Today was one of those great days – where so much learning happens that you’re not sure how you’ve gotten them there. I owe this type of day to listening – listening to my students. Since the end of last school year, I have been exploring what personalized (student centered) learning means in my classroom. In the end, what it means to me is listening to my students.
This week, we have been talking about fall. The season of fall led to discussion of other seasons. We read A Tree for All Seasons at the beginning of the week.
The book follows a maple tree through all seasons of the year. Winter captured their attention immediately. Hands flew up in the air – syrup comes from trees? The discussion took another direction, syrup. Their scientific minds were churning, asking questions and thinking about how it all could work. Our inquiry continued today with an experiment, but that will be another post…
In the theme of following the turns my students take on our path to learning, the writing mini-lesson for today was completely based on their questions. Often, when teaching my kinders writing concepts, I can get caught up in the process. When really, deep down, all I want them to do is consider themselves writers. It was how I was taught to teach writers. Yes, I was taught the writing process and writing workshop. But the main point driven home to me by JoBeth Allen (near and dear) was that our stduents must see themselves as writers. We are all writers – whether we like to write or not. We do it every day. It is a part of our everyday life. Whether we are texting, tweeting, blogging, emailing, journaling, listing, or writing stories – we are writing. We. are. writers. Even as I know these things, I have “off” days. Days when I ask myself – what would JoBeth do? What would Katie Wood Ray do? What would Lucy Calkins do?
My literacy class reminded me with a quote from Katie Wood Ray (jumbled and shortened – but this is the jist): “Focus on your writers, rather than a finished piece. The process is not something you do, it is something you use. Writing is an amazing, powerful tool to rock the world. What are you going to do with it?”
Wednesday, I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This book is a good reminder that we all have bad days – that was my point for reading it.
However, my kids noticed something about the illustrations that shocked them. “Why do the pictures not have colors?” Of all my years of reading this book, no child has ever asked me that. I admitted I didn’t know. We have been tweeting everyday and one student suggested we tweet and ask. Judith Viorst is not listed on twitter, but we hashtagged it to see what would happen. This one question sparked a mini-lesson in my mind. We would connect reading and writing (yet again).
So today, I brought good ole Alexander back out and asked what we remembered about the story. The students gave great summaries. Then, I opened the book and showed the pictures. “Oh yeah, there are no colors!” We discussed why the author may have done that. We discussed why we didn’t like it. I then held up two photocopies of a page from the book – one untouched and the other I colored.
“Which version do you like better?” All said the one with colors. The reasons varied from “It’s prettier” to “I know what he looks like”. We then explored another Judith Viorst book. We wondered if all of her books were like this.
Super, Completely and Totally the Messiest has a different illustrator. However, the illustrations are half color/half black and white. We noted that the important parts of the pictures (the parts that matched the words) were color and the rest (background) were black and white.
All this student led exploring brought us to the mini-lesson for the day. Details. Using details in our writing in kindergarten most often starts with our picture. I told the students I wanted to write about a day I went to Battery Park with my family. While we were looking at the water, we saw dolphins. I started drawing. I drew the fence that blocks the sidewalk from the water and stopped. I asked if I included everything I told them in my picture (No). I added water and dolphins, then asked again (No). I continued with this process until I completed my picture. The details of pictures became very important. We couldn’t see anyone’s eyes because everyone was looking at the water. My nieces are seven and three so they were smaller, etc.
After checking my pictures for all details, we began to craft my sentences. First I wrote, “My family went to Battery Park”. I said I was finished. Most students argued that point by reminding me about the dolphins. I then modeled adding a second sentence by writing, “We saw dolphins”.
I know it seems long – but honestly, the entire mini-lesson took no more than a mini-lesson should (15-20 minutes).
From this point, the students went into center rotations ready for writing groups. Using the guided writing method, my assistant and I are able to conference with children everyday. Today was no different – “What do you want to write about?” was the question of the day. Our more confident writers sat down and immediately started writing first.
Our more self-conscious writers, started with their picture just as I did.
Even writers with developing motor skills found success today.
Today was one of those days – a day you love your job, you love being a teacher. The only difference is, I wasn’t really the “teacher” in the traditional sense. They were in control of their learning – and that makes all the difference.