What not to write

I came across a blog post on Two Writing Teachers (if you haven’t read this blog, you need to).  The post was a collection of tweets related to writing.  They’re great.  You really should take some time and read them.  I’m looking forward to next month’s installment.

There were a few that catch my eye. I might write about those another time but tonight I wanted to write some of my reactions to

(these really are reactions and not at all focused–I did not do an outline, Mom)  How much time do people really spend on writing things that shouldn’t be put down somewhere?  I think it depends on the purpose of the writing.  I think about the many blog posts I’ve written but never published.  Would those things be considered pieces of writing that should not have been written?  I don’t think so.  Just because I didn’t publish them doesn’t mean they didn’t fulfill their purpose–mind dumping.

After thinking about myself and the personal writing I’m doing, I start thinking about the writing that teachers are asking students to do (and I think about the writing I did as a student).  Do the teachers know what is important to write and ask their students to do that writing?  Are some teachers not sure what is important for their students to write?  I think the answer would be yes to both questions.

There is lots of excellent writing taking place in classrooms all over but then, right down the hall, there are classrooms where the students are writing what some would call things that they really don’t need to write.

I’m a big fan of Lucy Calkins and have kind of used her Units of Study in my classroom since the books came out. I say “kind of” because I really believe the lessons she has outlined in those books are really a suggestion for teachers to get started and not to be considered a scripted program.  Reggie Routman is another author I’ve use as a base for my writing workshop.  One of these wonderful women talked about when modeling stories to students, the stories need to something that the students might actually do, or have done.  I shouldn’t write about my trip to London because many of my students will never leave the country.  Instead, I should write about something that they might do–like have a HUGE black snake cross the road.  I’m asking them to write true stories that have happened to them so they are able to think about a beginning, middle, and end to their stories. I’m not asking them to rely on an imagination that is ever changing, which means there’s a greater possibility for an ever changing beginning, middle, and end.

How does this connect to the tweet?  I think we teachers ask students do write about things that are beyond their comprehension and therefore the final product is not going to what we want.  Yes there’s a place for creative writing, but students need to write memoir, reactions to the texts they are reading, options, and other informational texts.  The students have the background knowledge to write something really well instead of just relying on their imagination to write something that is just ok.

One last ramble on this tweet and then I’ll be done.  I know I was just talking about the product of writing and that is not were the focus should be in a writing classroom.  I think this tweet would be great to include on a class graffiti wall when students are revising their writing.  It is hard for any writer to think that part of their great work needs to be removed because it hurts the piece as a whole, instead of helping.  The writing is like a piece of them and removing some text is like removing an arm, leg, finger, lips…

Now it is time for me to practice what I preached and go back and revise this piece (or at least edit it).  I hope this tweet makes you think and reflect about the writing you’re doing in your classroom.  I hope it helps others think about what writing doesn’t need to happen so there’s room for the writing that needs to happen.

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Two days in a row

It has been a while since I’ve written here and even longer since I’ve written two posts in two days.  I was just thinking through my day trying to come up with something to write about this evening.  There are many things I could write about such as why do kids keep asking adults the same question after they’ve been given an answer they don’t like?  It is the early version of seeking a second medical option?  Another thought was what lessons are our children learning when we have to have a school holiday party 2-days before the actual party because we share a PTA with another school and they’re doing their party on Friday?  I think I’ll write about those things later because tonight I’m going to write about writing.

One of my favorite subjects to teach is writing.  I don’t know if I do a great job at it but I do think my students’ writing improves greatly from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.  Okay, so a little reality check.  My students are in kindergarten.  Many of them start the year barely able to write their name and all the letters of the alphabet.  It would be hoped, and expected, that my students would be able to write more than just their name and the letters.  I am a bit of a black sheep in my grade-level when it comes to writing instruction and I blame myself for that.  Most of my other colleagues have students do fill in the sentence type of writing, or some prompt based writing lesson.  That is a system that works for them and they are happy with the results they are getting.  That is fine with me.  I, on the other hand, teach writing in a workshop style, similar to Calkins and Routman recommend.  So I have genre themes that last for about a month.  In that month I teach about the genre and the students write in that genre.  Currently we are working on song writing.  Actually it is more accurate to call it song parody writing.  We listen to a song, many times, on YouTube (I would share the song but I am currently trying to get an article about this writing published. I’ll add the link once my article has been picked up).  Once the students have a good grasp of the music structure of the song, we start having a little fun with the words.  Using music that students already know also helps free up their brain to focus on some skills, such as leaving space between words and -ing endings.  As a class they have been working on their own parodies for about 2 weeks and it amazes me the number of students who are not picking up on the pattern of the song–or are not interested in going back and checking their work.  This development is shocking to the reading specialist and I today.  We spent a good week working up to having the students write their own songs by working on leaving space between words and -ing ending.  These are the two things that are being left out of the samples we saw.  So here’s kind of a question to the larger (although not terribly huge) audience of this blog about how to help students slow down and understand the importance of going back and looking over your writing before publishing?

Now it is my turn to look over what I’ve written (I did a very poor job) before I press publish–I’m starting to type words with closed eyes.

My words for Wednesday

Here it is Wednesday already and day three of the Sarah will write everyday campaign.  If it takes 21 days to create and change a routine/habit, I’m just 18 more days away!  So here are my thoughts today.

First let’s discuss the dissertation.  For those who don’t know (but since I know it’s only my family members who read this you probably already know) right now I am working on the first three chapters.  In my program, first you write the first three chapters and usually also complete your IRB application.  Once the first three chapters are finished you meet with your committee for your comprehensive exam over those chapters.   It is usually at this point that the IRB application is also approved to submit to the IRB committee.  So you might be asking how are those first three chapters coming along?  Well I have chapter three finished, minus some editing/revising, chapter 1 has some components that are finished, and chapter 2 feels like a huge mess!  While chapter 1 and 3 have a pretty standard format to follow, chapter 2 is the review of literature and it is really open.  It is up to the researcher to determine what shoulders her research will stand on and then find, read, and synthesis that information.  This researcher has some ideas on what shoulders I will be standing on BUT I think I’m missing a few. That has been today’s struggle.

Here’s how I’ve been attacking chapter 2–treating it like 4-5 little smaller papers.  I am pretending that each subsection is paper.  Once I have the papers written then I will go back and write the transitions between the sections.  Up to this point I’ve written drafted  sections on: working memory, Gestalt and visual perception, and kindergarten/school readiness.  The last section I think I need is one on reading achievement.  To say this last section is a broad topic would be an understatement.  What does “reading achievement mean” is the question I’m trying to answer.  Today while participating in some task avoidance I had a thought: my dissertation is mostly concerned with emergent and early literacy so I should be sure that I discuss the different components of early literacy and how success in those components leads to success in later reading success.  Why I did not think of that before I don’t know.  But now I am excited to write about topics I know really well–phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, letter naming…Now I get to start thinking about those subtopics and remembering all the super-sized shoulders I can stand on.  So reader, beware–in the coming weeks there might be a good many posts about early literacy.

And because above I have “first let’s talk” that means I should have a second or lastly.  So, lastly, I am a teacher with a 2-hr delay tomorrow.  There are so much questions to ask oneself when you have a delay.  Should I sleep in? Should I be a good mother and make good breakfast for my crew (pancakes)?  Should I take my crew for donuts before taking them to daycare (a little later than normal)?  OR do I…wait and see what tomorrow morning feels like?  I’ll let you know.