Thursday, June 27, 2013

Six Traits Book Study Ch. 2

Chapter 2: Blending the Writing Process with the Traits for the Beginning Writer

     Culham begins by giving a brief history of the development of writing instruction in the primary classroom. She also hits again on the assessment of primary writing emphasizing how developmental writing is at this point and you must adjust expectations accordingly. I like that she keeps coming back to this point because I feel we too often try to hold primary students to the same expectations as intermediate or higher students when so much of their learning hinges on where they are in their developmentally.She then aligns the traits with the writing process. Some of the match ups were understandable, but others grouped several traits together. Further attention is then given to each stage of the writing process and the traits that are associated with each.

            I loved that she took the time to discuss each step in the writing process. I completely agree with the anything goes attitude & discouraging editing during drafting. So often new writers think their writing has to perfect right away not realizing that editing is the last step. Worrying about editing in drafting just stops the writing process. You don’t have all your ideas down, so how can you edit? 

The suggestion of sharing your own writing and having the students help you through the writing process focusing on one step at a time is crucial. It really helps students see what they need to do in their own writing. She includes Focus Lessons for Ideas (p.50) and Revision (p.57). She includes questions to ask as the students work on revising, editing, and publishing. I think these would be great on a ring as “cheat cards” to include in a writing center for students that are reading independently or for me when I conference with students. 

     Still, the best tips in the chapter were the ones when she told you what to expect at each level for revising and editing. I usually conference during the revising stage and sometimes I feel as if I’m spoon feeding my below level writers. It is so freeing to know that I don’t have to push revision with the students that score a 2 or below on the Primary Traits Scoring Guide. That I can just help them edit and build ideas. It is refreshing to remember that all students in primary are a work in progress, so even when it comes to editing we don’t have to hit them with everything we got. Instead we teach them to do it themselves by having them work with the skill we are teaching in class right then. That makes so much sense. I did see my students relying too much on my editing and I was frustrated. I’m going to turn it over to them using that simple tip. What tips do you have for helping students become independent editors in primary?


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer is Here!

I have been on a blogging sabbatical while school finished up. Whew! There was so much going on, and I had gotten overwhelmed by it all. Now summer is here and I've had a couple weeks to unwind. Some days out in the sun watching my kiddos play has been great!! I hope everyone else is taking time to relax over the summer break too.You need to recharge your batteries so that you can be ready, set, go for another year.

The other thing I do to recharge is do a little professional reading. I know, I know that doesn't sound relaxing, but I enjoy reading and I enjoy studying especially when I can do it in a relaxed fashion and on my own time. So, this summer some teachers and I are doing a book study on 6+1 Traits of Writing: Primary Grades. Our curriculum coach has told us that she would like us to move in that direction with our writing. I have heard of it being used in the upper grades, but I wasn't familiar with it in primary. I love writing, so I thought what a great summer project. So far, I'm impressed. I like the way Ruth Culham thinks about writing and understands little guys when it comes to developing their skills. I'm getting excited about implementing it in my room next year. I wanted to give you the highlights of Chapter 1 for anyone else that might want to join us in the book study or is curious like I was about this writing strategy.

Chapter 1: Building a Foundation for Writing
            The chapter begins by giving evidence that supports teaching writing in primary. The author points out that by teaching children early it shows that learning to write is a worthwhile activity. If students can say it, they can usually write it she argues. Once the argument has been made for writing instruction in the primary classroom then she presents how six traits can help to make that process easier for both the teacher and the student. According to the information in the chapter, the 6 traits allowha us to: (1) Have a common language, (2) Nurture process learning (process over product), and (3) Use criteria to set the standard. With the six traits we are able to answer, “What is the student doing well?” and “What can the student do better?” so that we create writers who write to express themselves and not just get the assignment done.

            Beginning on p.22 she gives the reader a sample writing from a student and demonstrates how she uses the traits to provide meaningful feedback to the student and set a goal for the next writing assignment. She provides a focus lesson on p.29 for teaching students the importance of process-centered thinking, and a lesson on p.39 for teaching students how to develop and use criteria in their writing. Finally, she provides a scoring guide on p.36 for scoring students developmentally (where they are in their writing growth). She steers clear of the words “good” and “bad” as she claims this stops students’ thinking and creativity. She tells teachers to focus on the process not just the product.

            Several points stood out and caused me to take a closer look at how I approach writing instruction in my classroom. First, I know from my creative writing classes in college and the writing I do now that writing is personal and criticism when not delivered well can hurt and inhibit your writing. That is true for little writers as well, so as a teacher I need to remember to tell students what they do well so they know what to keep doing. I also need to show where improvements need to be made. Also I liked how she pointed out that grammar is not the heart of what makes good writing. Writers normally look at grammar last. The rule of thumb is to write, revise for word choice, voice, etc., then go back and edit for grammar. It makes sense to teach our young writers that as well. Focusing on grammar first can be discouraging and stop the thinking process. Finally she affirmed that pictures and wobbly letters are writing. Sometimes we forget that writing can take many forms. 

With writing workshop students are all working at their own pace, but some students take longer or get tired of one topic and don’t finish. The same thing happens when journaling. The focus on process lets me know this is okay. I don’t want my students to just work to get done. I want them to learn to enjoy writing and sharing what they have written. She states, “Every time a student works seriously with paper and pencil it should be considered a win.” I want to remember that as I work with my students and adjust my thinking accordingly. 

Check back next week as I discuss Chapter 2!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Monthly Must Haves

There it goes...January floating off around the corner, just when I was getting used to it. I had almost warmed to the snowy, wet weather especially when an occasional snow day blew by. Oh well, time to get prepared to greet the next month right? Oh, and what a saucy, little month it is as it pops out of holes looking for shadows and runs around spreading love germs everywhere:D
So, what do you do to get ready for each month? Do you have some go to resources? I do. I thought I might share with you a few of the great finds from TPT that help me to prep for each month.

I love this packet for many reasons. She differentiates each morning work assignment which saves me work. I have a few students that need to have their work tweeked here and there to make it doable. I appreciate that she has already taken care of that for me. I also like that it is specific to first grade, so I know that I'm hitting my standards in both reading and math. Yes, reading and math skills on one sheet. Great! It reviews and previews skills so I'm able to check what they have retained, reteach when necessary, and do a bit of formative assessment on skills we are about to cover. Any assignment that allows me to hit so much at once is a time saver making it a definite monthly pick for me.

This year our RTI coaches had to split time between S-Teams and RTI instruction. Yes, we had certified teachers who did our Tier 1 instruction for us. We were so lucky, but not anymore. So, I started the year wondering what I was going to do. A little research led me to these packets and I never looked back. The activities stay the same and are aligned with the AIMS Web assessments, which is what we use. The words and graphics change to add variety, but the repetitiveness of the activities means my Tier 1 students can focus on the skills not on the rules of the games. I have seen real improvement using this tool. Some of my Tier 1 students came in barely reading on a kindergarten level and are now reading at a beginning first grade level. Huzzah! I like when things work.

What does she love about it you ask? Well, she gushes about all her center work being done and planned for a whole month for one. She likes that the activities stay the same each month but the graphics and skills change to match that month's theme. It makes explanation of centers so easy and ensures that the students are practicing skills not game rules. Finally, she likes that the games review the skills in a challenging way that pushes but doesn't discourage. She's made a believer out of me and I have added that to my monthly cart. I can't wait to try it out!

So what about you? I would love to hear how you prepare for each month. If you have any great finds, don't be stingy. Pass the tips along! I'm always looking for ways to maximize instruction while saving time. Besides, I'm just a sucker for fun, cute activities. So, please share...really!


Monday, January 21, 2013

Writing in Kindergarten

As I was walking down the hall this afternoon, I was stopped by one of our wonderful Kindergarten teachers. Our conversation went something like this:

Her: Hey, when are you going to do a writing workshop thing after school?
Me: That'd be great. Just need to find a good time.
Her: I wanted to start up writing workshop with my kindergartners. Where would I start?

Good question. I firmly believe that it is never to early to get children writing. I love to write and find the creative outlet very rewarding. I also love teaching writing.

So, where to start in kindergarten. Well, you can't bake a good cake if your ingredients stink, so start with quality ingredients. I would start with handwriting. As I tell my firsties, "What is the point of writing it if I can't read it?" Depending on your class, you may work on handwriting until Christmas or beyond. That's okay. Start your writing workshop with journals. They can draw pictures or write or both (driting). Be sure to encourage picture details because that will translate into writing later. Then work on handwriting.

When your class is ready to move into more formal writing, start with sentences. Yes, sentences. You can have the most wonderful thoughts, but if you can't express it in a good sentence it is bunk. So, teach your little angels to write an amazing sentence and illustrate that sentence. When they knock out a super sentence, then they will naturally begin to add more. As they do, be sure to insist upon quality for each sentence they write. Teach them to have that writer's mentality. Words are our tools, and we must use them well.

For those of you that like to follow a format, I hope you've come across Debbie at Sailing Through 1st Grade. She has a great format called, whatda know, Super Sentences. She debunks the mystery of the perfect sentence by giving students a formula to follow. I used them this year with my firsties. They were struggling with expanding sentences. I wasn't used to having this problem and was baffled. I stumbled across this product and thought why not. Not just one light switched on but a whole stadium full. They finally got it. So, check them out! She offers several freebies on her blog. You can find them by searching for super sentences on her blog. If you get sold on them, feel free to stop by her TPT store. She has created formats for the entire year each with a different topic or theme. Just click the picture below to take you there.


When you work on revisions, look to common core for guidance on what to focus on. You might have different expectations for each student, but remember to keep expectations high. Good luck with your writing. I hope this helps!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reading Street Frog and Toad Freebie

I'm not going to make a long post tonight - still in the throes of lesson planning. I will finish and have time to enjoy my evening. No really I will!

Next week my class and I will be reading Frog and Toad Together: The Garden  which (for those of you with Reading Street is Unit 3 Week 4). I've made a little sort to go along with the poem Grandpa's Garden. Nothing fancy, it just has them sort the words from the poem. I hope you enjoy this little freebie!


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Here We Go Again!

We started back this week - just two days. I'll be honest. At first I was grumbling as much as my oldest.

"Why can't we just be out the rest of the week? It's just two days!!"

But after two days back I discovered my teaching muscles were a bit flabby. I was glad to have the short week to transition before jumping in whole hog.

I eased back into the daily grind with some help from First Grade Wow. We delved into her Happy New Year unit and Smitten with Mittens unit and had a great time. Both of these units are free I might add (all of her stuff is...and it is sooo good!), so click below to grab them for yourself.


Next week we are going to jump into learning as usual. Here are my I can's for next week. The background paper is from The 3am Teacher and the fonts are from Kevin and Amanda (Firefly Castle and Spicy Sushi Roll) and Rowdy in Room 300 (Rowdy Pirate - too cute fonts).

I'm a little scared. Am I ready to rush in where angels fear to tread?? I will add a few new "I cans."

Have a great New Year!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Yesterday was our last day before Christmas Break. I have to say I was relieved. Both my 2 year old and myself came down with walking pneumonia, so I'm quite ready for a break. Looks like we may have been trading it back and forth since Thanksgiving. I'm just glad for modern medicine and that my baby is starting to act like his crazy self again.

Anyway, feeling better and ready to bake cookies, wrap presents, and enjoy a bit of holiday fun. I won't be able to go 90 to nothing like I sometimes do, but I will be able to savor and enjoy. I think it will be a nice change of pace.

I did spread a bit of holiday spirit with my little firsties before getting sick. I thought I might share some of what we were able to get done.

Every year the first grade does Holidays Around the World as a way to combine Social Studies and Christmas fun. This year we revamped our unit with a little help from Rachelle Smith from What the Teacher Wants and Traci Clausen from Dragonflies in First. I purchased their holiday packets and really enjoyed how easy it made everything. I was able to streamline the unit, add a bit of assessment, and move in a few new craft ideas and projects. The students really enjoyed learning about how Christmas and other holidays were celebrated on other continents. Click below to check these packets out for yourself.

Along with studying about winter holidays, we also did a bit of writing. We took this book:

and a bit of inspiration from Nancy VandenBerge at First Grade Wow and practiced our narrative writing skills by writing about what would happen "If you take me to the movies...".

They also practiced their math skills by using geometry to show the symmetry of a Christmas tree and to make some very cute reindeer. I had them take their reindeer creation one step further by writing about the shapes they used to build it.

Of course, our holiday unit isn't complete without Reindeer Food. The students love this extra touch. We start out by talking about how most of us live out in the country and how there are not many street lights to shine on our front lawns. Then I tell them at my house we have a tradition of making Reindeer Food to solve that problem. The glitter in the food lights up the lawn for Santa, and the reindeer get to have a little treat while they wait for the big guy. It's a win all the way around. They have such a great time making the special food for Santa's reindeer and they are very serious about it. This is important stuff and don't want to mess it up!

Click the picture below to grab your own.

Now, off to enjoy quality time with my favorite bunch of people. Have a wonderful holiday!