Small Steps: Beginning to Think Like a Writer?

Slice of Life #4   Beginning to think like a writer?

This is my 4th Slice of Life blog and I just might be getting in the groove! I found myself several times during the past week noticing things and thinking to myself: Maybe I’ll write about that! 

I’m working with a reluctant reader. He’s a second grade boy and we had a heart to heart talk on Friday afternoon because he gets so anxious whenever I do anything that in the slightest way resembles an assessment. We had a whole conversation about why he automatically thinks of this as testing and how he hates testing and how he doesn’t want to do any more testing. As I reflected on our conversation I found myself thinking about how I might write about it. Would I just scribe the conversation? Would I co-opt his voice and write a letter to his dad? Would I approach it from the teacher’s perspective and write how I could reassure him I’m just checking in to see what he needs to learn next? Would a poem work?

Then, later, I was at the dentist and overheard a conversation coming from the exam room next door. It was the hygienist and a mom engaging the young patient about her day at school. She said,  “Oh, you had art for your special today?” Then she asked her “What are you making?” And so I immediately remembered Katie Wood Ray’s book, About the Author, in which she talks about “making books.” I wondered if the mom remembered that the little girl had probably written today at school, and if she would use the same terminology about writing. “What are you making?” Maybe I’ll turn that in to a SOL, I thought. Maybe I could reflect on ways to nurture young writers. I honestly wonder if I would have even tuned in to the conversation a month ago.

Several times this past week as I finally finished my daily tasks and prepared to settle in to a good book (currently Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar) I actually paused before grabbing my book and getting comfortable and thought: Should I take a few moments and write something first? Would you believe I did write at least twice?!

I’m reading a lot of Ralph Fletcher these days. I just finished Joy Write (I highly recommend! It’s a quick read!), but now I’m in to Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook. He talks about becoming more aware and how the simple act of noticing provides ideas for writing. “Once you get in the habit of writing in your notebook you’ll find yourself paying closer attention to the world around you.”

So, a month in, on this 4th Slice of Life, I’m wondering if a bit of writing pixie dust has entered my brain. Am I becoming more observant? Am I considering my every day existence from the point of view of how I might write about it? In actual fact, it is Friday night as I write this, and my next SOL isn’t “due” for a few days! It may be a teeny tiny little step, but please forgive me if I’m feeling the slightest bit encouraged!

And here’s the aha you’ve been waiting for: if this is happening for me after only a month of writing weekly, how might it affect my students? If they have writing scheduled 3, 4, or 5 times a week, would they begin to think like writers too?

Never Forget, SOL 9/12/17

Never Forget

Slice of Life, September 12, 2017
On that beautiful Tuesday morning 16 years ago, I was in an IEP meeting for one of my 4th graders. As it ended, the school secretary came in, clearly shaken, and asked if we had heard the news. There was so much confusion and shock and fear, and the decision was made to close the library to students so that staff could go in and watch the news when they were free. “What do we tell the children?” On this horrible day that forever changed the way America felt about its safety, we all struggled with how to explain this kind of evil to our most innocent. My fourth grade co-teacher and I settled, of course, on a book. We read aloud Peace Begins with Me and we talked and wrote about how we could all be more peaceful and what we could all do to promote a kinder gentler school and community. In some ways we have succeeded. In others, I realize we still have a ways to go. My oldest son was in my 4th grade class that year. He’s now 25, and I still wonder what impact that beautiful Tuesday morning has had on him and his classmates.

Feeling Good

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September 5, 2017

The last afternoon of the first week of school brings the traditional whole school assembly. The sun shines down as everyone gathers on the steps of the outdoor “mansion.” Can’t Stop the Feeling is playing in the background and kids and adults all wiggle to the beat. Once we’re all in our places with bright shiny faces, the principal gets a chance to welcome everyone again, and she presents the student centered initiative of the year. Then it’s my turn to celebrate students who met reading goals over the summer. Finally comes the moment the crowd is waiting for: each grade gets a turn to share something about this first week of school. As I watched each group “perform” I was struck by how this is a visual progression of elementary school child development. The kindergarteners follow their teachers lead and manage to shout in chorus: “”Hello friends, what do you say? We just had an awesome week! So clap your hands! Stomp your feet! Take a bow! Now have a seat!” Then grade 1 students each take turns reading one sentence “I statements” with something they did this summer as the audience chimes in “just like me!” if they did that too. “I went out for ice cream.”  “Just like me!” Their teacher carries the microphone and holds it for each student as they read from their index cards. Grade 2 students manage to pass the microphone on their own and share a response to a read aloud about how each of them are all wonders.  “I am a wonder because I am happy, but I never smile.” “I am a wonder because I am friendly.” A few shy friends decline to read and their buddy or their teacher reads for them. Then partners or triads of third graders shout out as teams while they show their posters displaying the big things they are looking forward to this year. “Simple Machines!” “Colonial times!” “Book buddies!”  Fourth graders take turns explaining in their own words off the top of their heads what they liked about their science experiment. They pause, they think, they speak a few sentences with no prompts or cues. Finally the fifth graders stand in place as small groups shout out some things that make our small school so special for all the new students. It is their job to be the role models, the big kids, the ones who can set the example for all students. This back to school assembly is a simple tradition with a big payoff in community building. It is only about a half hour and takes very little prep time for each class, but you can feel the excitement and pride in the air as we file back in to the school. Can’t stop the feeling!

Sibling Love

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August 29, 2017

Sibling Love

It’s the first Tuesday of the school year, and I have cafeteria duty for kindergarten and first grade lunch. As I stand at the doorway welcoming the students I notice a kindergarten girl giving the universal I’ve-got-my-eyes-on-you sign to someone. Her eyes are locked on, and her two fingers are going from eyes to boy, eyes to boy, eyes to boy. When I ask who she’s watching, she says with a grin, “My brother.” Her first grade brother looks away bashfully. Next I see someone getting up to throw something away. In this very small school where I know just about everyone, I don’t recognize her.  She returns to her seat, very close by another girl, a smaller version of herself, and they immediately resume their head to head conversation. “She’s Suzy Q in first grade,” says the other duty teacher. “That’s her sister Quesy Sue in kindergarten. They’re new.” My heart swells to see these girls bonding, and I get a sudden flashback of my younger two sons (now 22 and 21 years old) when they were that age sitting together at lunch in this very same cafeteria. I continue my rounds up and down the table aisles mentally connecting each student’s name and face so I can learn them all again after a long summer. I can’t help but notice another set of sisters sitting next to each other. “Is that your sister?” I ask, knowing the answer. “Yeah,” she says with a mouth full of peanut butter sandwich. She keeps her body next to, but completely facing away from and seemingly ignoring the presence of her younger sister. Sibling love in many forms!