Currently, I use Writer's Notebook as a way for students to journal each day. I give them a poem with various images for them to connect with in their writing. I tell them to try to connect the poem to some aspect of their lives, past or present, and then write. They can write in any form they choose, they just have to write for the allotted time (about 5 minutes). My hope is that they will remember moments in their lives that can turn into stories and poems later on. Most students love this and even like to share what they wrote. Allowing student choice while showing them different examples of good writing seems to be successful.
Laura Robb suggests a similar approach on page 11 and also mentions blogging which is my goal for the 8th graders this school year. Like the book suggests, students love to write about themselves, especially if they can do so on the computer. Since I'm new to blogging, I want to work out the kinks before doing it with all three grade levels, but I imagine it will go over well.
Let me know if you need any help setting up blogs with your students. I am a HUGE fan of blogging. In fact, I presented a session at IRA in 2011 about blogging with 1st and 2nd graders at West Point Independent School as described below. I hope you find this to be a valuable resource as you move your ideas forward in relation to blogging with your students.
See the following article on Reading Today Online by the International Reading Association.
How do you motivate your students to become excited about writing? Do you wonder how to help them think more critically about literature, global issues, or multiple perspectives? Are you looking for an easy way to engage students in 21st century learning? If any of these questions have crossed your mind, introduce your students to a cultural exchange with blogs.
Article includes video highlights from session at the International Reading Association 2011 Annual Conference featuring L.A. Henry and L. Zawilinski.
I was surprised that only 24.1% of all students surveyed reported that they blogged outside of school. I also found it interesting that the number was much higher among the 7th grade students (over 30%) and then dropped off significantly. I think that blogging could be a powerful way to make writing a social and idea-building activity. Just like we teach are students in socratic circles to build and elaborate on each other's ideas to arrive at a deeper and more refined understanding, so too, can blogging encourage this dialogue.
I love the idea the book gives about setting up a class blog. That way, students can practice reading and responding to eachother's ideas in a safe, controlled environment. What site were you thinking of using, Jill? Edmodo? Moodle?
Let me know if we can collaborate!
I am using kidblog because I've heard it is super safe and was suggested to me by a colleague. Since this is my first time blogging in class, I want to get my feet wet before branching out to other sites. The kids all posted their first responses today, and it went pretty well. I like that I get to see all of their responses before they are actually posted to the site. Some friends were talking about liking Edmondo and said they liked it. We used moodle at North, right?
I also use a reading/writing journal to teach writing and reading response. The students read a variety of texts and respond in their journals through reflection and original composition. I like to take excerpts and photos and have students respond to them in their journals. Also we go back a do grammar and other writing lessons through what the students have written. Certainly makes working with grammar and puncutation meaningful and practial.
I have always noticed the gender differences in writing that the survey mentions. My girls tend to write much more in free time or at home and bring it in to show me, while the boys have to be coaxed to write in most cases. I try to make writing more engaging for boys by choosing topics that are of interest to them, or letting them choose their own topics for informational writing. For instance, a couple of weeks ago was Shark Week. We did a unit on sharks, and students chose a shark species that interested them, researched it, and wrote an informational piece about it. The boys seemed motivated by this more than the girls, not surprisingly! I think by tuning into what boys like and what they want to read, it's easier to get a feel for what they will enjoy writing about.
Last year I had one student that was particularly gifted at story-telling and drama. Even though he needed a scribe, he dictated an entire play script to me, and I typed it for him, and the class performed the play. The content really reflected his cultural milieu, and the play was well-received by the class we performed it for. I think it's important to focus on student strengths and capitalize on them.
One of the overarching ideas I kept returning to in the first chapter was that students actually do a lot of writing-when they choose how and what they're going to write. Coupled with the seemingly endless numbers of texts that state middle school students thrive when they have a choice in their education and curriculum, I think that students will obviously be more invested in a writing activity when they have some choice with it. As people above have already said, this is great for the journals and writer's notebooks, in which students can pick their own topics and write about what they want.
I actually came across a RAFT (Role/Audience/Format/Topic) writing activity in a textbook (Subjects Matter by Daniels and Zemelman) in another class that students can do after reading. Together with the teacher, the students compile a list of potential roles, audiences, the format of the writing piece, and a topic. The students then do a writing assignment based on the roles. For example, a student's "role" could be Albert Einstein writing a formal letter to President Truman on nuclear bombs. Not only is this good for developing writing and reading skills in all content areas, I think students would be more interesting because not a simple write-up on nuclear bombs or Albert Einstein. Also, this activity can be expanded into a final paper that students can take pride in because they had a choice in it, and there is a lot of room for their creativity in it.
Finally, I would say that students need to write everyday (or at least almost everyday). If we want students to become good writers, they need to at least get used to writing regularly and often, and in variety of ways. I know this is a difficulty in many classrooms and I've seen firsthand how easy it is for other things to be prioritized before writing, but I will definitely spend a lot of time considering how I can squeeze in some form of writing every day.
As the library media specialist, I think blogging about books will be one of the best ways to connect with my students and their writing. I'll have to think about how to advertise it, so that all students are aware of the blog. Students can write books reviews and submit them electronically to me for approval to be added to our electronic card catalog as well; when a student searches for a book, they can read what other students think about that book. I have lots more to share, but they are strategies I have used that work in the classroom. Right now I need ideas that work in the library media center
I believe one way to increase my student's engagement in writing is to generate interest in the writing topics. This chapter mentions that "choice brings relevance to middle school writing instruction" (Robb 26). I think relevance is important for students and could increase their engagement and effort on writing assignments. I also think that making writing part of a routine is important for students. If students expect to write every single class period then they will be expecting it and not groan when you have them write. Implementing different writing strategies into the classroom could increase engagement in writing. I could try different writing strategies and see which ones appeal to students and get the best response. Switching it up and doing different strategies could keep students interested instead of doing the same writing activities every day.
My "content" according to my class description deals with reading standards. However, I have students wriite something everyday, even if it is only a few students. My favorite ways to incorporate writiting is through daily bell ringers and exit slips. I ask them to ponder something we have read or some concept we are dealing with and then write about it in some way.
Since emails, texts, stories, and blogging were students’ top choices, we need to take time to plan for this type of writing in our classes. If students want choices, what is wrong with giving them choices? Middle schoolers are trying to discovery who they are, and I think if given the chance, writing can help them unearth some interesting findings about themselves. I like Laura Robb’s last line on page 33, “…you will need to examine your writing curriculum and include reading, writing, and talking experiences that give students, new, compelling reasons to write—reasons for them to connect who they are and what interests them with what you are asking of them.” If we would all do this, we would be heading in the right direction.
I believe that students will write more when they have a chance to pick and choose their own topic. It is important for students to feel like they have a voice. Students are constantly being told what to write and I feel that giving them several writing prompts or even a quick write will help ease the tension and help them focus on writing. I believe that it is extremely important that students write on a daily basis and I think that students having a choice will really help them want to write.
I agree completely, Elizabeth. Giving students the freedom to choose a genre or topic of writing helps engage them in writing itself. In response to Robb's prompt, I believe that incorporating modes of writing such as blogging into the middle school classroom gives students a chance to practice using technology in order to express themselves. Middle school students tend to get excited when given the opportunity to use technology anyway therefore I think introducing them to blogging would be a smooth transition. In addition, I think it would be great for students to write blogs and articles that would be published on a class wiki or class webpage for experience.
Student engagement occurs when voice and choice are allowed to shine. I too feel that craft lessons get short changed in the attempt to "prepare" students for mandated testing. With the adoption of the the new core standards, however, I do feel a sense of hope that teaching and learning will ebb back to less piece driven work and more on the purpose and audience. Consequently, students can choose their mode of communication to be more authentic in expressing themselves.
So much thought was put into developing the survey. Like Laura Robb, it has been a long time since I have had tests/mesurements and statistics. The way LR modeled her relearning process was very interesting to me.
Using reading and talking to fuel writing is a technique I would feel very comfortable with. Middle schoolers sometimes need a little push in the class setting, Responding to something they have read, listened to, and talked about with their classmates and teacher is a non-threatening way to begin.
A passage on page 25 spoke to me. LR wrote "You see, struggling writers can also be students who don't read enough to build a mental model of good writing or students who have a limited knowledge of how narrative and nonfiction texts work. We can motivate and engage them with reading by giving them choice and showing them how to choose books they can read and enjoy." I have noticed that my students who enjoy reading have an easier time writing. I look forward to helping reluctant readers find books they can read and enjoy with the hope that their writing will improve as a result.
Looking at the survery results, students are writing the most through text and emails. They live in such a technological world, that in order to engage them, I need to use that technology. I know that when I have my students write a piece that is going to go through the writing process, they see handwriting the first draft as a pain and pointless. As teachers, I think we have to start embracing the technology even if we are not entirely comfortable with it ourselves.
Also, I found the comments that struggling writers made to be sad. What Robb said about them losing confidence to write is so true. Giving those students chances to feel successful and to be proud of their work is so important.
I have definitly found that students write more and put more thought into something that they choose to write about. I would love to blog or do something really fun with writing, but unfortunately, our school only has one computer lab for K-12. So therefore it is very hard to schedule computer time. Also, with our town being a small, economically challenged community, our students may not have access to computers at home. So it is hard for me to require something like this to be done outside of school. I am hoping that our new school will allow me to become more 21st century oriented. There are two full labs and one is located in our wing of the school.
One thing that I do find is that my struggling readers do not write well. I find it sad that most of the time they do have wonderful stories to tell but cannot get it down on paper. So one of the things that I do is I sit with them during RTI time or when the other students are writing and I help them to write down what it is that they so desperately want to get down on paper. This allows my students to feel successful and to be proud of what they write.
As a district literacy resource person, last week I was invited into a 7th grade class to help engage a group of 15 reluctant writers in narrative writing. Fortunately, they respected my "grandmotherly" presence, and after doing a read aloud of Cynthia Rylant's "When I Was Young In The Mountains," with pauses for them to jot down notes personal connections, a wide variety of writing topics were initiated. Feeling somewhat confident that they at least had something to write about, everyone drafted narratives of sequenced events - except one. This young man wrote "I like to fish." After assuring him that I'd like to learn more about his fishing and wasn't concerned about how he wrote it, he gave me lots and lots of details about fishing and fixing things. I knew that my response could either make him or break him so I wrote him this note: "I appreciate the honesty of your piece – you shared a lot about yourself and I can tell you have some strong qualities, like an appreciation for the outdoors and for fixing things. Since you said you like to do a lot of stuff other people won’t do, I am wondering if you could write a narrative about choosing what you want to do rather than “going with the flow” and doing what everyone else is doing. This might mean thinking about those things that you don’t like to do that are popular with young men your age. What do you think? Alternatively, I can envision a conversation between you and someone who has never gone fishing before. Has there ever been a time when one of your friends or relatives asked you if he or she could go fishing with you? I can imagine that you would need to tell that person about baits to use and about how to catch snapping turtles. Does that sound appealing? I look forward to reading more of your writing."
So why am I spilling all this out? I know teacher response to a writer is extremely important but I wonder sometimes if we go overboard. In this case, apparently, my response was ineffective. This young man lost his paper and made it clear he wasn't about to write another one
As I thought about this question I kept coming back to the box quote directly above the prompt. I loved the idea Fitzgerald's quote (p. 33) speaks to- writers having something to say. This seems like such a simple idea and students demonstrate it all the time with their modes of written communication. I think for my classroom it's going to be all about trying to help students figure out what they have to say by building on what they already know they have to say.
LIke some others here, my students may not have the home resources for a blog to be successful.
I have gone to Laying The Foundation training the last 3 years and that has really helped me help my students with their writing. It's a 4 day training over the summer and if you have a training session near you, I highly recommend you get your school to look at it. I love their visual posters. For example, there is one that is a picture full of nouns (trees, hearts, ghosts, etc). Students write down as many nouns as they can find. Then they look again and use adjectives to describe the nouns in the picture (broken heart, scary ghost..). Now they have created a bellringer sheet that we can use for days. I give them a different activity and they choose from their list. Eventually the list disappears and the work becomes completely theirs.
I have my students write in a writing journal 3-4 times a week, usually with a prompt and sometimes the prompt has to do with the book we are reading.
I am fortunate enough to be in a school where I can schedule into a computer lab or sign up for a mobile MAC Book lab. Our school also uses a program called My Big Campus which has a Facebook look and is similar to Blackboard. I have my own blog there and all my students are connected to me and to their current classmates. I can post things for them to respond to and I am going to see if they have the opportunity to set up their own blog as well.
I also had a quick training on Google Docs and how to use them with groups of students writing/editing the same Doc.
After reading the beginning of the book I see that it's time for me to schedule us into the lab and begin writing some electronically.
The big take home message for me is to encourage authentic inquiry in the classroom within the framework of standards based instruction. As the survey confirms, students are much more interested and engaged in writing, when they have some ownership over the topic. I want to do a better job of helping my students discover meaningful and that they are genuinely interested in learning about.
In my attempt to do this, I began by asking them to respond in list form to the following question, "What do you google?" Through a fishbowl discussion, they concluded that they google answers to questions that interest them or that come from something they read, hear, and watch. When they are googling to find these answers, they don't think of it as "research", they think of it as fun. From this discussion, we entered into a carousel activity that allowed them to brainsorm all of the topics about which they are already interested. My hope is to develop one of these topics during writing workshop.
As a teacher that is much more comfortable in the reading/literature realm, I have been struggling to find ways to teach writing in a meaningful way to my sixth grade students. I use a reader’s/writer’s notebook with students that remains in the classroom. My students have always been asked to use strategies that “good readers use” to write comments, ask questions, make predictions, make connections and draw pictures about what they have read, etc... Sometimes the writing is directly in the journal; other times it is on a post-it note that we can stick into the journal, but we have always written about our reading.
Last year, I attended a Bluegrass Writing Workshop based on the book, Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, Style into Writer’s Workshop (which led to the discovery to the companion book: Everyday Editing: Inviting Student’s to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer’s Workshop) by Jeff Anderson which is a series of lessons based around the process of writing, but I still do not feel that I found the perfect way to engage students in writing at school.
As I have been reading and thinking about ways to increase student engagement at school, I have had several aha! moments this year. First, my students have loved “Free Write” days – or days when they have student choice for their topic. In the past, I would have assigned a topic for everyone to write about on a certain day of the week, but this year, I have presented the activity as a “Free Write” day. A few of the students will sit with very little on the page, but most students write and/or draw for the entire segment of the lesson. I have been adding time - 8 minutes to 10 minutes to 15 minutes - to the sessions when we write as a way to build stamina for our engaged time with writing.
The ability to select a topic has lead to a second revelation to me. On days when I provide time for SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) or DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), I am now having students ask if they can “free write in the journal”. That question has forced me to realize that sometimes providing options within the use of the class time needs to include the option of either reading OR writing. But ultimately, I am reaching the conclusion that the best way to approach the task of teaching reading and writing in one 45 minute session is to embed the two tasks together into the unit plans from the beginning – which is a whole new way of thinking for me…
I am also experimenting with the website, Edmodo.com, which is an “educational Facebook” where the site is secure (parents can obtain a parental passcode), and I can control anything that is posted or displayed on the wall. I am finding that several of my students are accessing the website from home on a daily basis. They are sending me questions and comments from school, on nights and weekends. So I am thinking about ways that I can incorporate the use of the ability to ask questions, post powerpoints from lessons, add hyperlinks to websites, and create surveys, polls and quizzes in such a way that the students can engage in writing through the use of technology – both at school and from home. My ultimate goal is to be able to post the survey questions into the Edmodo quiz section, so that students can respond to me without their answers being public. However, this is simply an idea that I am mulling over for the time being.
While this just touches the tip of the iceberg in ways that I have brainstormed how I can engage student’s writing from school, I need to realize that change needs to be slow and well thought out before I introduce it to my classroom. Hopefully, the ability to read the remainder of the book will provide much more guidance and suggestions on how this can be done in a practical manner in a “real classroom”.