Writing Magic

It’s 8:30 a.m.  My eager writers are ready to dig into their ongoing writing projects.  At the top of their lists are the books they are writing about endangered species.

The authors quickly retrieve their folders, spread out their drafts, and begin drafting, revising, editing, or illustrating.  Watching them work, it is obvious that they are deeply invested in the animals they chose to research and the writing process they are using to share their knowledge.  The focused energy in the room is amazing.

Occasionally, someone realizes more information is needed and he/she sets off to do some additional research.

More than once, excitement sends students scurrying to find me so they can share their latest discoveries.

“Mrs. V, did you know that the Arctic fox uses its long, bushy tail to keep its nose warm?  That’s an adaptation!”

“Is that so?  Did you include that information in your book?”

And…

“Mrs. V., Mrs. V.!  Guess what? If the Arctic wolf becomes extinct, its predators might not find enough food and become endangered!  OR…Their prey will overpopulate the area, and it will be chaos!  I need to include that information in my book…wait…should it be in a fact box or should I just write it in the chapter on environmental threats?”

“Which method will get your point across most effectively?”

“I think a fact box.  Thank you, Mrs. V.!”

And yet another…

“Let me tell you about those sea turtles, Mrs. V…”

All too soon, our class time comes to an end.  There are moans and groans and a few, “What?! It’s time already?” questions.

Not every writing workshop unfolds this smoothly, but I cherish the days when they do.  When learners are in that flow state, they get to experience one of the greatest joys of writing.

That is when the magic begins.

An Exercise in Gratitude

Some days are difficult.  Today was one of those days.  To pull myself out of the negativity that surrounds me, I am going to reflect on the things that happened today for which I am grateful.

  1. Bella’s daily hugs-Everyday she blesses me with a hug as she enters my room and a hug as she exits my room.
  2. Engaged, happy students-Today my learners worked on using the Chrome Music Lab to create songs and add them to their blogs.  They were completely immersed in the experience!
  3. A laugh with my neighbors-Believe it or not, the building next door to me is my dentist’s office, and he and his staff are the best neighbors.  I had a routine appointment after school.  We talked, laughed, and caught up.
  4. Giving good news-I was able to share with a teacher of record that her student is doing great.  In fact, his jolly nature made lots of people feel joyful today!
  5. Chatting with friends-I was able to speak with two primary teachers today before school.  They are friends, as well as prayer warriors, and I am grateful to chat briefly with both of them.  I also chatted for a very brief moment after school with a dear long-time colleague and friend.
  6. Fresh air and sunshine-I was able to enjoy the sunshine on my face at recess.
  7. Jeans week-I am wearing jeans to work all week to help the fundraising efforts for Dollars for Scholars.
  8. Dinner-My husband cooked a delicious dinner on this busy evening.  I am indeed blessed.
  9. Teach Write-Tuesday evenings with the most awesome writing group ever…priceless!

My positive experiences today definitely outweigh the negative.  For that, I am grateful.

A Magical Experience

monicore / Pixabay

There is something special, almost magical, when someone takes the time to read your work and leave a specific comment.  I have witnessed this magic every time my learners log on to their blog pages and see that other students or teachers have made positive comments that speak to the posts’ content or the writing.  The scenario looks a little something like this:

“Mrs. V.! Look.  Hurry!”

“What is it?” I ask excitedly.

“A student (or teacher) from Barcelona, Spain (or any number of other places) left a comment on my blog post!  You have to look at it!”

“I’d love to!”  I excitedly read the comment and ask, “What do you think about that? What do you think you will write in reply?”

Then I listen as the students tell me what they think are appropriate comments.  Afterwards, they scurry back to where they are working and get to the task of writing replies.   They are so careful with their own comments and replies as they revise and edit to ensure they are writing clearly and making as few mistakes as possible.  It is quite magical to watch, really, and it affirms my belief in having authentic audiences outside of the classroom.

I appreciate opportunities, such as the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge, that provide these rich experiences.  My students are immersed in the magical world of writing, and I know the memories of these experiences will last a lifetime.

The Student Blogging Challenge

Student Blogging Challenge Badge Participants 2019

My students have been blogging since 2011, but blogging became more relevant for all of them when they started completing the Edublog’s Student Blogging Challenge.  Before the challenge, my students posted comments on one another’s blogs, parents sometimes visited and commented, and occasionally an Edublogs teacher from around the world would leave a comment.  There wasn’t enough interaction to keep them interested, and after awhile, the blogging would get stale.

For the past two years, though, my learners have participated in the blogging challenge offered by Edublogs.  This has been just what my kiddos needed to experience fully the value of blogging.  Here are some of the benefits:

  • Each week of the challenge focuses on an aspect of blogging, such as creating pages, learning to add pictures and other media, writing great comments, etc.  My students are learning the ins and outs of blogging.
  • They are receiving and replying to comments from teachers and students around the world.  The excitement they feel when they open their blog page and see comments from people all over the world (Ireland, Australia, Austria, etc.) is contagious. Every person in the class celebrates and shares their comments.
  • They are visiting and commenting on the blog posts of students from around the world.  The need for self-editing and revising becomes more apparent to them!
  • It’s just plain fun!  My students cannot wait to log on to their blog pages each day!

It’s authentic, fun, and there’s nearly instant feedback.  I highly recommend this blogging challenge to any teachers wishing to start a blogging habit with students!

 

Third Graders, Chromebooks, and New Blogs…Oh My!

What was I thinking?

Today I attempted to introduce blogging to third graders on Chromebooks that they are just really learning to use.  Students in grades 3 and up are required to have their own blogs in my school. As the writing teacher in my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade team, it is my responsibility to meet this requirement.  This means that I get to undertake this monumental task with the youngest learners in my charge.

Today’s session looked something like this:

Me: Okay.  Log into your Chromebooks and open Google Chrome. (Hands immediately go up.)

S1: My screen is frozen.

S2: I don’t have a password.

Me: Give your screen a second. It’s the same password you always use to log on to the Chromebook.

S2: Okay. I got it.

A chorus of voices begins to rise: What do we do next? What do we do next?

S1: My screen is still frozen.

Me: Try another Chromebook.  Everyone else, put your cursor into your address bar and type in our class blog address.  (I demonstrate using the white board and projector.)  Be sure to spell it correctly.  Once you are there, find your blog link on the left side of the page. (I am still modeling this.) Log in to your blog using your Google log in information. (What seems like a million hands shoot up.  I spend the next 15 minutes going from student to student to make sure they are spelling everything correctly, etc.)

S1: I am logged in!  Now what do I do?

Me: Ask your neighbor.  (Neighbor gladly helps.)

S3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8: I can’t find my blog.  Where’s my blog?

Me: I put all of you in.  You must be there.  Let’s look again…Nope.  Hmmm…Class, those of you who are in, please bookmark your page and get your writing notebook.  You may free write for a moment…(or two or three…)

I spend the next 10 minutes frantically recreating blogs for the six whose blogs are missing.

Finally, we are all at the same point.  I reconvene the entire group and decide to slow the process even more to one excruciatingly slow step at a time.  Eventually, every student is on his/her blog and writing his/her first blog post.  I sink into a chair, slowly let out my breath, and look at the clock.

Me: Oh my goodness!  It’s time to go!  (Quickly demonstrate how to save a draft.) Quick, quick.  We’ll finish tomorrow.

Again, what WAS I thinking???

 

 

 

 

TeachWritetober 2019: My Goals

Taken from https://sweetwritinglife.blogspot.com

 

TeachWritetober…what a cool name, right?  I am excited to commit to something that I believe I can manage to complete despite the chaotic busyness of my teaching and personal lives.  For the next 31 days, I am going to work toward these goals:

  • Journal every day…This includes anytime pages and writing in a food journal that I am keeping.  I also keep a daily gratitude list in my Daylio app.  Lately, my gratitude writing has consisted of single sentences.  I would like to get back to writing more in depth entries.
  • I would like to write and post a slice of life blog post at least two Tuesdays this month.  This post will count as one.  Perhaps my goal for the next slice will be to post an update about my daily writing progress this month.
  • I would also like to get back to the novel writing work I was doing this summer.  This work, inspired by the book Story Genius and the Teach Write Focus on Fiction workshop I took this summer, was put on the back burner when school started.  I would like to at least work through the next chapter’s exercises in the Story Genius book.

So, those are my goals for TeachWritetober19.  Have you signed up?  What are your goals?

A Reflection

Nietjuh / Pixabay

This year begins my 26th year of teaching.  My school has been in session now for nearly four weeks.  My goodness! We are almost to midterm already.  As I reflect on this school year and my other twenty-five school year beginnings, I realize that despite the frustrations and realities of the teaching world, I deep down passionately love what I do.  I can’t imagine my life without teaching.

So, what do I love about it?

  • I know and love the people of the community in which I teach.  I have reached the point of having taught parents and their children.  There is something special about that.  I cherish the relationships I have developed with families over the years.
  • My students teach me so much about learning and growing and resilience.
  • I love helping my learners realize and grow their potential.  I truly believe that they will change the world and make it better.
  • Teaching never gets stale.  It evolves from year to year as I learn new things.  I enjoy self-directed professional development.
  • I can share my passion for writing with my students and watch them with wonder as they discover their writing voices.

I do truly love what I do.  Admittedly, there are great days and not so great days, but overall, teaching is a positive and rewarding experience.  I know this is where I am meant to be.

Improving My Craft, Part One

Along with many teachers, I spend my summers soaking up learning like I soak up the sun.  There are many things from my reading and writing experiences this summer that I will implement in my classroom this year.  Modeling how I approach fiction writing is one of them.  Instead of considering the plot first, my learners and I will explore developing main characters, their backstories, and their problems first.  From this viewpoint, my learners will have a focus for developing the plots of their stories.

This idea comes from Story Genius by Lisa Cron.  I am reading this book for the Focus on Fiction workshop I am taking through Teach Write.  In her book, she applies research from brain science to writing fiction.  I have not yet finished the book, as I am taking my time to work through the exercises and truly grasp what the author is saying.  So far, the story I am writing is more purposeful and my characters are more realistic than in other fiction pieces I have written.  Also, there seems to be more ease in moving the story forward.  I am a long way from having a complete first draft, but the bits and pieces I have created so far thrill me and motivate me to continue.

I am excited to see what my learners come up with as they approach their stories from this perspective.  This fall will be an exciting time in my classroom!

Finishing May Strong

Steaming coffee mug in hand, I pause to greet the day as it begins to greet me with its lovely pinks and shades of light and dark.  I stop for a moment-just a moment-to notice the calm and quiet of a still slumbering neighborhood and acknowledge the promise of this new day.  I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.  I lift my mug and shut my eyes to fully savor the aroma and taste of the coffee and the way this peaceful moment feels.  I take one more deep inhale and slow exhale.  I offer a little word of gratitude for this moment of quiet and centering before the chaos of the school day begins.

May and December are the toughest months for me.  These months are so chaotically busy.  I feel whipped this way and that with no break in between.  By the time each month comes to an end, I am utterly exhausted and often have an upper respiratory infection or other illness.

So I have been doing what I can to build up my defenses to finish this May strong and positive.

  • I seek and savor small moments of quiet, solitude, and beauty.
  • I try to be mindful to eat more plants and less salty or sugary junk, although when stressed this is difficult.
  • I look for ways to get a few extra steps in each day.  It helps.
  • I keep a gratitude journal.
  • I strive to make time for things that matter most, like family and writing.
  • Finally, I tell myself, “This, too, shall pass.”

It’s May, and I want to finish the school year strong.  With some extra attention to self-care, I think I can.

 

 

 

 

The Power of a Mentor Sentence

A fourth grader crafted this amazing lead sentence after studying the mentor text Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks.

There is tremendous power in mentor sentences to influence writing and help students see authentic purposes for learning grammar and mechanics.  Jeff Anderson’s work on teaching writing and grammar through mentor texts shapes the way I use mentor sentences.  

Each week I introduce a sentence selected from a picture book or a student.  When choosing a mentor sentence, I look for sentences that demonstrate a focus skill (e.g. comma usage), author’s craft (figurative language, etc.), and/or model a particular writing structure.  In the sentence above, we were learning about introductory clauses.

My learners do all of their weekly work in their grammar notebooks.

My learners study the sentence for different purposes throughout the week.

Day 1: We identify the strong points of the sentence.  See what they noticed in Aven’s sentence:

  •  Introductory phrases can change the fluency of the text.  The expression is different than if the sentence read, “Dog awoke in the glistening light of the morning sun.”
  • Glistening is an adjective that not only describes but also helps with fluency.
  • Morning tells us the time and that the glistening is likely dew.
  • The introductory phrase contains two prepositional phrases that help set the scene.
  • The independent clause is only two words.  
  • “Awoke” sounds better for this sentence than “woke up.”

Day 2: The students work together to label the parts of speech, type of sentence, and subject and predicate.  We discuss how knowledge of the parts of speech, etc. helps an author write with clarity.  This activity takes the most time. We typically spend 10-15 minutes per day on mentor sentence work, but on this day, we spend closer to 20-25 minutes.

Day 3: My learners look for ways to revise the original sentence by deleting/adding/changing adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and/or swapping out verbs.  This is a great place to discuss simplicity, changes in meaning, etc. 

Day 4: This is their favorite day! They imitate the structure of the sentence to create and share their own sentences.  This also provides me with an informal way to assess their understanding of the week’s concepts.  

 

 

I notice several benefits from teaching grammar, mechanics, and writing in this interconnected way.

  1. The students can explain how grammar and mechanics apply to writing.  They no longer see them as isolated subjects.
  2. They have much better retention of the material.
  3. Their writing and confidence as writers improve as they apply what they are learning to their own writing.

Finally, there is the joy on their faces when I select a student’s sentence for the weekly mentor sentence. By choosing their sentences, I send the message that their writing is worthy and a model for others. A model sentence can come from any writer in your class. Imagine the confidence boost you can give to your reluctant writers when you select one of their sentences as a model text.

Mentor sentences take a brief amount of time to implement each day, yet their impact as a powerful and authentic learning tool is deep and lasting.  I can’t imagine teaching writing and grammar any other way.

When they imitate, they have a lot of fun. This is okay. I want them to experience the joy of writing and making meaning.