Friday, December 9, 2011

Superheroes Can Save Kids Writing

Recently, our 6th grade students have been learning about energy and transformations in Science and when I was considering how to spice up our latest writing assignment, I decided that it could be a great opportunity to help review both the writing process and energy by giving a creative writing assignment.  I challenged students to create their own superhero.  The only guidelines I gave were to create the superhero and have them solve some type of energy crisis.  Students can use their science notes as a guide for the types of energy.  We've even watched some of the old short Spider-man and Batman episodes on youtube to help kids think about the development of their story and how to describe the events and characters in their writing.  What I've gotten so far is AMAZING! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

But I hate writing!!!

So by the time kids get to me in middle school, they claim that they HATE writing.  They act as if they have had the creativity beaten out of them and I know who to blame, the 5 paragraph paper.  I am thankful that elementary school teachers have taken the time to teach my kids the basics of writing and the structure of a basic story, but because of state writing tests, the writing prompt and standard 5 paragraph essay where each paragraph has 3 - 5 sentences seems to have kidnapped my kids' creativity.

It's time we get it BACK!!  I love the book "Notebook Know-How" by Aimee Buckner.  It gave me a great jumping off point for beginning a simplified writer's workshop in the middle school classroom.  From my primary and elementary school experience, I was familiar with Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher, but my time is limited and I can't imagine doing either one of those programs successfully.

First, my kids get to decorate their notebooks...however they want!!  It gets them invested.  Decorating a $.99 notebook may seem small to you, but when a kid gets to draw all over their notebook, or put pictures of their crush on the front, they are all for it and ask when they get to use the notebook.

I start by teaching them to make lists in the back of the notebook - stuff they like, places they've been, best and worst (Notebook Know-How has some suggestions for this as well.)  These lists are for the times they say they have NO IDEA WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT.  If they have created the list - they know a little about the topic and they can choose from a list any time.

I also get them to write about themselves.  We've used Aimee Buckner's suggestion to write about their name as well.  Can you imagine what a kid would want to write about more than themselves.  Each year, I am astounded at how excited they get to write what they know and how many kids go home and ask all kinds of questions to find out more about their name.

I explain to the kids that my job is to build their writing endurance.  I am still faced with "how long does it have to be?" "how many paragraphs?" quite frequently, but when I get them invested in writing about topics THEY choose, those questions come far less often.

By the end of the year, instead of "ahhh," I have students begging to write instead of read.  They chose to write because they've become invested.  They grow to write about more than just themselves, but only after I've helped to build their confidence by showing them how creative and amazing they can be when they forget about the confines of a 5 paragraph.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Can 11 year old's handle book clubs?

When I was teaching 3rd grade, a colleague shared the Harvey Daniels "Literature Circles:  Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups."   If I had personally attempted this in my first few years of teaching, it would have probably crashed and burned...but, in that third grade classroom, I saw students come alive and begin to take ownership in their reading.  They handled the responsiblity well and knew that other students were relying on them and they LOVED that!  When I started teaching at the middle school level, I noticed that middle schoolers felt like they were really doing something special....getting to meet with each other and TALK about the book. 

The trick to them mastering book clubs and me not pulling my hair out is teaching them each job in isolation and then taking the time to teach them how to talk to one another.  I've posted the job sheet I've created for them.  The entire class is assigned one job for the first night (ex: Paint a Backdrop) and when they come to class the next day, they share their work with their group.  I model it for them and then teach them the next job.  What we end up with, after a painfully slow beginning, are book clubs that are stretching the kids to really examine what they read and talk to one another academically.  Sometimes I let them chose the book for their club, other times it is assigned, but either way, it works!

How to lead a Book Club