Thursday, March 14, 2013

Classroom Writing Program

When I started teaching 27 years ago, writing workshop was just taking shape in my school system.  I really loved that model then and continue to love it today.  Writing workshop, when does well, engages readers in the process with authentic, engaging activity.

Loving writer's workshop doesn't mean that I always do it right or that I never hit roadblocks in the process.  The truth is that one never knows it all when it comes to writing--there's always something to learn.

Now that we're at the point when students are about to take the MA MCAS composition test, I find myself analyzing our class writing efforts this year with an eye to next year.  What will I do the same, and what will I do differently:
  • Craft: I will continue an early year emphasis on writer's craft as children write about their friends, families, interests and experiences.  It's a great way to introduce all the wonderful craft writer's use, and learn about students' too. 
  • Poetry: I like the way that craft matches a poetry unit at the start of the year since the text is short and accessible to all making poetry a good assessment genre as well as you get to know students.  I'd still like to place this at the start of the year.  It's a good time to write personal, "get-to-know" each other prose too. 
  • Digital Stories, Presentations and Poems: I will continue to employ the use of digital media in storytelling and presentation as I believe this work builds voice, fluency, engagement and a sense of audience.
  • Paragraphs: We were able to teach paragraphs as part of our culture unit presentations.  Ideally I'd like to move that teaching up to the start of the year, and make both personal and informational paragraphs an early writing goal.
  • Reading Response: I'd like to match this work more tightly with our writing/reading genre studies and our science and social studies units.  I started the year doing this and then it tapered off (time is always an issue for all the standards).  Next year I'd like to make this a two-lessons a week focus that integrates with our current themes.
  • Personal Narratives: We had a lot of fun with this genre as we wrote and published digital stories--this unit is a keeper.  The timing worked well too as a mid-year project.
  • Personal and Persuasive Essays: This unit was a nice follow-up to personal narratives.  I'd like to move this unit up a few weeks so that it doesn't push up to the testing period so tightly. 
  • Test Prep and Review: There are many fun, light writing exercises you can employ right before the testing period to review craft, organization, voice and genre.  This is a good mini unit to schedule just before the testing period.
  •  Informational Reports and Presentations: We will embark on this unit at the end of the year as we embark on endangered species, U.S. Regions and plate tectonics study.  I'd like to bring more persuasion into this unit, and also offer the chance to create fiction stories based on fact.
As I think about the structure of the writing program, I have the following thoughts.
  • Next year, I'd like to employ a simple, meaningful start of the year writing assessment so that I can identify the students who really need extra support with writing.  I think a letter to the teacher in September is a perfect way to assess writing.
  • I really like the writing folders we bought this year as they served as helpful, easy to locate organization pieces.
  • Early introduction to the writing workshop process, tools and protocols will help to make writing a fluid, engaging part of the day.
  • Digital (Google docs and sites) and hard copy writing notebooks will be introduced and used throughout the year.
  • Weekly word study related to our read aloud and informational content will inform our writing.
  • Read aloud will also inform our writing as we notice the organization, craft and voice wonderful authors use.
  • I will schedule writing periods about 3-4 times a week and try to stick to it since it is such a big goals at fourth grade.
  • I will edit one-to-one with students as much as possible.
  • Students will use mnemonic devices, employ self regulation talk and actions and collaborate regularly.
  • I will also carve out writing niches in my classroom that host materials, posters, books and tools. 
  • I will continue to weave illustration and writing efforts together as when they work in tandem for young children the stories and essays have greater detail, depth and voice. We will use multiple tools for illustration. 
  • I will also continue to use multiple graphic organizers to develop writing fluency and skill. 
  • I will continue to explore SumDog as an engaging tool for practice and skill with regard to writing conventions.  
  • I will have students type most stories as that's the best way to write a story today, and a way that consistently works on students' spelling and grammar skills. 
I've always enjoyed writing, and often say that writing is my sport.  I still have a lot to learn and look forward to continued teaching of writing this year and in the year to come.  If you consider my list, please let me know what I've missed or what you might revise.  This is one area of the curriculum that can profit from shared inquiry.