Sherry’s Writing Weblog

November 9, 2008

From Notebook to First Draft

Filed under: Mini-Lessons for Writer's Notebooks — sdoherty @ 3:19 pm

In my professional reading about writing I’ve been particularly interested in finding ways to help students move from the writer’s notebook to a first draft.  I’ve discovered the following possibilities:

1.  After a few weeks of writing entries, have students reread their notebooks to look for patterns in their writing.  What particular topic or topics do they write about most often?  Once they’ve discovered a pattern, have students highlight the entries that contain this topic and begin to put together a collection of thoughts they’ve written about the topic.  From this collection students can develop a published piece.  There may be a common underlying theme that pops right out, or students may need a conference with the teacher to flush out a key idea.  Holding a conference with a group is very helpful because students gain knowledge and ideas from listening to the feedback given to others.  Also, in a group conference ideas may come from more than one source which is usually the teacher.  Talking to peers about their collection is helpful as well.  The published piece can be a poem, song, picture book for kids, newspaper article, recount or memoir, letter, and so on.

2.  In The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy McCormick Calkins suggests that students reread their notebooks and highlight something that grabs their attention or captures their hearts.  They should then live with that topic for awhile.  For a couple of days they should dedicate their writing to, or pursue that topic–thinking, questioning, drawing, writing, talking, remembering, imagining, etc.  Then they should decide on a format (poem, story, etc.) and write a first draft.

As with all stages of writing, moving from notebook to first draft takes time.  Time to think and rethink, time to talk, and time to confer with the teacher.  It is vital to give students the time they need during this pre-writing stage.  Mini-lessons with small groups or the entire class may be necessary to support students or scaffold their learning.

I’m interested in hearing about the writer’s notebook from other teachers.  How are you using it?  How is it going?  Do you have any thoughts or ideas that you could share with others? Are you excited? Are you frustrated? (Writing is difficult.  Teaching writing is even more difficult.)  I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  Please consider answering the questions I’ve posted in the entry ‘Please Help’.  You would be doing me a tremendous favour.


November 2, 2008

Writing to Think Critically

Filed under: Mini-Lessons for Writer's Notebooks — sdoherty @ 8:31 pm

Writer’s notebooks can easily become stagnant and very journal-like. Often, topics can be very superficial. Notebooks must be nurtured and “kneaded”. If all we do is encourage kids to write and write and write, they will continue to write the same things in the same way. I remember starting my own writer’s notebook. It was difficult at first. I wrote a lot about my dog and cat, Jagger and Mick (my babies!). My entries have since grown and become more reflective with practise.
Randy Bomer has written an article about writing to think critically. In his words, “We want students to view their writing as more than exercises for learning to write, as more than obedience to teacher instructions, but rather as a unique form of social action.” He believes in “actively teaching a socially critical lens for thinking” using the writer’s notebook. He writes about how to do this through demonstration, assisted performance, and reflective conversation.
Students can learn to think and write critically through carefully selected mentor texts, reflection and accountable talk. We need to read rich literature to them, reflect upon the big ideas, ask questions to promote thinking, and then invite our students to write.
The LNSTs are in the process of putting together a book list of mentor texts with rich big ideas. I will share the list on the blog (with their permission) once it is complete. Also, I have attached Randy Bomer’s article, Writing to Think Critically: The Seeds of Social Action. It is an excellent read.
I’m interested in hearing from others about the kind of writing they are finding in their notebooks. Perhaps we could use this blog to form a discussion group for improving writing. Let me now if you are interested.


October 28, 2008

Ralph Fletcher

Filed under: Mini-Lessons for Writer's Notebooks — sdoherty @ 11:26 pm

I| am a huge fan of Ralph Fletcher.  Much of what I’ve learned about how to teach kids to write comes from reading his books.  He writes for teachers as well as students.  Ralph believes that writers are unique observers of the world.  They learn to write from observing lots and writing lots—writing about what they know.  In his words, “You don’t learn to write through going through a series of preset writing exercises.  You learn to write by grappling with a subject that truly matters to you” (What a Writer Needs, p.4).  This comment makes me question whether I was truly a writing teacher during my time in the classroom.  I assigned writing, edited writing, and assessed writing, but I don’t think I did a very good job of teaching writing.  I told kids to write, and we wrote and published a lot, but I didn’t show them how to write.  I mostly fixed their conventional errors.  Now that I know what I know, I am passionate about teaching kids the art of writing.

The writer’s notebook has changed my view of writing.  During my last year in the classroom I introduced it to my grade 3s and they couldn’t get enough of it, which convinced me that it was a truly powerful tool.  Keeping my own writer’s notebook has changed me as a writer, as well.  It used to take me a long time to think of what to write (just like the kids) but now it seems to flow.  I’ve discovered my voice and grown as a writer.   I would advise any teacher of writing to keep a writer’s notebook and share it with your kids.  They will love you for it.  I actually have 2, one I can share at school and one I can’t.

Ralph Fletcher has written many books for kids, to teach them how to become writers.  They are available at Chapter’s online for around $6.00 each.  The titles are:  A Writer’s Notebook, Live Writing, Poetry Matters, and How to Write Your Life Story.  There’s one more but the title escapes me.  These books are amazing read alouds.  Recently, I found Ralph’s web site.  He has a section with tips for young writers.  Check it out:

Thanks, Ralph for your many books and wise words.  I am a better teacher thanks to you.

October 18, 2008

Mini-lessons for Writer’s Notebooks

Filed under: Mini-Lessons for Writer's Notebooks — sdoherty @ 1:39 pm

One thing I’ve noticed about WNs is that they can easily become journals filled with shallow writing.  I think it’s important to give kids direction, with mini-lessons, on a regular basis.  Yesterday I worked with kids in a junior classroom who have just started to use notebooks, and I’d like to share my mini-lesson. 

I began by sharing my own WN, reading a couple of different entries to demonstrate the variety it contains–a poem, a top 10 list, and a personal andecdote.  Then I talked to the kids about how the WN is different than a journal; that every entry shouldn’t sound the same…Today I went to my cousin’s and we played video games.  I beat level 7.  Blah, blah, blah.  They laughed and nodded.  I read them my memory list–Things I will never forget.  A few ideas were peeing my pants in grade 1 (they loved this); getting stuck at the top of the Demon Drop at Cedar Point (I’m afraid of heights); and jumping into a pool and knocking out my two front teeth, the summer before grade 8.  I had them make their own memory lists, which were very interesting.  A few kids wrote about almost drowning (wouldn’t that make an interesting entry), some wrote about broken limbs, lost pets, friends, coming to Canada for the first time, etc.  Then we shared, which they loved.  (I believe in sharing, sharing, sharing.  The more sharing, the better).  At the end of the lesson I had them place stars beside ideas that they think they could say more about and told them that these could become future notebook entries.  I wrapped it up by talking about how writing can be so much more interesting when it comes from real experiences with lots of emotion.  They were so excited at the end of this lesson.  I can’t wait to visit their classroom again and listen to some of their entries.

I’d like to hear from others about mini-lessons, or even conversations with kids that they think have made a difference.

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