting your ideas onto paper).
I copied this into my writer's notebook, added more to it.  The kids did the same with their own writing.  Once we had a good handle on the story, I modeled some revision techniques (always a hard thing to get young writers to do--that's why teachers have to model, model, model).  My notebook was full of crossed out lines and carrots indicating new lines that needed to be added in. 

Unfortunately, our time ran out because we did this at the end of the school year.  My classes had really great starts of memoirs.  I plan on doing this FIRST this coming school year.  It was such an engaging unit and our kids have SO MUCH to SAY!  

How do you incorporate narrative into your school year?  Leave a comment below.

Friday, June 7, 2013

End of Year Wrap-Up

Another school year has come and gone.  This was my first year back full-time since having my daughter (who will be four in August).  I job-shared for three years with the talented Holly Mueller.  You can check out her blog at  In this first year back, I was really able to dig deep and know more about my students and their reading lives.  I started the year by presenting my version of Donalyn Miller's 40 Book Challenge.  I called it the 40 Book Invitation and invited my students to attempt to read 40 books this school year.  I had a wide range of readers, from gifted to emerging.  However, over half of the kids in each class (I teach two LA classes) read 40 books or more.  A significant amount read 30-39 books.  How very exciting!  It was almost unanimous that students read more this year than any other year.  Plus, we all made summer reading lists and talked excessively about summer reading the last few days of school.  And that, my friends, is what teaching reading is all about--a little motivation, mixed with some enthusiasm, and a dash of challenge.  These kids rocked!  (And, I'll really miss getting and giving recommendations from them over the summer!)

Each class read over 1000 books!  AMAZING!!

So, I can't figure out how to rotate this on the blog.  Turn your monitor sideways for a second...

I invite you to entertain the thought of challenging your readers in the upcoming school year.  Do it by page numbers or books, but do it!  Expect them to live a reading life.  They'll surprise you with the their enthusiasm, desire, and results.  Go read books this summer so you can become a "book whisperer" too!