I always knew when I started writing this blog that time would be the biggest obstacle in sharing my practice. So it is really no surprise here I am, almost a month since my last post with lots to share. There will be too much to share in this one post so I will post today and try and post again in the coming days with the rest.
Adding Detail to Pictures
The mini lesson that followed the colouring in mini lesson was about adding detail to pictures. Danni taught this lesson to the students and began by showing the students a lone dog on a page. She then drew the same dog adding more detail to the expression on his face and to the background. The students could see that be adding more detail to our pictures we can see what is happening without even reading the words.
Conferencing was our next mini lesson. We were finding conferencing difficult with the constant interruptions from our students. We thought it was timely that we explicitly discussed what the students thought should and shouldn’t happen during conferencing time. We also brainstormed things the students could do if they finish their book but the teacher is busy conferencing. The students have responded quite well to this mini lesson and we are being interrupted less and less.
Maintaining Consistent Characters
Maintaining consistent characters throughout our bookmaking was proving difficult for some of our students. With some students making books that are hugely disconnected and chop and change from one story to another. We read the students Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider” and discussed as we read how the spider was the main character in the story and even though she changed position or she may of looked a little different from page to page, she was still the same character. We pointed out how some characters in the story only appeared for a short amount of time and that was ok but there always needed to be at least one consistent character.
Author of the Month for March ~ Lynley Dodd
Marcia and I introduced our new author of the month for March by showing the students a picture of the front cover of Hairy Maclary on the whiteboard. Some of the students were excited as they were familiar with this book and some of the students were able to read the author’s name. We explained to the students that like Eric Carle, Lynley Dodd was an author and an illustrator. We asked the students what they noticed about Lynley Dodd herself and then handed out copies of Lynley Dodd’s books to pairs of students to carefully look at. After students had looked at their first book they swapped with another pair. This continued for about 10 minutes before we drew the students back in and brainstormed what the students noticed about Lynley Dodd’s books and her craft of writing. It was exciting to see the students drawing on and using the technical language we have been using in our writer’s workshop lessons, with students noticing Lynley Dodd’s books have blurbs, she uses detail in her pictures and some of the books had the same characters.
That’s all I have for tonight. There is lots more to come in the coming days. Thanks for continuing to check in and read our journey. I hope it is helping and inspiring some of you.
On Monday, Danni and Marcia looked at colouring in with the students. We had been noticing some students were rushing their illustrations and colouring over them with one colour rather than colouring them in with many. Danni demonstrated what good colouring looked like and didn’t look like. She then got the students to brainstorm what they notice about good colouring in.
All the students then practiced colouring in their own picture of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to show how well they could actually colour illustrations. When the students were finished, we shrunk their pictures down on the photocopier and displayed them in our journal.
We began today’s lesson by asking the students what things they have learnt during our writer’s workshop mini lessons this term. As we did this we flipped back through our class journal and found the things they were remembering. We then introduced the sound card we had created. This was created by inserting all of the students pictures from the alphabet freeze we made into a word document. I also added in the first 50 Oxford sight words to try to help and encourage students to spell these familiar words correctly. Marcia began by explaining to the students that we wanted them to have a go by writing the sounds they could hear in a word. For example if you wanted to write the word “volcano” we want you to say the word and write the first sound you can hear… Eg.. “V” then any other sounds you can hear… “vcano”… We then we’re very clear that we didn’t mind if they made mistakes or of things were not spelt correctly, we just wanted them to have a go.
We sent all the students off for 10 minutes of solid writing and we were so excited to see the kids using the charts and sounding and stretching out words to themselves.
As we expected some (but not all) students have sped through their first book and are on their second and third books. We didn’t really want to give the students too much information surrounding writing, the craft of writing and what authors do until the students were finished or almost finished their first books. We really want their first books to be raw data samples of what they already know.
We decided we would organise our books in the same way our readers are in our school; by colour. We did this last year and it was quite successful. We gave everyone a pink book first. The students will then move on to red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, grey (silver) and gold. For those students who make it all the way through they will just start again at pink. We thought by organising the books this way it gives us a good idea at a quick glance of where the students are up to.
The first mini lesson we taught last week was surrounding front covers and the things that front covers need. We explored different front covers of books and brainstormed what we noticed. This brainstorm then formed the first entry in our class journal.
The other glaringly obvious teaching point for our mini lessons last week was book orientation. We noticed many of our students are writing and illustrating in their books from back to front and many are writing in their books upside down. During this mini lesson I asked the students to show me which way my book should open. (I had my own pink book that someone put around the right way for me.) I then asked the students to remind me what should go on the front cover of my book. They said all the obvious, title, picture, author and illustrator’s name, library letter and publisher’s sticker/ emblem. As the kids were calling out the different features I was quickly adding them on to my pink book. This book was then glued into our class journal for us to refer back to.
I am hoping we will use this class journal to refer back to each mini lesson to help reinforce these messages and add new ideas and learnings surrounding the work of authors and the needs of our students as writers. I will also continue to create this pink book to help with my mini lessons in the coming weeks.
During the school holidays our school was painted. This meant at the end of last year, everything had to come down off the walls. Our school uses Jolly Phonics in the Early Years and for as long as I have been at the school I have had a Jolly Phonics sound freeze hung around the top of my classroom. This year we decided rather than hang the commercial freeze back up we would get the kids to create their own. We decided to include the Jolly Phonics blends as well as the alphabet. I’ve inserted a small sample below and I think you will agree the end result is amazing. (Much better than the commercial poster!)
My next job is to photograph them all and make them into a double sided sound card. We will then give each student a laminated copy to go in their Writer’s Workshop plastic pocket to refer to when writing.
On Thursday we introduced our author of the month for February. We began by showing the students the front covers of a number of Eric Carle’s books and got them to read the titles with us if they could. We had looked at about four or five of them before one of the students noticed that they all had a C on the top right hand corner. Then another student noticed they were all written by Eric Carle. We explained that’s why there was a C on the covers of the books and if they were someone else’s books they would have a different letter at the top corner. For example, I would have a R for Roether and Marcia would have a F for Fraser.
Marcia then pulled up a photo on the interactive whiteboard of Eric Carle and we asked the students what they noticed. This lead to a lot of discussion and questions such as, Where was he born? Where does he live? How old is he? How old was he when he wrote his first book? How old was he when he wrote his last book? We answered some of these questions there and then with the students. We then moved on to reading his book ” ‘Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,’ said the Sloth “.
After that, the students spent a short amount of time working on their own books before having to pack up for P.E.
Later that afternoon, I put an author of the month display up with some of the questions asked. We will add to this as needed.
Today Marcia and I introduced Writer’s Workshop to our students. We began by asking them the following questions.
What is an author?/ What do authors do?
After a lot of discussion we clarified with the students that authors are the writers of books. We introduced the word illustrator also at this stage and asked what this person does. We also made sure we pointed out that some authors are also illustrators.
Do you know any authors?
Our students didn’t have a lot of prior knowledge around the names of authors with only one author mentioned at this point. (Nick Bland) We are hoping to build on their little knowledge by having an author of the month. This month’s author will be Eric Carle and we will begin to unpack his craft of writing tomorrow.
We then posed the question…
What can authors write about?
This created a lot of discussion. We brainstormed first knee to knee with a partner and then as a whole group before splitting into groups of three to brainstorm on large paper all the things authors can write about.
We then regrouped together on the carpet and announced that this year in our classes we will be authors and we will start today. The students were able to select a pink ready made book (small, medium or large) and begin writing or illustrating. We said to the students that today they could write about what ever they wanted. Before they started we then pointed out though that authors are not allowed to copy books that have already been made. For example, you can’t write a story exactly the same about “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” because that’s Eric Carle’s story. We explained that you can borrow ideas from authors through and if they really liked that idea they could write a story about “The Very Hungry… something else.
The student’s were then able to go off and write and draw for 15 minutes.
After this time we regrouped on the carpet and two students were selected to share what they had done during Writer’s Workshop today. After share time we asked the students to file their work in progress books into their Writer’s Workshop pockets in their drawers ready to work on tomorrow.
The last two weeks feel like a blur and the list of things to do seems to be getting longer and longer. One of the first things on my list was to get my conferencing folder set up for when I begin Writer’s Workshop this week.
Last year I used a ring bound folder with tabs. Each student had their own tab and section where I recorded notes on lined paper about their books when I conferenced with them. For those students who’s books were wordless I used this to scribe their book as they read the pictures and for those who had words in their books, I used this folder to record current strengths and strategies to work on.
I decided that this folder seemed to be quite big and bulky so this year I have opted to use a display folder. I have kept the tabs so each student still has a pocket and an area for me to keep notes.
Marcia, Danni and I decided that this year we would use a template rather than blank paper to record our notes. This actually stemmed from a fabulous idea that one of our student teachers (Tiffany) initiated last year on her placement. We like this format as it gives us a clearer idea at a quick glance about how many books the students have made and shows us an overview of the student’s strategies.
The other thing that I have put in our folder is a schedule. This ensures we have focus students for each day and that in theory all students will be seen each week. We began doing this towards the end of last year as we were finding we were seeing the same students all the time and unfortunately some students were slipping through and not being seen at all. As I work part time, it also gave us a clearer picture of who was conferencing with who.
At the end of last year I made the decision that I would blog about my practice and my student’s progress in Writer’s Workshop. There are not a great deal of blogs out there specifically on this topic and I thought I could write one… so here I am.
I am hoping, I will use this blog as a record of lessons taught, to share challenges that arise and hopefully instil motivation in others. I don’t believe I know all there is to know about Writer’s Workshop and am continually changing and adapting the way I do things to better my practice, for my students. Last year, I was part of a Writing study group facilitated by Lisa Burman. Being part of this group helped confirm to me that I was on the right track with what I have been doing in Writer’s Workshop with my students and it was also a great sounding board for sharing of ideas, challenges, problems and successes. I am looking forward to continuing to participate in the study group this year.
This year I will be teaching a year 1 class and will be going into school next week to set up my learning area. I have been using Writer’s Workshop to teach writing in my class for the last 3 years and each year seem to refine how I do this. For the first two years it was just me and my work bestie Marcia that were doing Writer’s Workshop with our students. We saw, and continue to see, great value in what Writer’s Workshop instilled in our students. Student’s saw themselves as authors, as writers, as illustrators and as editors. We very quickly saw the shift in power from the old style writing we had been doing from teacher to student. The students were in control now, and we needed to do our very best to support them by through conferencing and targeted mini-lessons.
In our third year of teaching Writer’s Workshop (last year) Marcia and I (as we both work part time) were both paired with Danni, the most amazing graduate teacher you will meet. Danni quickly shared our love for Writer’s Workshop and could see the benefits in teaching writing this way. This was great for Marcia and I as it meant that Writer’s Workshop could continue seamlessly throughout the week, regardless of who the teacher was on that particular day.
Towards the end of last year our school began running PLTs (Professional Learning Teams) around different practices around the school. Writer’s Workshop became a focus and we had a large number of teachers at our site seeing value in it and trying it out in their classrooms. Many finished the PLT process saying they will be continuing to use Writer’s Workshop to teach writing with their new classes in 2017.
So I look forward to sharing with you what this year brings for me, my students and my colleagues.