Sunday, December 08, 2013

Narrative Writing Unit 2013-2014

Last year we turned our narratives into multimedia
compositions as outlined on in this post.
I have written a lot about the teaching of writing in the past few years. It is a primary focus for fourth graders in Massachusetts as well as children throughout the country as we implement the Common Core.

Last year we prepared students carefully for the typical personal narrative prompt that the State of Massachusetts had given to fourth graders for multiple years. Our preparation took a dramatic turn on the morning of the test because the young children, many who are still at a very literal stage of thinking and understanding, were stunned when they read the prompt. I knew that because they looked at me wide-eyed from their desks as I sat at the proctor table unable to help. I could hear quiet exclamations such as, "I haven't done that? Can I make it up?  How do I do this?" Later during the test, the few that really embraced the task, begged me, "Can't I read it to you? You'll love it?" wanting to share their imaginative stories, but I had to reply, "Sorry I'm not allowed to read any of your stories, but I'm sure you did a good job."

Now that the prompt has been published for all to see, we know why students were wide-eyed and speaking with worried whisper. The prompt was not asking for a personal narrative, but a fictional narrative instead. We didn't make the time to prepare students for that possibility though the possibility was clearly stated in the standards. I wonder why Massachusetts leaders decided to take that turn in the road without any direct heads-up to teachers who had worked for years on the personal narrative genre. I know there's many good reasons for fostering fictional narrative writing so I'm not opposed. I also noticed that there was an ongoing study about creativity with a local University so I wonder if that had something to do with it.

Whatever the reason, we heeded the message, and this year we're spending multiple hours nurturing students' writing skills in all of the mandated genre areas including reading response across genre, informational, persuasive, and narrative (both fictional and personal). I've told students that the goals for fourth graders are life-long learning goals, so we'll do our best this year to get a strong start, but that doesn't mean we'll end the year proficient in all of these areas since good writing is a life-long challenge, one that writers continually develop as they read and write regularly.

With this in mind, we started the year with a terrific collaborative approach to persuasive writing, and tomorrow we'll begin our revised approach to the narrative unit with a two-day workshop led by Leslie Laud. Leslie has been working with our system for a few years now, and over time I have come to regard her work with respect. She essentially makes the time to develop, organize, present, and promote research-based practice in teaching trainings to move students' learning forward with multiple approaches including the powerful SRSD approach.  I've grown to appreciate Leslie's work because she respects teachers' voice and our need to respond to individual students as John Hattie supports in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers. Leslie and our ELA Director, Karyn Saxon, craft wonderful collaborative learning endeavors for educators which in turn impact our students in engaging, productive ways. So I know I'll learn a lot tomorrow.

Tomorrow's workshop will lay the foundation for the six-week narrative unit. To prep, I gathered my narrative work and efforts into one document. Tonight, I'll also take another look at Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, to prepare myself to learn with a 21st century mindset, one that values story in important ways. Then tomorrow as I learn from Leslie and Karyn as well as the multiple educators from a variety of grades, schools, and districts, I'll begin to chart the unit activities with a beginning to end focus. I'll add to the chart as we go along, and then place all the chart information into a personal narrative website to use as a guide for parents, students, colleagues and myself. Then when the teaching starts in earnest in January, I'll follow the schedule we've created, revise according to students' needs, and work to help each child learn to write well crafted narratives with voice, organization, and engagement.

I truly enjoy the planning for such a terrific unit, and similar to travel, I look forward to the surprises, professional learning, and challenges ahead. I love to see the excitement in children's eyes as they learn with engagement, just right challenge, creativity, and growth. In the meantime, if you have ideas, links, or information to share, please do. The fact that we can collaborate online and off to grow our practice for the benefit of student learning is awesome. Hence I look forward to your wonderful ideas.