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.

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!

 

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?

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!

Revision: A Little Like Pulling off the Band-Aid

A recent teacher conference with a 4th grade author in my classroom:

Me: (after reading through her literary essay) C____, how do you feel about your essay?

C: It is confusing.  My thoughts seem to be all over the place.

Me: Okay.  What is your main message?

C: The little firefly had friends all along. He didn’t give up, and he finally found them.

Me: Okay.  Where would be the best place to introduce your opinion?

C: In the beginning?

Me: That sounds good.  Do you think we could move some things around?

C: (hesitantly) Okay…

The best part of her essay begins in the middle, so I highlight the top half and press “cut.”

C: (concerned gasp) What did you do?  Where did it go?

Me: Don’t panic.  Let’s paste this part at the bottom and move the rest up.   Remember, revision isn’t about checking capitals and punctuation.

C: That’s editing.

Me: Yes.  Revising means moving things, adding things, or deleting things until your message is focused and clear.

C: Yes, but it feels like pulling off a band-aid.

Me: (chuckling) Yes, I suppose it does.  Good simile, C.

She works through what to keep, where to put it, and what to completely remove.  C finishes and is visibly pleased with her work. 

C: This is so much better because everything was all over the place and wasn’t all relating to the first thing I said.  Thanks, Mrs. V., for pulling off the band-aid.  It is much better.  I like it!

Me: You are welcome, C.  I like it, too.

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.

With a Grateful Heart #SOL19

“Should I really do this?” I questioned as I pasted the link to my first ever slice into the comments of the Day 1 Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Unknown territory, I was nervous about committing to a month of daily slicing.  Thanks to my Teach Write friends in our amazing Wednesday night writing group, though, I was encouraged to try.  So I did.

Now, thirty-one days later, I am so glad that I went through with it.  I have sliced every single day and enjoyed reading and commenting on other slices.  I have learned so much about writing from your slices and comments, and I have discovered new things about myself as a writer.  It is one thing to write daily, but it is quite another thing to commit to sharing my writing publicly every day.  This experience has helped me grow in ways I did not expect.  I am grateful.

So, thank you for reading and offering your comments, encouragement, and support.  Thanks, also, to all of the people at the Two Writing Teachers for hosting such a challenge.  I appreciate all of you and look forward to reading, writing, and learning beside you on Tuesdays.

Silence #SOL19

As my Spring Break comes to a close, I pay tribute to those instances of quiet and solitude I’ve enjoyed this week.  Those magical, fleeting moments ground me, restore peace, encourage joy, and help me remember my humanity.

 

Silence

I seek it daily

so elusive, my soul’s treasure.

When received, a healing balm.

 

As stolen moments

or gifted bliss,

daily stillness is needed, valued.

 

Too much crushes me;

too little and I thirst.

When balanced, I thrive.

 

It’s my Divine connection

where truth and reality dwell.

A centering force, a refuge.

Silence

 

2019 Tracy Vogelgesang

The Birthing #SOL19

My world slumbers in the inky darkness of the predawn sky.

I sit in my pj’s, notebook open, steaming mug of coffee at my side,

waiting…waiting for the words to come during this treasured, magical time.

 

One poem penned-it’s crap.  I know it.

Yet I don’t give up.

 

The words-what words exactly, I’m not sure-

but some words are struggling to free themselves and be birthed.

A new thought, a new image, a new creation,

something which didn’t exist before.

 

The struggle is real, but the effort is worth it.

The words begin to make their way onto the page-

written, created, taking shape.

 

My world awakens in the blue, purple, pinkish-orange of the sunrise sky.

I sit in my pj’s, notebook closed, empty mug at my side.

The words arrived.  I welcome them and go on about my day.

 

2019 Tracy Vogelgesang