What a coincidence. Woke up this morning way earlier than necessary with an early thought to write. First time this has happened. The writing that’s coming is about writing! Maybe this is what happens with lack of sleep or better yet – that Rafe Esquith’s book, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, has me thinking again.
Writing Rules. Writing rules!
There’s so much I agree with in the writing chapter and many ways to give writing and Grammar some extra needed attention for students. Beginning a day with a grammar exercise gets the brain moving, the flow of head to hand, and starts the day without a moment to spare, a purpose in place for the first minutes. Grammar is a thing you just can’t avoid in life, so… learn it, dig in daily, and use it. It’s everywhere.
I especially like his “Dreaded Rewrite” process. All students are expected to have a 90% on grammar assignments. If not, the “dreaded rewrite” happens which simply means keep at it until you have it. I can just hear the students playing up the “dreaded rewrite” with dramatically emphasized tones and perhaps a hand opened, begging for mercy! Lighten the mood a bit, maintaining purpose understood, no shortcuts allowed. Students who have earned their 90 or higher then help those who haven’t yet.
Peer teaching is wonderful. It boosts the student teacher, it encourages the classmate, it builds relationships. I keep my eyes open for ways to use every student as peer teacher. I don’t want to develop the “smart group” in the classroom as a hierarchy with those students that need more frequent help. I’ll seek and find where the strengths are for each student. I grabbed an opportunity for a student to teach math as he was learning amazing techniques for a math competition. I grabbed an opportunity when 2nd graders were trying Aurasma. Some of mine that caught on so quickly became some of their teachers. And when our art teacher had to leave partway through the year, I taught a few art classes which weren’t nearly as amazing as hers. Needed something. I knew I had art talent among me – perfect! A handful of students took the opportunity to teach their specialty to the class. It was wonderful. Win (student teacher), win (learners), win (me out-of-the-way!) situation!
In order to get it right, you’ve got to write. Same as anything. Training, practice, rehearsal, drills, all bring the consistent attention for improvement in anything. Same for writing.
Rafe suggests assigning a weekly write from Friday to the next Thursday. Love this plan. He points out that he has more time throughout a weekend to read and comment on his students’ work.
The second part I love of this weekly writing is that on Monday morning, students are given a few classmates’ essays to read (names removed). It would be made clear that the point is to have writing in front of them and to read and consider the comments written. Everyone is reading everyone’s. I could also see how to change this up – give them only one paragraph and have them continue the writing, have students do the proofing and actually have that as a grade for themselves, or underline certain sentences for them to develop further. They could also have a “brag about” moment and share a best thing of their classmate’s writing.
Become an Author
All of our writing which leads to more and improved writing throughout the year, culminates in 4th grade with students becoming an author. Our students are Book Buddies with Kindergarten. Each student is paired with another for the school year. Our weekly time together builds a special relationship through reading, helping reinforce or teach Kinder skills, art projects, attending Book Fair together, etc. In the spring, the 4th graders fill out a questionnaire with their Book Buddy. These ideas are the springboard for their story writing. The K and 4th grader are main characters with an emphasis that the K student gets the spotlight. Other than that, the project becomes their own.
Rafe’s names his the Young Authors Project. They work on their books for the whole year and write 30-45 minutes two or three afternoons a week. He holds writing conferences with 5-6 students during that time.
Writing takes time! It takes time for ideas, for rough drafts, for many changes and editing, for development in uses of grammar, and for discussing and sharing along the way to the finished product. He says, “It’s a project after all, not an assignment….Writing these books might be the only thing the children get to do with complete control – from the characters to the language to the plot twists.”
For a student to have a project well-done goes a long way. They feel proud of their efforts, they owned it, stuck with it and created a project worth giving away. It’s a blood, sweat, and tears kind of success!
I know for a fact that these projects are a keepsake. You know you’ve got a good thing going when you see and hear stories years after of the Book Buddy books. Writing is special. It’s a lasting gift of you on paper and a memory which goes beyond the printed word.