Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why They Write

Last Thursday, the National Day on Writing, I asked my students to think about what writing meant to them and how they use it every day. To gather our thoughts together, we created a Padlet with each student answering the prompt of the day, "Why do you write?"

I'll admit, I was a bit nervous for their answers. I was worried that they would all say they write because they have to, because I tell them to, because if they don't, their grades will tank.

Imagine my joy and the thrill I felt when I looked over their Padlet:
Seeing their words and hearing their conversations about this topic made this teacher's heart happy.

It showed why it is so important to take time for writing every day. Why we must give our students the time to explore their thoughts, their wishes, and their wonderings (and the occasional letter to Santa).

This is my wish for all of us -- teacher and student alike.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I Am A Teacher Who Writes

Because I am a teacher who writes....

I understand how difficult it is to sometimes bring words to the page.

I know how important it is to connect with an authentic audience.

I can show my students how to take their writing to the next level.

I can share my own writing struggles and celebrations with my students.

I can share the magical feeling that comes from finding just the right words to say what I wanted to say.

My students see me as someone who walks the walk.

I find writing tricks that I can pass on to my students.

I understand that the writing process is not a straight road, but rather route filled with zigzags, detours, closed roads, side trips, tourist sites and rest stops.

I can use my own writing as mentor texts.

I can have my students teach ME about ways to make my writing better. (Instant engagement!)

I have connected with some amazing educators who also write. This has made me not only a better teacher, but a better person.

Today, October 20th, is the National Day on Writing. I hope you'll take a moment to celebrate by writing with your students today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Goals: Allowing Time to Make Them Happen

Last week, I read this post by Two Writing Teacher's Betsy Hubbard about student goal setting in writing. (If you haven't read it yet, stop right now and go check it out.  It's a must read.)

Betsy's post was like an A-HA moment for me.

I'm no stranger to student goal setting, but setting goals in writing has always been a fuzzy activity for me. What constitutes "good" writing? When students look at their own work, will they be able to identify their deficits? Their strengths? How can we move past the "capitalize letters" and "write neatly" goals to the more 5th grade appropriate "stretch out the important parts" and "use dialogue to move the story forward"?

But after reading Betsy's post, I was able to work through goal setting with my student writers. We looked at an example of strong 5th grade writing from Lucy Caulkin's Writing Pathways book and identified what worked in the piece. Then we looked at our own writing to see how it compared. From there, my students set goals for themselves for their next narrative piece.

What was the biggest "A-HA" for me from Betsy's post was her idea of dedicating the final few minutes of writing time to have students go back in their writing and focus only on their goal. If their goal was to mix up their sentence structure, they had the time to make sure that was happening. If they didn't see evidence of their goal, they added it right then and there.

Too often, I find that I get so caught up in the setting of the goal that I forget to allow time for my students to actually work on that goal. It's like I expect the achievement to magically happen! A few minutes of writing time dedicated to making those goals come to fruition is well worth it. It will result in my students becoming more accomplished writers and will make goal setting actually mean something.

Thanks, Betsy!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Homework: Why I Share the Answers

There is a lot of debate out there on the grading of homework. You can easily find reasons to support all sides of the  issue.

I'll begin by saying that I am not a fan of homework.

After researching and teaching my students about growth mindset, I am even less of a fan.

In my classroom, our focus is on the learning. Mistakes are welcome -- they are proof we are trying. Figuring out what we did to make those mistakes and taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen again is growth.

Growth mindset teaches us that our brains are always changing and growing. By trying new things, showing grit and perseverance, making mistakes and trying again, we are changing the physical structure of our brains for the better.

This does not work if I grade every assignment my students do.

They would be afraid to make mistakes.

They would hesitate to ask for help.

They would shy away from trying new things because they can't do it perfectly the first time.

So when I assign practice in math, my answer key is always open for students to check their answers. If we use a worksheet, I will often copy the answer key right on the back of the page. Sometimes, I just write the answers on the board. If my students got a problem wrong, they go back and fix it. If they can't figure out what they did, they ask for help.
This has built more confidence in all subject areas, but especially in math.

It has also helped me correct misconceptions before a student has done 30 problems incorrectly and has the incorrect procedures cemented in their brain.

So what do I grade?

The test.

Which, ironically, makes students try harder on their practice work, thereby increasing their learning.