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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reading As Writers Part 1

My name is Christy and I'm one of the four teachers who blog here.  My main focus for reflection this year will be on teaching writing to my second graders.

Students love to be read to, especially when pictures are involved.  They've been read to for years.  Some more than others.  I'm lucky this year to have many of the same students as I had last year when I taught first grade.  Like last year, reading aloud is the best classroom mangagment tool I have in my bag of tricks.  When I read aloud, my students are on their best behavior.  Works every time.

Reading aloud is a great time to model reading strategies by thinking aloud.  So far this year I've (along with my second grade team) chosen one reading strategy to focus on each week.  I still haven't perfected doing shared reading (or shared writing) with my students.  I tend to skip (not purposefully) that step and jump straight to guided and independent practice.  Just because I'm blogging about it, doesn't mean I'm perfect.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  I'm blogging so I can reflect on what I do in the classroom so that I can work toward perfecting it.  I'm not going to lie just because I'm putting this out there for everyone in the blogosphere to see.  Especially my colleagues and administrators.  Eek!

Hopefully some of you can relate to my struggles.  Hopefully some of you have some sound advice for me.  Hopefully I'll continue on my journey and get closer to being a "perfect teacher".

Anyways, back to my discussion about reading aloud in the classroom....

This year, I'm trying something different.  I've been dabbling in the writing realm myself a bit over the past year and I've learned a lot about the writing process while doing so.  I've always known this, but now I've experienced it.  Reading makes better writers.   So now I'm using this to help my students.  We're practicing reading as writers.

The PROCESS of writing is one of three main writing benchmarks for our students.  (The others are CRAFT and CONVENTIONS.  I'll talk about these benchmarks in another post.)  Coming up with an idea for writing is sometimes a difficult first step. Published picture books are a great source of inspiration.

Here's what we do.  We read a page or two of a picture book.  We stop.  We discuss what the author did.  We talk about how it made us feel.  Did we wonder?  What about?  Did we want to turn the page?  Why?  How can we do that in our own writing?

Then, we write.

The next day we read on.  NOW what did the author do?  Were we surprised?  By what?  Why did the author write that?  How did he/she write it?  How can we surprise our readers like that? 

Let's go do that!  Let's add to our writing!

Here's a more specific example.

Product Details

We started this process with Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski.  In the beginning, we learn about the characters and the setting.  (Students need to name characters and setting in their writing.) The author "blows up" the main character, Al, by describing him in three ways:  "a nice man, a quiet man, and a janitor"  then we find out where he lives with his dog "in one room on the West Side".

The students needed to name two characters and choose one to "blow up" with three describing words or pharases.  They used a carrot to add these descriptions in if they forgot to the first time around.  (Revision!)

Hey, Al starts out with the characters living a pretty boring life.  Then, after stating the average way they lived, the author created some suspense with the line "What could be bad?"

Turning the page, the students were suprised to learn that not only could the dog talk, but he argued with Al.  Ooh, the author created a problem for the characters.  And we discussed how dialogue can make stories more interesting.  "Look at this dump!"  Eddie growled.  "We can't have a house?  A little back yard to run around in for a change?"  vs.  Eddie was unhappy with where the pair lived and they argued all the time.

So my students needed to return to their work and create a problem for their characters.  (Some of my students were NOT happy about upsetting their characters!)

The next day, a large bird stuck his head in Al's bathroom and spoke to him.

The students needed to make something unexpected happen in their own writing.  They added the element of surprise!  And we switched our story into Fantasy mode...talking animals!

Finally, I finished reading Hey, Al aloud to the students.  The bird whisked Al and his dog away to a magical island.  In the middle, the characters had never been so happy.  We discussed the author's use of description "lush trees, rolling hills, gorgeous grass".

Once the two started turning into birds, they realized they had it pretty good back home.  In the end, they escaped the island and went home, happy to be there together.

The students, of course, needed to bring their characters through their problem so they could be happy at the end of the story.

Here are some students samples of the beginnings of what we called their "Hey, Al stories".

It was Christin's, a mean boy, a puppy lover, and an x box boy's birthday.... 
 Elsa, a talkative girl, a dance girl, a nice girl...
 Megan, a cool girl, a funny kid, and a silly had a good time together.  (The problem in this story is the two friends have a hard time agreeing on what they want to do together.)
 Mom, born in South Dakota, kind, job as a teacher...One day I was brushing my teeth when a giant shark and dolphin jumped so high I saw them from my window.
Me and my dad, a nice man, a worker, and a nice cook was in the home.  It is a mess said Dad.  It is not a mess said Evan....

Well, it's a start anyways!
After a few more inspirational picture books, a few more beginnings, a few more works-in-progress...we'll be ready to choose ONE writing piece to complete the writing process.  I'm excited to post the students' revisions, and later edits, and watch as they grow as writers this year.

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