Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Assignment Five: Written Reflection- Section Three

ASSIGNMENT FIVE: WRITTEN REFLECTION-Section Three- The Essential Writing Day Chapters 7-10

Chapter 7: Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills
• How might we integrate skill work into student writing rather than teaching it in isolation?
• Daily Oral Language exercises – THEY DON’T WORK!!!
• The importance of focusing on meaning and quality first
• All writing needs both a PURPOSE and an AUDIENCE
• How thinking aloud can make your teaching more explicit
• Teaching WRITING – not just the language of writing (process, process, process)
• What about writing standards? In your District and State?
• Key writing minilessons
• Revision – how to get students to care about it
• Letting kids in on the secret that – Yes! – Conventions do matter!
• How can we effectively use word walls?

In Chapter 7, suitably titled “Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills,” Regie gets to the heart of what so many teachers struggle with: “Fitting it all in!!!” Many of the elementary teachers that we work with are beginning to feel as though their personal motto is: “Jack of all trades; master of none.” We just don’t have the time to teach well what has to be taught. The only answer to this problem is to modify our instruction so it agrees with Regie’s stance that isolated skill work (such as Friday spelling tests, DOL, grammar worksheets…) will not help our students grow into writers (or readers.) On page 144, Regie shares four components for an integrated Writing Workshop:

1. Identify writing genres that would interest students (and meet district requirements)
2. Decide who the audience would be for each piece of writing.*
3. Model your own writing process and show students how you struggle.
4. Have students share writing regularly (for both celebration and great teaching moments.)
*This created the biggest change in my own class’s writing - once my students began to write with an audience in mind, the quality of writing shot right up!

Regie also gets to the heart of what writing with “voice” really is and addresses how to teach children to write with an honest voice in their own writing. She describes voice as “the writer’s unique personality on paper, his own melody in words, her ‘mark’ as an individual. To write with voice, the writer has to be interested in the writing.” We think that many teachers and students are unclear as to how to add true voice to their writing. Regie suggests, “Voice is in the details – but details that show the real person and story behind the words, not just details for the sake of adding more words…”

Integrating those isolated editing skills such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling into our writing will increase the efficiency of our instruction. Bottom line – if the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear.”

Chapter 8: Organize for Daily Writing
• What is our definition of Writing Workshop? What does Regie say?
• How can we have student choice within a structure?
• The importance of writing talk (teachers and students)
• The ultimate nightmare for all of us…scheduling…finding the time to write everyday
• The importance of routines, organization and modeling expected behavior
• Genre study – why it’s important to have both school-wide and district-wide conversations
• The possibilities within genres

Figuring out a way to “fit it all in” is usually one of the most frustrating things many of us face. It starts at the beginning of the year as we first plan our daily schedule and continues throughout the remainder of the year. Considering how you will create your schedule to include a solid chunk of time for both reading and writing will probably be the most stressful piece to the start of your year.

Create a Comprehensive Literacy Framework: Play with your time and consider what changes you might make in your daily literacy framework for next year. Take a look at the samples that Regie provides on pages 185-187 for some possibilities. You do not have to post your schedule, but we believe this is a worthwhile activity to complete on your own.

Chapter 9: Conference with Students
• What is the purpose of a Writing Conference?
• What are the different types of Writing Conferences?
• How can Share be used effectively?
• How to conduct a productive conference
• What about management and routines?

We are so glad that this chapter talks about Share during Writer’s Workshop. Too often this component is skipped by teachers who feel there isn’t enough time in the day to “fit it all in.” However, it’s a vital piece of the workshop and beneficial to all the students. Share sessions are an additional time to teach. The teachers in my school are quite comfortable using Share as their mini-lesson if the need arises. Given the reality of daily schedules they were finding that they couldn’t have a mini-lesson, confer and share everyday. They then realized that their Shares sometimes were the minilessons. For more information about Share we recommend looking at Leah Mermelstein’s Don’t Forget To Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop. In this slim book, Leah explains in detail four types of Share: Content Share, Craft Share, Process Share and Progress Share.

The “Tips for Successful Whole-Class Shares and Conferences” on page 215 are excellent ones to keep in mind. The bottom line for Conferences and Shares is that students should feel successful and want to continue to write. Make sure what you say to the child encourages them to keep on writing. “The conference is secondary; the student as writer and confident learner is primary.”

Chapter 10: Make Assessment Count
• Understanding how rubrics work
• How can we collect reliable data on students’ writing throughout the day?
• Guidelines for grading and providing evidence for parents, administrators and the public

“There is lots of writing assessment going on these days, but little of it actually improves the quality of students’ writing.” As Regie continues she points out that this ‘assessment’ “is seldom used to improve daily instruction.” This chapter is about becoming more knowledgeable about assessments. Regie notes, that unless teachers know how to teach writing well, it can be a waste of time to examine students’ writing and place students on a writing continuum. She encourages you, as a staff to “write together, study together, converse together, gather school-wide data, analyze these data and set goals for improving writing instruction. There is no shortcut to helping students become effective writers and there is no program you can buy that will do it for you.”

Remember to use rubrics judiciously and not overdo it. They should be “used as an evaluation tool, not as the driving instructional force.” “Use professional common sense. It is not advisable to apply rubrics to ALL writing nor to score ALL writing. Just as our students need lots of practice reading many texts without the expectation that they will be assessed on everything they read, they need lots of practice writing without being assessed on everything they write.” (Page 243)

Have your students do a lot of writing! “Extensive writing across the curriculum as part of an excellent writing program is the best preparation for doing well on (standardized) tests. Readers have to read avidly to become readers and the same holds true for writers. Kids who write a lot develop higher-order thinking and understanding that translates to higher achievement on all types of tests.” Be sure to check out “Try It Apply It” on page 246 and throughout the chapter for ideas to incorporate into your program.

As Regie points out in this chapter, “The joy has gone out of writing.” We need to “concentrate on developing kids as learners rather than kids as test takers.”


  1. As I reflect upon chapter 7, two main ideas caught my attention. Focusing on meaning and quality first and teaching whole-to-part-to-whole will be a shift in my teaching. With this idea in mind, it seems that students writing will be more authentic if they understand who their audience is, if I am modeling my own writing, and celebrating on a regular basis. One thought I had while reading this text is the isolation of skills. This last year I implemented the use of mentor sentences and saw incredible growth with my students and their understanding of a sentence structure, as well as adding vivid verbs and synonyms for repetitive or non-descriptive words. I plan on continuing the use of this, as I believe my students were able to apply their understanding of sentence structure and this will also help when conferencing because my students and I will be using the same language or ideas from the mentor sentences.
    The other idea that caught my attention in chapter 7 is first to engage our students in writing about topics they care about. Students need to have buy-in. Because of district writing assessments and preparing for the state assessments, writing may have been stifled and laborious for my students. I love the idea of starting the year off with getting my students to enjoy writing by allowing choice, while they are building up their stamina and fluency, and learning the importance of respecting the reader.
    As I read chapter 8, my thoughts were based on my past experience with implementing writers workshop and the changes that I need to implement. The first thing I need to do is find more time for writing and value the time. In the past years, my writing block was limited to 30 minutes. Knowing the importance of modeling and celebrating now, I will be sure to be make sure we have adequate time for these components.
    The second thing I want to implement is having my students write and publish more short pieces. I love the idea of my students writing letters, more poetry instead of in isolation, and creating classroom books. With the use of technology, I can see how this can be easily implemented and valued. Students can generate their pieces on documents and share and edit with a peer. The excitement for writing will grow as pieces are published and celebrated.
    Conferencing with students is something that I have implemented in the past. I have used a spiral notebook and designated one page to each student. During a conference, I would always note the date and notes made on the previous conferences. However, I do know that I have missed conferences with a few students and have conferenced with others more. One idea I appreciated is the scheduling of a formal one-on-one conference and the importance of respecting the reader and making sure students understand that they need to make their writing as good as they can get it and rereading the text as to not waste my time or theirs. Addressing the four components, question, compliment, teaching point, and for next time to keep will help focus my writing conferences.
    I appreciate the idea of helping my students visualize the reader/scorer for assessments that are completed for the district and state. Having students understand they have one chance to show-case their writing by entertaining and wowing their reader will give students a purpose and an audience. I can see my 5th graders rise to the occasion as I create a story about an adult who may be bored and needs to be energized by their writing piece that they are sharing.

  2. Hi,
    I'm not sure what mentor sentences are, but I feel that Regie would say remember that you are a professional and if you see something working then continue to use it if you think it helps move the students forward in their learning and love of literacy. :D

    How Jackie and I have taught "writing for the test" is to explain it like a genre. We tell students, there are different types and purposes of writing and one form of writing while in school is writing on tests or exams. And in this grade when you write on the exam there are formats and pieces that need to be included. This is not how you would normally write--but for this specific reason it is what the scorers are looking for.

    Maybe something similar would help your students differentiate from creative, well constructed writing and test writing?

    YEAH!!! Yes, more time for writing and celebrations! Excellent plan.

  3. Candace Palmesano – August 10, 2017
    Essential Writing – Assignment Five: Be Efficient and Integrate Basic Skills
    Chapter 7 – Section 3----I like Regie’s explanation of reducing isolated skills work. I have seen that just teaching students what paragraphs are, even showing them in books, does not make much sense to students. But when students write their papers on the Iditarod, I can say this bit of information is about the dogs, let’s put it in your paragraph about the dogs. It’s like learning to use the Active Board for teachers, we went to a workshop where they told us how to use it in the classroom, but until I was in my own classroom with my own Active Board, I didn’t know what the representatives were talking about and why.
    I always have an audience for the students to write for and I try not to make it me or for a test, it is usually their parents for open house, their buddies in Kindergarten, the parents walking in the hall, the mushers in the Iditarod, etc. I used to publish class books when I taught Kindergarten, but I don’t in Third Grade, as Chapter 7 says, “it is hard fitting it all in!” This class is really what I have needed to get me back on track with writing. I think the writing part of ReadyGen has good intentions and I could follow what the main concepts are by using the four components for an integrated writing workshop and the Optimal Learning Model. The Four Components are brief enough and easy enough to follow: Genres that interest students, decide on an audience, Model, Share and Celebrate.
    Our school keeps changing the way we are to score our student writing. This year we are going back to the State scoring guide. Last year we used the scoring guide that goes with the writing curriculum in ReadyGen. They are a little different and my co-teacher, who is a wonderful teacher, teaches her students to pass the writing test by knowing the scoring rubrics. I will teach those traits, but by modeling and not in isolation. I use Rebecca Sitton spelling, our district adopted it about 10 years ago and then dropped it. I still use it because it uses a close spelling test and it is only on words that third graders normally use. They learn spelling rules from it also. We spend about 15 - 20 minutes a day on the program. After writing that I use a thesaurus, Regie is saying to limit the use of dictionaries and thesaurus’! But I only use them every now and then. I ask students when they are writing to raise their hands if they need the spelling of a word and I write it on the board for them so they don’t take a lot of time from their writing.

    1. I love your Active Board analogy. It's so true! Yes, audience for children is so important...writing for a purpose and knowing who that audience is really increases students' effort. YEAH! So glad you are enjoying the course! :D

  4. In Chapter 8, I agree with needing lots of time in which to write. The good thing about our schedules in the past 2 years is that we have 5 days of 45 minutes every day for our Writing block. Last year, I saw vast improvement in the quality and the quantity of work my students did and they enjoyed most of the assignments. I am looking forward to organizing for the year and utilizing Regie’s ideas on what to teach in my writing workshops, not only in writing, but in other subjects. I am especially excited about adding more modeling, conferencing and publishing. The struggle is not having as much time now but allowing student choice within the curriculum, especially if it is across all subjects. It is a new idea to not separate “writing workshop” from other writing, even though I know that it is important and have included some writing in math, reading, science, and social studies notebooks. Looking at Lea Payton’s Schedule, I would like to add an independent Writing time to my writing rotations. We have writing from 10:45 – 11:45…this time would possibly look like this: 10:45 – Mini Lesson/ Modeling/shared Writing; 11:00 – 11:30 Rotations 1. Independent Writing-not in notebooks (letters, poems, lists, stories; 2. Writing in notebooks/writing conferences 11:30-11:45 Share what we wrote/Celebrate. I tried the writing binders 1 year and it was hard to keep them updated, but I think I would like to try it again because there was too much clutter and I was over planning writing every day.
    I couldn’t wait to read Chapter 9, since I have tried different ways of fitting individual writing conferences into the day. One thing I would like to try is doing roving conferences with brief anecdotal notes. This I would keep in a binder with other notes on student’s content in other subjects. Of course, I wouldn’t do this all the time because it would be too time consuming with 27 students. I usually have 4-5 names on the board with whom I know have work that is near complete and pretty well done and need conferencing so I don’t have students lined up at my desk. I like the thought of establishing guidelines on when students are ready for a conference, with students, like the ones mentioned on page 219. It would be a great success if we were able to move to the “release of responsibility” on the optimal learning model, but that will be my goal. It is good to have the guidelines for moving to peer conducted peer conferences because I have had my class do them before but not in a good order or with enough modeling. There is still so much involved in making the conferences productive, starting with what is the criteria for the piece of writing and ending with giving positive encouragement/praise is so important.

    1. That is a sweet writing schedule!!! So glad you have writing across the curriculum.

  5. Chapter 10 One of the many things that my writing instruction lacks has been conferencing with students after one of the three writing assessments has been scored. Those papers are usually put in the student files and discussed at parent-teacher conferences. They take a lot of time to score (according to the 6-trait scoring guide) and I usually don’t take the time or have the time to discuss with each student why they got a certain score. It is mainly for the teacher, administration and data team. Even when I spent time discussing with the students how they were scored, they did not show that much improvement. Child-friendly rubrics written by the teacher and students can be helpful as checklists because it helps students know what to include in their writing. When we focus on the checklist instead of the child, though, we miss a lot of what the child is trying to say. It seems that if students aren’t trying to meet all the things on the rubric, they can relax more and actually write more from the heart. I know that spending many hours preparing for the test is not going to develop students as learners. The simple guidelines on page 246 are helpful for students so they can gain stamina in writing and not have to prepare for tests. Lastly, what I really want to work towards is, again, toward student self-assessment and that “release of responsibility”.

    1. Focusing on the "Release of Responsibility"
      is an excellent goal for your year. Perhaps if you have to submit official goals to your principal this could be one. (Since you plan to focus on it anyway, you may as well get "credit" for doing it. :D)

  6. Chapter 7:
    I’ve noticed over the years that the most effective approach for my students when it comes to learning the nuances of grammar are when they do paragraph fixes from actual articles online. I’ll take an article about something relevant to the now and strip it of its grammar and punctuation; then I’ll let them choose groups and either ask them to fix it from a blind standpoint, or I’ll give them how many fixes are needed (12 commas, six periods, two semi-colons, etc.). I sometimes add candy to the winning team, sometimes not. The idea of competition works well, but so does the fact they are talking about writing with one another and they can do so with as much condemnation of the writer as they’d like because they don’t know this person. It’s like critiquing a movie in that they can become the expert even though they’re not.

    These typically come after a mini-lesson (or a couple of day’s worth of lessons) and we compare ideas and punctuation afterwards. The best is when there are two different types of punctuation that makes sense and they take the time to talk about each and why it works.

    Chapter 8:
    As I continue to read this book and reflect on my own classroom, I’m coming to realize more and more that I am blessed that I only teach one subject. I knew this before, but now I know it. It allows me to spend more concentrated time on the subject at hand—and my school has 90 minutes blocks, so I really have a lot of time to devote to the craft of writing.

    I also have enough time to have full conferences with students in class about their progress or their pieces while my other students are using that time to work independently (though often in small groups) on the writing assignment given to them.

    My day consists of 10-20 minutes of conversation to make sure that every student speaks every day, then we move into the lesson; then they get a break, and when they come back from their break it’s time for either another lesson or the implementation and discussion of the original lesson.

    Chapter 9:
    While I do have time in class to give individual attention—and I do use it—I’ve found the most effective conferencing I do is during my “office hours,” which are before or after school. It’s easier to be finite in the comments and time because everyone has places to be; rather than during class when that’s where they have to be so they feel more OK with either skipping it or asking superfluous questions.

    In terms of whole-class share, one thing I’m fairly adept at is seeing sentences in my head, so I’ll have them share, say, a thesis statement out loud and have them speak the punctuation. I’ll then let them know if something is missing or not, and some of my stronger writers in the class will ask questions about punctuation to me as well.

    Chapter 10:
    My students write a summer assignment due on day one. Also on day one I give them some writing rules that they should abide, and then give them the chance to re-do that essay if they’d like. Either way, the final copy is due on the next day of class, which is when I collect them, grade them, then turn them back with rubrics attached. The part of my grading process that I like is that from there they are primarily assessed on their progress as a writer. This has given more gravity to the rubrics since they are not punitive and are more looked at as scaffolding.

  7. I love this assignment. How fun for the kids to work together--sometimes with the known number of punctuation and sometimes not. It sounds like you put a lot of fun into your classroom and I think that is imperative. :D