(This was a research project for one of my courses. If you are teaching writing ~ this has great information!)
I am a K-5 Reading Specialist, working with groups of 6 struggling readers in rotating 6-8 week cycles.
Part One: Description ~ What is the current writing instruction in my district and school as well as in my own reading classroom? (I am a K-5 Reading Specialist).
MY SCHOOL’S AND DISTRICT’S WRITING INSTRUCTION
The current writing instruction in the Waltham Public Schools district, as well as for my elementary school, is Lucy Calkins Units of Study (Heinemann). The K-5 classroom teachers have received and continue to receive professional development in the program. Each elementary school in Waltham has a part time Literacy Coach who goes into each classroom to model writing lessons for the classroom teachers as well as meets weekly with each grade level team to plan lessons.
Ms. BBZ’s Writing Blog ~ Ms. BBZ summed up a great way to self-teach Lucy Calkins Units of Study with these 5 steps (graphics taken from Google Images):
Here is Lucy Calkins talking about mini-lessons!
MY CURRENT WRITING INSTRUCTION
My NEW “writing program” as a Reading Specialist, due to what I learned from EDU 743 Connecting Reading & Writing for Success (Spring 2016), consists of the following. This is based working with 6 students in 6-8 week cycles.
I learned that reading and writing are connected and are mutually reinforcing (UNE EDU 743 syllabus).
1. MENTOR TEXT! ChoiceLiteracy.com (2006-2011) recommends Cynthia Rylant’s The Relatives Came to teach:
- Leads ~ gives a little information about the setting, and makes you wonder
- Endings ~ ease the reader into the conclusion
- Memoir Writing ~ a small slice of life
- Internal Thoughts ~ let’s us know what the characters are thinking
- Transition Words ~ propels the reader through
- Visualizing ~ word choice, using the 5 senses, helps us
- Sentence Variety ~ varied beginnings and lengths
- Voice and Show/Don’t Tell, write like you talk
- Beginning, Middle, End ~ clear, simple, story structure
- Circular Story Structure ~ this text is similar to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
The text is Level L, which is grade level for spring of grade 2. I purchased a set of 6 of these, and highlighted the above features in different colors IN EACH COPY and created a color-coded chart to refer the students to. I read the text aloud several times with grade 1 students following along with 1:1 correspondence. My 2nd – 5th grade students read it several times: once with me as a group, then with a partner, and finally to self. With all groups, we recreated and/or discussed the above bullets together. The students are all now writing memoirs in their classrooms. They are encouraged to use what we discussed from The Relatives Came.
2. SHOW, DON’T TELL! By picking the BEST words, you can SHOW; don’t just tell!
The above blogspot has the following poster and other examples for teaching show, don’t tell.
Daily, as my students come in, I put a telling sentence on the board. The students must rewrite the sentence SHOWING, like the above examples which were taken from Carey English (cited below). By using the 5 senses, students can take a simple sentence into an elaborate paragraph. Try some of these:
- Tom was mad.
- Mary was happy.
- Jim was tired.
- Bob was scared.
3. QUICK WRITES! Please view my Prezi (below). As a Reading Specialist, I work with groups of 6 students in 6-8 week cycles for decoding and reading comprehension. This course has convinced me of the need to add writing. My Prezi outlines the Traits scrapbooks that I have started with my current 5th grade group, as well as the addition of daily quick writes after daily reading.
Click to learn the importance of free writes. Importance of Free Writes.
6TraitWritingPosters ~ my traits scrapbooks contain these posters as parts of the pages.
All of my reading groups are now writing daily in response to the reading, by either making a connection, telling the author’s message, stating a favorite part and why, summarizing the chapter read, making a prediction. . . . The students have choices in topics and materials.
In Best Practices in Writing Instruction, 2nd Edition (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, 2013) , quick writes are described as the author (student) needing a lot of schema in order to generate ideas on paper (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208). I have my students quick write about the reading as a way for me to determine their reading comprehension.
“Writing about material read provides students with a tool for visibly and permanently recording, analyzing, connecting, personalizing, and manipulating key ideas from text. This has a strong impact of making text read more memorable and understandable” (Graham, MacArthur, and Fitzgerald, p. 5, Graham & Hebert, 2010, 2011).
According to On Course Workshop (2016), there are 6 ways quick writes promote learning:
- Promote personal connections.
- Assess student knowledge.
- Summarize reading.
- Promote reflection.
- Encourage critical thinking.
- Make predictions, inferences, and hypotheses.
4. SPELLING! Daily, I pinpoint misspellings on each child’s writing, and I created an A-Z sheet with empty blocks. I write each error in the corresponding letter block, and I notice the error patterns that emerge. Most children have issues with adding suffixes. Please see my list of spelling rules: Spelling Rules.
According to Graham et al. (2013), the following holds true (Graham, MacArthur, and Fitzgerald, p. 6):
- Teaching spelling improves word reading skills.
- Teaching spelling and sentence constructions improves reading fluency.
- Teaching writing increases how well students comprehend texts read.
- Increasing writing time leads to better reading comprehension.
5. SUMMARIZING! I give questions in order in which the answers appear in a short story or chapter. Students can then “summarize” the story by answering the questions. My 4th grade ELL students absolutely love doing this, and they are SO proud and pleased with the results.
MY DESIRED INSTRUCTION
I am proud of myself for implementing what I have, however, I would love more TIME.
“…writing is a powerful ally and aid to reading. From the very beginning, students need to engage frequently in activities in which reading and writing are paired…” (Michael Graves, Connie Juel & Bonnie Graves, 2007 ~ quote taken from Lane Clarke’s PowerPoint Presentation, Module 2, EDU 743).
My writing lesson wish list. . .
- Students to form letters correctly and who have a firm grasp on spelling. Poor handwriting, in combination with poor spelling, can contribute to disability in written expression (Graham, Harris, & Fink 2000, Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 276). Failure to develop automatic and legible letter and word formation may interfere with content in writing (Jones & Christiansen, 1999, Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 276). Students devoting too much time to letter formation or letter retrieval have less time for spelling, planning, and expressing themselves, just as students struggling with decoding while reading aren’t focusing on comprehension.
- Daily 1:1 older peer, aide, or teacher support. If someone knowledgeable could sit beside each child offering feedback, ideas, and motivation it would help! Our school does reading buddies ~ why not writing buddies?!
- The students having knowledge of mentor texts already and being armed with ideas.
- Parent support at home. Parents to come in to celebrate student writing.
- The students to read more, because better readers become better writers.
- Individualized spelling tests. Pinpoint the words each child has gotten incorrect, and have weekly spelling tests 1:1 with that child, spiraling back over the weeks to be sure all words have been retained. Teach the child about the patterns in incorrect spellings.
- Motivated students who value writing.
- Access to the computer lab so the students can write on Word, and use other technology such as Bitstrips on occasion.
- Money to purchase different writing programs on the computer, such as Paragraph Punch, as well as money to purchase mentor texts and materials for students to write with.
- Have authors visit frequently to inspire the students.
- Teach revision as suggested in Best Practices in Writing Instruction, 2nd Edition (2013). “Revision begins with evaluation, and the primary reason that students have difficulty revising is that they don’t know how to evaluate their writing. . . It is important to teach students specific criteria for evaluation and how to revise based on those criteria” (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 235). What are the writers’ goals and purposes for writing? Teach students to self-evaluate their writing using specific criteria related to genre or text structure. See: Nonfiction Text Structures. To revise a persuasive essay, it might look like this (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 222).
- Read the essay.
- Find the sentence that tells what you believe. Is it clear?
- Add 2 reasons why you believe it.
- Scan each sentence. Do they make sense? Are there errors? Can you add more?
- Make changes.
- Reread and make final changes.
There is also Reciprocal Peer Revising: strategy instruction, peer interaction, instruction in specific evaluation criteria, and word processing. Here are the steps (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 223).
- Listen to the author read the paper.
- Tell what you liked best.
- Read the paper and apply evaluation questions.
- Discuss suggestions.
- Author makes changes.
- Time to teach sentence combining. Sentence combining is an effective technique to increase students’ ability to manipulate syntax (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 254) best taught in a well rounded writing program that includes ample time for writing, conferencing between peers and teachers, mini-lessons to increase skills, ample teacher modeling, and choice in writing assignments (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 255).
According to Culham in The Writing Thief (2014), the following are sensible points for writing instruction (p. 15). I would aspire to achieve all points:
- Practice new skills created by the student, NOT worksheets! My goal would be to tailor my lessons to each individual’s needs.
- Develop spelling via high-frequency words, word families, phonics, sight words, spell check, NOT by formal weekly spelling tests! Each child has his/her own spelling words based on need and spelling error patterns.
- Explore word meanings, NOT assigned vocabulary lists! Explore words as we read and write and use technology.
- Allow ideas to determine organization, NOT prescribed formats such as the 5 paragraph essay! Write to share ideas and communicate in the reading classroom.
- Teach in the context of reading, skill by skill, moving towards a deeper understanding, NOT skills in isolation! I am a Reading Specialist so this would come naturally.
- Provide choice in format, genre, mode, NOT assigned topics! Yes, I am doing this!
- Evaluate based on performance, growth, effort, NOT compliance and following directions! Yes, I am focusing on student growth!
- Use a spiraling scope and sequence that builds each year, NOT covering everything every year! I will meet with grade level teams regularly to learn the Lucy Calkins scope and sequence.
- Create a happy working classroom NOT absolute silence! Yes, students have choices in materials and enjoy writing.
- Teach test format as a genre NOT dwelling on test prep! Yes!
- Offer small, focused suggestions for revision and editing, NOT marking papers for everything! Students engage in peer editing.
- Teach reading and writing together, NOT writing in isolation, focusing on grammar! Yes, and use mentor texts!
HOW I DIFFERENTIATE AND HOW I HOPE TO DIFFERENTIATE
I work with groups of 6 struggling readers as a Reading Specialist in rotating 6-8 week cycles. These children are at the same reading level and at similar writing levels. I still differentiate by:
- Giving students choices of what to write in the daily quick write in response to reading.
- I differentiate spelling lists. My goal is to teach spelling rules based on most frequent spelling patterns, and have partners test each other on their own particular spelling words.
- Please check out my LiveBinders! I have interactive writing sites within each binder that students can use at home or school! These writing links are differentiated as children work at their own pace and level.
- Exposing students to a variety of ways to plan is differentiating instruction, as each student is welcome to choose what works best for him/her. My goal is to teach these.
Simply Think ~ Model thinking aloud, jotting down ideas (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 207).
Inquiry ~ Students start by writing questions that they have about the topic which serves as a writing plan (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 207).
Sketch Journals ~ Sketching can help spark descriptive vocabulary when the writer draws the character and setting as a planning strategy (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208).
Graphic Organizers ~ “Drawing slows us down and helps us notice ~ important skills for writers” (Ernst daSilva, 2001, & Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208). Students should revise their content maps/graphic organizers as their thinking changes.
Free Writing/Quick Writes ~ Students write for a chunk of time without worrying about spelling or punctuation. Students must have a lot of background knowledge to do this.
Talking into a Tape Recorder ~ Students tell their story aloud on tape, then transcribe it. ELLs can record their story in their native language (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 208).
3×5 Note Cards ~ Place information on separate index cards, then group the cards by related information. This is helpful for kinesthetic learners (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 209).
Outline ~ Good for linear thinkers (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 209).
Technology ~ Students can write on Word and revise/plan as they go. There is an outline feature on Word that helps students plan their writing before and after drafting (Graham, MacArthur, Fitzgerald, p. 209).
Check out this brochure and this toolkit on differentiating instruction:
WRITING STRATEGIES THAT HELP ELLs:
(My goal would be to incorporate these with my ELLs. I learned these strategies through my RETELL course in Spring, 2014.)
* Language Experience Approach: Ask the students what they just learned after reading a text, watching a video, after a field trip. . . . Write down exactly what the student says. Read back what you wrote. Have students read it back. Decide what changes to make. Read and reread it together. This is a good strategy to teach beginning readers to read, also.
* RAFT: This is a creative way to assign writing. RAFT stands for role, audience, format, and topic. The role could be a gardener, audience could be wedding planners, format could be a brochure, and the topic could be to persuade wedding planners to use particular flowers in the bouquets, and why. The possibilities are endless!
* Content Vocabulary Roundtable: This is a good way to get the content vocabulary down that the students can use in their writing ~ it creates a word bank. After reading, each person takes a scrap of paper, and writes one word from the text. Pass the paper to the left, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
* Information Gap: Have students read a story or article. Prepare 2 grids. Each grid has opposite information. The object is for 2 students with opposite grids to ask each other questions, and then a whole grid is created. The completed grid is then used as a graphic organizer for writing. The grid holds the ANSWERS. For ex., student A has the following grid. He will say to student B “Name the character who blew down the houses.” Student B will write Big Bad Wolf on his grid.
|Big Bad Wolf||farm|
|Blew down house of straw|
|1st Little Pig||city|
* Write Around: Have students in a group. Each student writes a topic sentence. They move papers to the right. They read what is there, and add one sentence. At signal, they pass papers to right, add another sentence, continue. . . . The team selects one paper to revise.
* Cut and Grow: Students cut their writing into sentences. This way, it can be reorganized, and expanded upon with adjectives, evidence. . . . Tape sentences on construction paper.
* Sentence Combining: Explicitly teach how to combine sentences using conjunctions, rearranging sentences, having sentences answer who, what, where, when, why, how. You can start with a base sentence and add a modifying sentence. (The dog barked. The barking was loud. Combine with and.) When combining 2 sentences, clue the students into the key words to include. Teach students how to add conjunctions such as because. Also, give adjective/noun examples such as “The teacher was angry” could be changed to “The angry teacher. . . .”
* Ratiocination: This is an editing strategy. Teach a focus correction area, and have the students look out for the area by coding their papers. For ex., circle all verbs. This way students can see if they have noun/verb agreement. Perhaps have them underline all first words in sentences to be sure they’ve used upper case. . . .
* Paragraph Frames: Please see on this website: Structured Writing for Content Areas.
COMMON CORE STATE STANDARD IMPACT
Curriculum Corner ~ Common Core I urge you to check this site out. It has the Common Core State Standards with “I can” checklists for students at each grade.
- With the Common Core State Standards, my students must be critical thinkers to write well (Culham, p. 27). Weaving reading and writing together begets better readers, writers, and thinkers (Culham, p. 17). I can encourage critical thinking by (graphic from Pearson). . .
- “The Common Core language arts and literacy standards attempt to correct the fiction/nonfiction imbalance by placing more emphasis on reading nonfiction—starting with an equal emphasis on literature and informational text in elementary school” (Coleman & Pimental, 2012 & Goodwin & Miller 2012-13). “At nearly all grade levels, students are expected to develop research skills across content areas with a strong focus on nonfiction, including literary nonfiction; essays; biographies and autobiographies; journals and technical manuals; and charts, graphs, and maps” (Gewertz, 2012, Goodwin & Miller, 2012-13). I will incorporate more nonfiction in my teaching, as well as research skills such as comparing and contrasting texts and synthesizing texts.
- As the Reading Specialist in my building, I am in charge of ordering guided reading books to replenish the Literacy Closet. I just purchased $2000 worth of nonfiction book sets from Level A-M. My students in grades 1-5 are creating nonfiction text feature booklets to help them navigate nonfiction texts. The Teachers Pay Teachers site has wonderful free and/or inexpensive feature booklets for students to fill out.
- As a Reading Specialist, I am now incorporating daily writing, which is something I had not done in the past. To quote Graham and Perin (2007), “Writing well is not just an option for young people – it is a necessity. Along with reading comprehension, writing skill is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life in the global economy” (Culham, p. 10).
- There needs to be much immersion in literature, combined with a writing program that is based on essential writing skills that deepens over time, becoming more complex and integrated throughout the years (Culham, p.13). I need to collaborate with the K-5 teachers in regards to writing.
- Even though the CCSS emphasizes academic writing, all forms of persuasive writing should be included, including blogs and letters to the editor (Culham, p.26). I will be sure my colleagues are aware to branch off of the standards.
- I need to be sure my colleagues are on the same page with common language of the traits, and the elimination of the term “expository” for informational/explanatory of the Common Core State Standards (Culham, p.51).
- “The Common Core State Standards take into account our rapidly changing information age, acknowledging that entirely new genres of reading and writing could develop at any time (Twitter, Facebook updates, and multi-author blogs did not exist in 1997 when many current state standards were in development). To help address the demands of technology, the CCSS incorporates research and media skills into every subject. It’s a spot-on relevant move in an age when anyone can look up the answer to anything on the Internet” (Powers, 2013). I will expose my students to various online writing programs such as Bitstrips. My LiveBinders get the elementary students online and keyboarding. I will go to the computer lab with my students for word processing, as well as to read articles at their reading levels online.
I work with K-5, but I will use the Grade 4 Common Core State Standards for Writing as an example of how the CCSS will drive my teaching. Again, I service 6 students at a time in 6-8 week cycles.
Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information. Read aloud The Perfect Pet by Palatini (2003). It is a Level K text. The main character comes up with creative arguments. Have students create pros and cons for more pets, and take on either the character’s or her parents’ views in an opinion piece. (Culham, p. 147) Students will write. A student friendly checklist can be provided.
Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details. Students can research facts about their animal.
Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. Read Locomotive by Floca (2013) with the group. It is guided reading Level O.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
Link ideas within categories of information using words and phrases (e.g., another,for example, also, because).
Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. Please see The Relatives Came by Rylant example under Part 1. Students write memoirs in their classroom, but I could provide a student friendly checklist. As a Reading Specialist, I will point out daily what authors do well, and children will have this knowledge in their trait books. Hopefully, this will transfer into their daily writing.
Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
Use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events.
Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.
Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
Production and Distribution of Writing I can oversee this. . .
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 4 here.)
With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge I can collaborate with teachers and assist in the following.
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.
Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Apply grade 4 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text [e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions].”).
Apply grade 4 Reading standards to informational texts (e.g., “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text”).
Range of Writing This would be done in the classroom as well as for me in the reading support room.
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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Culham, Ruth. The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing. Newark: International Reading Association, DE. Print
Goodwin & Miller. “Membership.” Educational Leadership:Common Core: Now What?:Nonfiction Reading Promotes Student Success. ASCD, Dec.-Jan. 2012/2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2016.
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Powers, Erin. “How Will Common Core Change What We Do?” Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation, 05 Feb. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
Rylant, Cynthia, and Stephen Gammell. The Relatives Came. New York: Bradbury, 1985. Print.
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