Jedi Writing

Sunday, June 12, 2016

     I have been a bit behind in my blogging this month, but am getting back into the writing swing of things with a link up to DigiLit Sunday.  Margaret Simon posted here about using a Writing Notebook to share our lives, and it reminded me to write a post about our Jedi Writing experiment with +Lori Horne's 4th graders this year!

     Our school has been doing Writing Workshop for 3 years now, and we are working out the flaws a little more each year.  Workshop has helped us focus on genre of writing (namely expository, narrative, and opinion) but I have also seen a slide in kids just writing what matters to them no matter the genre.  I'm not talking about having a daily prompt, but just an independent application of what we have taught them in Workshop on their own timeline with their own ideas.  I had just seen Ralph Fletcher at a conference, and the idea of informal writing was just swimming in my head.  I had talked to him after his presentation, and his interest in the topic struck a chord with me. 

   I talked with Lori Horne and we started our "training."   Mrs. Horne's students know more about Star Wars than I thought humanly possible.  Jedi Writing Training was born.  First thing we did was made an anchor chart of all the types of writing they had learned so far this year.  We put small moments, narrative fiction, essays, and informational writing up first.  I then did a mini-lesson on how to make a list, and added that to the chart.  We handed them each a notebook, and said, "Go off and write any genre on that list about a topic you choose.  It just has to matter to YOU." 


    I came in every day after lunch for about 30 minutes at first, giving them a little mini lesson with either a new type of writing, or a mentor text to pull craft moves out of.  Every day, though, the choice was up to them to use those lessons, or to write from any genre on our growing list of writing styles about anything that mattered to them.  They wrote in their notebooks for about 10 minutes, and then they assessed themselves for Ideas and Effort.  They simply took a minute and wrote a capital I and E with a number at the top of their writing, while I walked around and snapped 2 pictures of writing to share.  We would then display it on the Apple TV, identify the genre they chose to write, and give them feedback.  If they wrote in a genre that wasn't on our chart, we added it.  

     Can I just say that this became my favorite part of the day?

     From a teacher's standpoint, I was really impressed that the kids started to notice the different genres, and started to use them purposely.  Some kids chose to use the same genres to write over and over again, but some had a variety of writing in their notebooks.  They also started to pick up craft moves from books we shared, and from EACH OTHER.  By sharing student samples everyday and giving feedback, I started to see the kids using each other's writing as inspiration.   

    From a human standpoint, I started to learn more about what matters to the kids as people.  Through their writing, it was clear that some kids struggle with things in life, whether at home or in school.  I started to see the things that interest them, and it connected me to them better as a teacher.  One thing about humans in general is wanting to feel success.  I saw real pride and success in their eyes when sharing with their classmates.  There were many days when I had to leave to go to my next class and kids were following me out to read their writing to me.  I have spent my whole career asking kids to read their own writing back to themselves, and here they were following me out the door to read it.  We ended up creating a KidBlog page to allow them to have a wider audience in the class.

     Was it the power of the Jedi?  There is something about creating a shared theme that is relevant to them.  But, the truth is, despite a few random mini lessons and some fun Star Wars t-shirt days arranged by Mrs. Horne, they didn't actually write about Star Wars.  Well, perhaps a few did.  I mean, we did tell them to write about what matters to them.  And, they did.  

fictional stories
poems of different varieties
stories inspired by authors
comic strips
personal narratives
scientific musings
hybrid texts


     That last one was written about a black and white photo of a family taken in 1906.  It was my own ancestors from Ireland, so Spy Family was a personal favorite of mine.

     Another favorite thing to do was to read their blogs.  Once I wasn't able to go in to their class every day, their blogs gave me a constant window into their writing lives.  Most of their posts on the blogs were geared towards a classmate audience, but then you'd find poems like this.  Inspired.

     We gave them 10 minutes a day to practice writing in various genres about things that matter to them.  We didn't correct their spelling, or tell them that they had to choose something other than Batman to write about.  We let them have 10 minutes.  Sure, there were spelling mistakes and unfinished stories.  Punctuation was missing for sure.  We have other times in our day to fix those things.  But, the FORCE was with them for those 10 minutes.  They considered themselves writers.   

      Isn't that what matters?



Thursday, June 2, 2016

     May was #ThankoRama month in honor of the release of The Thank You Book by Mo Willems.  On this eve of the last day of school for my own children, I decided to write a #thankorama post thanking their school for the month of May! It was a great month of parent involvement and family events to celebrate the year.

     It started with the Kindergarten teachers hosting a Mom's Spa Night event.  My daughter painted my nails, made me a necklace, did my hair, and treated me to dinner.  Thanks for treating me so well!


     Then, the PTO sponsored a DEAR event.  It started with a breakfast for families before school started, and we then got to go into the classrooms for the 1st half hour of the day to read with our kids.  This is where I was able to read The Thank You Book for the first time!  My pre-order had not yet arrived, but my son's first grade teacher had already gotten her copy.  It made my day to read the book for the first time with 3 first graders.  It made the final book in the series even more special, yet bittersweet.  I'm still so sad Piggie and Gerald are retired.

     My sadness was eased slightly, though, by the new Molly Idle book that my children got autographed during an assembly that day.  Flora and the Peacocks is just beautiful!

     The PTO and my son's teacher then organized a Fun Run, with a 3/4 mile run, and a 5K.  My whole family signed up and got matching shirts and bib numbers.  My daughter and I jogged the 3/4 mile while my son ran it, and my husband ran the 5K.  My husband and son earned matching medals for coming in 1st in their age groups!  It was such a well organized family event.

     The kindergarten team then had us in for a picnic and summer concert for their kindergarten farewell.  They sang some great songs thanks to their music teacher, with my favorite being the Grease mash-up.  We then went outside and had a picnic lunch with our families, with both her grandparents and a few of my nieces and nephews included.  The kids ran around in the sprinkler, and my daughter felt very special on her big day.

     The last event was the 1st grade field trip to the zoo, where we walked around exploring animals and looked for animals from all the continents.  It was great to be included as a chaperone.  It ended up being a beautiful day, despite the chance for storms.

     I am so grateful for all of these experiences.  The truth is, I am a teacher.   I am usually on the planning end of events like these, and I know how much work goes into them.  That makes me appreciate their time so much more.  But, as a parent, I also am so appreciative of them for organizing such events because I get to experience moments like these with my own children.

Thank you staff and PTO of my son and daughter's school.  
I appreciate you.