Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Prompt Writing...hmmmmmm?

I am curious what other's opinions are regarding prompt writing in the early grades? I teach kindergarten and in the past, you know my past programmed "teaching writing" life, I did prompt writing; sometimes as often as once a week. In March I have to do a prompt piece with my students as a requirement. I am trying to wrap my head around the importance...still figuring it out!

Here are some of my questions to get you thinking:

How often do you ask a student to write to a prompt?
Are prompts appropriate...do they have their place of importance in the early grades? What about later elementary grades?
What do you do with them--rubric? How much weight does the rubric grade have in your overall opinion of the student as a writer (report card or other reporting purposes)?
Do you use a rubric with other pieces of writing or a different way of measuring growth?

Any comments for any grade level prompt writing are welcome. I think it is important for me to keep future grades and requirements in mind, while not letting it be the only reason. I keep trying to figure out if a prompt piece is meeting the needs of my writers or a need for someone else. Thanks for your response. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bean Soup and the Writer

I was talking to my mom the other day, telling her about my plans for the weekend. It was going to be a cooking weekend. A vat of bean soup, brown rice and black bean burritos to freeze for my husband's lunches and as many whole wheat blueberry muffins as I could stand to bake for my kids breakfast to last at least a week or two.
Somewhere in the conversation I started to bring up Donald Graves and was asking my mom, who happens to be a former second grade teacher, if she owned any of his books. We talked about how writing was going in my class lately and the struggles I have had figuring it all out. We finished our conversation and went about our day.
About an hour later she called me and said she couldn't stop thinking about my bean soup and how it was just like the little writer's in my classroom. She was right.

You start with dry beans and a ham bone. You soak the beans overnight. You can't rush the absorption of water into the bean unless you apply some heat. I choose to let the process do what the process does. I wait.
I make a ham stock. I throw in the bone, lots of water, some bay leaves, salt and pepper along with the mirepoix--the  carrot, onion, celery base that goes in practically all soups. The essential materials to the process of making a good soup. A good foundation of flavors. Hours pass until the liquid has reduced by at least half if not more. After straining the ingredients through some cheese cloth a beautiful, pure golden liquid is revealed.
Then, and only then does the soup itself really begin to take shape. All those parts, the beans, the bone, the brothy liquid, the mirepoix, they lay the foundation of this soup. The soup can't happen until all those little steps are in place and prepared.
Just like a little writer. Soak, wait, reduce until it is packed full of all the beauty it can muster and then create the next chapter for all those ingredients together as something new.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stages in Writing, The Finale

Below is an example of writing from a student who has made exceptional progress this year and it is my challenge to make sure he makes even more. He and a small group of other classmates have reached this stage of writing. They came to school with limited exposure to writing materials. Much of there beginning writing looked like tornadoes on a page, and sometimes the story to match included a tornado or a big storm. They didn't know how to draw anything else so they went with what was safe, scribbles and drawings that they scribbled over. Using a pencil and crayons was still a newer experience for them and it was my job to fill the gap. A challenge we all face every year. Every year there is a crop of kids who come to school with these limited experiences due to varying circumstances. Some of them soak up everything like a sponge while others take longer to get there.
These students need more opportunities to talk and draw, and I don't mean just during writer's workshop. I need to expose them as much as possible throughout the day. Just last week I found this particular student in the "storytelling corner," the name of my dramatic play center, and he had gone through about 50 sheets of paper with squiggly writing on every page. Though, I must admit, at first I was a bit frustrated, I composed that as quickly as I could to find out what he had written. I also showed him that he could do this same task with a little less paper.  ;)
During math workstations I am encouraging him to draw pictures any time it is appropriate, one example is drawing small shapes to represent quantities from 0-10. This student and others like him need more of our time, which is difficult to manage, and some days this might be impossible. But, as long as they are on our radar and we are doing the best we can, it is sure to pay off.

 You can see how I supported some of his drawing once we got to the third part of his story (the drawings I made on the sticky note side by side with him). His oral language is sophisticated enough to tell a connected story, but his details are limited at this point. He does well when I support him with probing questions.

My bed.
This is how his story began, but he told me he was already in the bed. He wasn't sure what to write next. I asked him what he does before he gets in bed and he began telling this story of going to bed and then sleeping. Now he just needs a story idea that he can really talk about with detail and take some risks with his drawing.

 I am going to bed.
He is using a letter chart to help him form the letters. He recognizes some letter sounds. When I told him to repeat the word "bed" he did and said he heard "/b/" and said "b." Then he could go look for the letter B. I feel it is very important that the child make the sound and tell me what they hear; this fosters his independence. If I just told him the /b/ sound and told him to find "b" I would be forcing him to depend on me for every step of his writing.

I went to sleep.
Me, "Where are you?" Student, "See, that's me under the covers!"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stages in Writing, Part Four

Here are two examples that represent a majority of my class at this point in the year. Almost all students are including titles on their cover, their full name as the author and illustrator, as well as one or two statements. However, the statements and ideas are not always connected. This is an example of not talking enough each day! If I want the details and examples within their stories to improve and connect, I first have to work on their oral language skills. I hope to increase the talking time before each part with these students and hopefully see more detail and story organization. I think as long as there is enough rehearsal time and processing through drawing each day, the depth of their writing will benefit.

Author #1

 Title: Me and My Brother

Me and my brother.

Me and my brother play nerfs.

Author #2

 Title: Things I Like (He and I worked together on this title to somehow tie together all his stories).

I was going to lunch.

I was watching tv.

I was playing my DS.

I was going on vacation with my papa.

This is a map of his papa's neighborhood. This picture was side by side with the above.