New Year, New Class, New School…
Before I started blogging this writing journey of mine and my students, I assumed blogging was easy. I would read blogs and think to myself… Why don’t people write about what we do? I could do that, I could write a blog. How hard could it be?
Then I started and wow! was I wrong…
The writing part seemed fairly easy but it was the time management of it all that caught me off guard. I had hoped this blog would be somewhere I could share the writing journey of both the kids in my class and also my thoughts, wonderings and questions. I had hoped my new posts would magically ping into inboxes around the world at least twice a term and I would network with people who had the same passion, the same questions and same wonderings. I had hoped that people out there in the real world, those who like me are still in the classroom, facing these kids day in day out, might even have some insights and answers to my questions. Unfortunately I was kidding myself and here I am 9 months since my last post thinking.. how embarrassing, where do I start? Are people interested anymore in my journey? Or has the moment passed? or… Maybe people are interested but I just need to get better at allocating time to write…
Not long after my last post I won a new ongoing position at another site beginning January 2019. As much as I wanted this new job, It was a bittersweet moment. The realisation hit me pretty quickly that I would be leaving the familiar, I would be leaving the place I had taught at for the last 8 years and I would be leaving my partner in crime, my bestie, Marcia. We had been teaching together for so long, that we just had to look at each other and know what each other was thinking. We were on the same page with everything, especially the importance of Bookmaking and Writer’s Workshop. Needless to say the end of 2018 was a bit of a blur and blogging took a back seat to saying goodbye to the familiar.
Fast Forward to January 2019 and here I was at a new school, with a new team and with 40 new faces looking up at me. My new placement involved me sharing a year 1-3 class with Toby another teacher, and Teresa our co-educator. Collectively we had 40 students. This didn’t scare me, it was really no different to the way that Marcia and I had worked for the last 6 years. I just hoped that it would be as smooth as what I was used to.
Fortunately, my new school had a school wide agreement that we did bookmaking during Writer’s Workshop and were lucky enough to have a literacy coach in Lisa Burman. Lisa spent some time with each team in our school during week 0 (our back to school week) to brainstorm and plan spotlight sessions for the term and just like that, we were on our way!
There was one remarkable difference in beginning our writing journey this year, compared to previous years and that was that all children in our class already knew what bookmaking was and had some understanding around bookmaking routines. In the past this was not the case. At my previous site, Writer’s Workshop was not a school wide approach to writing. There were a number of teachers implementing this way or writing but there were many that were not.
Before we started our first spotlight study for the term we gave each of our children a blank book and we asked them to make a book. This first book became our baseline data for the year and was stored away to be reflected on later in the year. We gave the children a week to work on this book before beginning our mini lessons around our first spotlight study for the year which was called “Building a Community of Writers”.
“Building a Community of Writers” involved us explicitly teaching and discussing what tools we needed for Bookmaking. Some of these tools also had mini lessons on how to use them. Some of these mini lessons we documented in our floor book and some we didn’t. The tools included, our bookmaking folder, our conferencing sheet, an alphabet chart, pencils, lapdesks and our ideas book.
In the past I have kept the children’s conferencing sheets in my own folder rather than their own. I think this was mainly because I was so scared that the children would lose them. Despite these nervous feelings, I went with Toby’s suggestion of keeping them in the kid’s folders and it is working a treat. It is so much easier for anyone to conference and record these conversations and teaching points with any kid because it is right there.
“Building a Community of Writers” also involved us reading books like writers. We spent time noticing when we read stories. In particular, we noticed the features of picture books. I wondered out loud to the children whether we could put some of these features into our own bookmaking?
From our noticing of what was happening in our bookmaking we spent some time looking at book orientation and have continued to revisit this with some students who are finding this difficult.
We spent a lot of time discussing where we think authors get ideas from. We decided authors get ideas from things they know a lot about, people they love, places they’ve been, things they do everyday, experiences they’ve had and things they love. We then introduced an idea book in which we can brainstorm some ideas for us to refer back to when we are stuck for ideas. We will also use this ideas book when we introduce planning for writing.
We didn’t begin conferencing formally straight away but when we felt we were ready to, we had a mini lesson on what conferencing looked like and why we conference. Like I’ve experienced in previous years, this year we have had the challenge of the same students wanting our attention to read their books, have a conference or wanting help so we have devised a checklist to ensure we are getting to all students and not just those that capture our attention constantly.
Sharing Circles were our next focus. We use sharing circles to share our progress in bookmaking as well as to publish books that are finished. We discussed with the children some group norms about this process. Sharing circles or reflection circles as I’ve also called them, have always, always, always been an area of Writer’s Workshop I have struggled with. I am confident to run them and the children seem confident to participate in them however it always seems that we run out of time to do them. Toby and I have discussed possibly having some of them at the beginning of our bookmaking lessons rather than a mini lesson some days to help children tune back into where they are up to in their writing and to take on board and act upon any feedforward advice that may be given. This hasn’t happened yet, but we have planned to have it happen this term. Something else I think I would also like to try this term is having a small notebook or sticky notes with me when we are in our sharing circle to note down any interesting noticings, possible teaching points or nudges of our children’s writing as they share.
We spent a very short amount of time looking at colouring in and discussing what looked better on the front cover of my latest bookmaking book. This was in direct response to some children that were rushing through to “finish” and who were not taking the time they needed to complete their pictures to the best of their ability.
Being a Brave speller was our next series of mini lessons and next installment in our floor book. Toby and I had noticed that some of our children were very frightened of having a go in their spelling of unknown words as they were scared they would make a mistake. We discussed how brave spellers make mistakes and mistakes are ok. I modelled how to stretch out the sounds I could hear in words and then had the children help me find these sounds on my alphabet chart. It was during this time that we noticed, the alphabet chart we originally had was great for showing the children the correct way of forming these letters but was not so great when a kid knew they were looking for the sound “c” but didn’t know what a “c” looked like. It was at this time I created an alphabet chart with lower and upper case letters as well as a picture that started with the most common sound the letter produced. We did then spend some time trying to create our own individual alphabet charts but we found this lesson to be a total flop. On reflection I think this was mainly because we had so many children that didn’t know their letters of the alphabet and the sounds that they produced. Plus I think, even though we had split the group in half for this task, we probably needed an even smaller group to be successful and focused. Time was also spent demonstrating cutting words into chunks of sounds and trying and trying again.
Some time had passed since we introduced conferencing to our children and they seemed comfortable in what it looked like and what it was for. So it just seemed like the right time to introduce the wonderful Danni Porcaro’s strategy cards to them. I explained to the children these strategy cards (which we chose to call Writing Goal cards this year) are reminders about what things they are working on to make their books even better. These goal cards will be given to our children during our conferencing sessions and are personalised, dependent on their needs. Children will keep these on a ring in their Writer’s Workshop folder to refer to during writing time. (You can purchase Danni’s cards here if you are interested https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Writers-Workshop-Strategy-Cards-2964210 )
We wound up the end of term one with a series of mini lessons around adjectives. This stemmed from something I had seen in one of our children’s writing. I had noticed she was writing a book about her dog and she used some descriptive language to explain his appearance. With her permission we shared what I had noticed and I wondered whether anyone else had included adjectives into their writing. Many children said they hadn’t but they would by the end of the lesson and were willing to share what they had achieved during our sharing circle. Toby also spent some time brainstorming different adjectives with a small group of children who were ready to be nudged in this area.
and just like that… my first term at my new school was over..
Thanks for tuning in… I hope it was worth the wait?