Writing “Small Moments” in a K/1 Class

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As we continue to explore and discuss our year long social studies theme, Families & Homes, many conversations around Holiday traditions are coming up. In writing, we have been focusing on “small moments”, writing with focus, detail and dialogue. Since I attended the Teacher’s College Writing Institute in the summer, I’ve been keen on implementing the new writing tools I learned.

This is the abbreviated version of the “small moment” piece I modeled.

It was raining cats and dogs and I could barely see the road.

I gripped the steering wheel and I felt my heart pounding all

the way to my fingertips.  I said to my sister, “Poka, I’m

really nervous driving in this rain. What should we do?” 

Finally it stopped raining cats and dogs. It was sprinkling now

and I could see the road ahead. I felt relieved. I even started

to get excited about the many adventures we were

going to have in San Francisco!

The kids laughed when I wrote “cats and dogs”. I told them it was a figure of speech and I plan on having a mini lesson on that sometime in the future. I explained that when writing a “small moment” we focus on just one event and expand on it. I told my students that I could write about all the things that I did in San Francisco: the car trip, Golden Gate Park, my aunt’s house, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, the different restaurants, visiting with my cousins…

However, I was only writing about the moment when it rained hard as I drove to San Francisco. The kids asked, “How long was that?”  I said, “It rained for twenty minutes but it felt like an eternity for me because I was so nervous.”

Most of my students wrote about a small moment during the Thanksgiving break. As I sip my coffee on this Saturday morning while reading their writing pieces I am all smiles. Each and every student is making progress.

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This kinder friend told me how he was jumping so high on the trampoline his hair was escaping him. “My mom kept telling me to stop jumping on the trampoline because she was scared I was going to fall but I didn’t.”

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This first grader asked how to spell Thanksgiving. “Use your brave spelling. Say the word slowly and write the sounds you hear.”  FAXGIVEN – fantastic!

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This kinder friend surprised me! “I went to my grandma’s hotel.”

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This first grader added many details in her small moment writing piece. On her way back from New York, they had to wait in the airplane for two hours. Prior to writing I asked my students to tell me about their pictures. She shared that it was really boring but she kept herself busy by reading and drawing. She asked me, “What do you call the person who fixes airplanes?” I suggested, “Airplane mechanic and aircraft technician.” It was great to see that when she wrote she used  “airplane mkanik” – brave spelling at its best! She also incorporated “I felt relieved” from the writing piece I modeled.

Our little writers have become very comfortable and confident as they write. I wish I could video them to show how focused they are during writer’s workshop. After all these years teaching, observing their writing progress always feels like magic!

 

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. ― Roald Dahl

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The Teachers College Reading & Writing Project: August Writing Institute

 

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Teachers College: Columbia University

This week I participated in the August Institute on the teaching of Writing at Teachers College at Columbia University. Upon registering, we were given tote bags with the Teachers College logo, several books and a notebook where we would be practicing and developing our own writing skills during the course of the week. As an educator who loves everything about literacy and writing, I was thrilled to be here.

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We were welcomed by Lucy Calkins, the founding director of The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). She shared a very personal story about her father. I thought of my own father and how on my to do list there is a huge need for me to listen and understand his story.  Lucy’s words rang true because writing for me has always been a deeply personal and spiritual affair. It also occurred to me that I don’t always honor this personal connection of writing with my students. Unfortunately, in the game of testing, standards and rubrics, I have sometimes been more concerned with the final product than the personal connection of the story or the writing process.

Every day we broke out into small groups. In these small group sessions, we experienced what a writer’s workshop could look and feel like as a student. Our presenter guided us through mini lessons, whole group and small group instructions. She modeled different writing styles: personal narratives, small moments, non fiction, writing reviews, how to and all about books.

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After she gave a mini lesson, we were sent to draw a picture/sketch to help develop our writing. This I found interesting because some schools frown upon drawing because they think it is not academic in nature. I myself have been told that the drawing portion of my interactive big books were not in line with the curriculum. As a veteran teacher, I have observed time and time again how eager kids are to share what they have drawn. And as we learned, drawing is equally important as the written word because its purpose is to tell a story, share an insight or convey a message. The presenter modeled how teachers can confer with students (individually or in a small group) and how crucial it is to take notes on what the student is doing independently, observe where they get stuck, and how to scaffold support so they use their “writing tools”.

 

While I am in the habit of conferring/conferencing with my students in writing, I have mostly focused on the rubric. I am sad to say that yes, I did mark up their papers, I did point out missing periods and misspelled words.  In our morning group I asked the presenter, “So if I’m not helping them edit and revise and I’m not marking their paper, what exactly should I do?” She said, “Focus on one writing point: structure, development, conventions or processThis will help the student better understand the writing process. The focus is on understanding the process of writing so that they eventually transfer these skills in their independent writing.”  “So they don’t publish a final copy?” I asked. She smiled,”No. They are 5, 6 and 7 years old. They can fancy up a writing piece by adding a cover and coloring a picture. How many times have you asked your students to publish a piece to include all of the revisions you’ve helped them with, and they still copy some, if not most of it incorrectly. What’s more important, the final draft or internalizing the writing process?”  I didn’t answer her because I was having an AHA moment. This was paramount! 

We were asked to write in our notebooks everyday. We wrote a lot. Sometimes I really understood the lesson and went for it. Other times I was at a loss. “What’s a small moment?” I asked. “It’s writing with focus, detail and dialogue.” “What?” I asked again and again. As much as the presenter explained it to me, my colleagues at my table gave examples, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. But after writing several small moments throughout the week, I understand how necessary it is to put myself in the role of the student in order to help them navigate the process of writing.

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Our final day together, we gathered for a closing celebration. I was exhausted, hot and consumed with rushing back to the hotel to pack and head back home. I sat on the steps of the aisle since there weren’t anymore seats available. But as five brave teachers shared their “small moment” writing pieces I leaned in, wanting to hear their stories. My heart pounded and broke, I wiped tears from my eyes and held my breath. While I couldn’t see any of the speakers, I could hear their words, I could feel their pain and was instantly taken to that small moment in their lives. Their stories were brutally honest and I wondered how they didn’t lose it as they shared to a crowd of over 1300 people.

 

I have lots of ideas brewing in my mind and I know how lucky I was to be part of the amazing TCRWP group. I also need to get my father a notebook so he can share some family stories with me.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it separates the meaningless and the trivial from what is really important. – Donald Graves