Sunday, 24 February 2013

Upcoming Residency with Regie Routman

I can’t believe it! In two days, Regie Routman will be in my classroom for a weeklong residency at Strathmillan School! I am so very excited to be learning with her. Talk about meaningful professional development! I have all of her books and I am so fortunate to have her in my room to push my thinking and move me forward.

In her book, Writing Essentials, Regie discusses twelve concepts necessary for a writer’s skill set:
·      Write for a specific reader and a meaningful purpose.
·      Determine an appropriate topic.
·      Present ideas clearly with logical, well-organized flow.
·      Elaborate on ideas.
·      Embrace language.
·      Create engaging leads.
·      Compose satisfying endings.
·      Craft authentic voice.
·      Reread, rethink, and revise while composing.
·      Apply correct conventions and form.
·      Read widely and deeply – and with a writer’s perspective.
·      Take responsibility for producing effective writing.

From day one, we have been focusing on the question – “What do good writers do?” We’ve been reading quality literature and discussing how authors use certain techniques to make their writing appealing to readers. We’ve charted this information, as anchor charts for the classroom, but I also like students to keep track of ideas in their writers’ notebooks.

One of our school goals focuses on revision and editing. We’ve decided as a class that revision is making your story more appealing for a reader. This is a task that is time consuming and requires a great deal of thinking. You can move ideas around, substitute words, add new thoughts, etc. Editing is about using correct punctuation, grammar and spelling. Students posted their initial thoughts using Padlet earlier on this school year.

In Regie’s most recent book, Literacy and Learning Lessons from a Longtime Teacher, she states that students need to:

“Reread and notice what authors do, including student authors. Notice leads, description, structure, organization, character development, clarity of information, transitions, and much more. Encourage students to apply what authors do as they write.” (p. 27)

I also want my students to take responsibility for their revisions. In the past I have used checklists, but it’s far too easy for a student to simply check off a box and say they did it – without taking the necessary time to ensure something is done well. I wanted students to be able to prove it. I decided to give students a checklist featuring five major areas that have been our focus. They had to prove they had revised their work by stating specific examples from their writing. Next, they had a peer review their revisions. This is also an excellent assessment (see below).

I plan to post my learning experience with Regie Routman. Stay tuned and wish me luck!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Critical Literacy: Reading and Writing Connections

We continue to discuss and analyze a variety of texts as a whole class, in small groups and individually. I want students to read a text using the "eyes of a reader" - making inferences, making connections or trying to understand a character's actions. I want students to be active readers who share how a text made them feel or what it made them think. I also want them to read stories using the "eyes of a writer"- noticing word choice, thinking about how the writer used details to help paint a picture for the reader, etc. Both of these practices complement each other and go hand in hand. 

Currently, I am using a fantastic book as a read aloud called Wonder by R.J. Palacio. As one of my students has said, "It's the type of book that punches you in the gut." The writing is excellent and students can easily relate and empathize with the main character of this novel. I decided to choose some of the story passages that we already had discussed as a whole class and have pairs of students study them. I purposefully selected passages that would initiate conversation and tug at their hearts. Students worked together to discuss their snippet from two perspectives - as a reader (what were they thinking) and as a writer (what did the author do to make this writing excellent). 

Analyzing pieces of "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio.
Next, I wanted students to use the same process with a different text. I selected the short story, The Party by Pam Munoz Ryan.  This is one of my favourite stories to share with intermediate students. It's about a girl who is left out. She learns from the "flittering of small white envelopes being stuffed into backpacks" that she was not invited to a party. We had read this story earlier on in the year. This time, I decided to give a little section of the story to a pair a students. They analyzed their snippet, charted their thinking and presented their findings with the class. Here are two examples below:

Working through this process using several texts has many benefits. I have noticed such a difference in the quality of discussion in my classroom. Students are better equipped to share their personal opinions during book clubs. Student writing has also improved. Students are beginning to apply what "real authors do" to their own work. 

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