A shift I've seen in writer's workshop this year is the volume of writing from students. Using Lucy Calkins' third grade writing resource for common core as a tool, I began the year having students set volume goals for their writing. We wrote "fast and furious" trying to create a new narrative everyday during our personal narrative unit. We talked about having stamina, the concentration to say more, and to have the endurance to stay focused. We learned together that every writing piece doesn't have to be great, but writers have to get in the habit of letting their words and ideas out, they had to practice writing everyday to get better.
This brings us to our non fiction writing unit. Students were ready to write once again with a purpose in mind. To teach, to inform. Fully equipped, (well some are anyway:) with some background on writing a quality paragraph, jotting a plan for main ideas and details using boxes and bullets, writers got to choose a non fiction topic to write about that they were interested in and felt that they were already experts on. I told them about the project three weeks before they got to choose their topic. I wanted to create a "buzz" for finding the perfect topic. I knew the writing would only be good if students had a topic they felt passionate and excited about. As Lucy says, "writers can only engage readers if they themselves are engaged in the topic."
Fast forward, the kids seem to be loving this project. They seem to be loving the freedom to choose the structure of how each page will go. They were excited to create a table of contents of their own based on the main idea of each subtopic. As we learn about text structures in non fiction we discuss how pages in our informational books might mirror those of authors and books we enjoy. We looked at several good introductions. We learned that an introduction is like a movie preview, getting a reader excited to read the entire book. Students wrote their own introductions. They are creating their own headings and crafting their own designs for how they will present the information on each subtopic. We are trying out descriptive paragraphs, sequence charts, labeled diagrams, and finding words that should go in a glossary.
I love seeing kids take risks in their writing by trying out sequence charts or lists. They are dabbling in using companion sentences to tell readers what the important, or new words in their pieces mean. The power of our workshop seems to lie in the sharing. As we look at chapters from writers' drafts, we are noticing what they do well as a writer and giving each other next steps to take. My hope is that through the sharing conversations they are lifting strategies they will try out in their own writing.
My next steps as a teacher are to work on organizing the conferencing. I feel like an overstretched octopus during writing, a crazy ping pong ball, stepping to help, one child, the next, the next. My next goal is to model for students how to rely on buddy coaches to help to get feedback on their writing:) Or maybe some group conferencing on kids who are working towards the same goal?
I am excited to see how students will choose to teach our class about baseball, having an older brother, Christmas traditions in their home, taking care of triplets, martial arts, swim team, and fishing to name a few topics. I love to hear the buzz in the room as writers try out new text structures, decide where to put a diagram, or decide on the best way to organize their descriptive paragraphs. The enthusiasm, I believe, lies in the choice, the freedom to make their writing their own.
Here is the rubric I created for this project using the common core standards. It's a work in progress, but a starting point for goals we are working towards:)