5 Tips for Helping Hesitant Writers

Some students are natural writers.  As a second grader in my room said earlier this year, “All you need to be a writer is 1. a pencil and 2. an imagination.”  Except…it’s not that easy for every kid, especially those identified learning support students who may already find reading and writing a challenge.

My learning support students are not pulled for direct instruction in writing.  Instead, they remain in the classroom for workshop.  The idea of independent writing and the amount of choice they get is daunting to some.  These are some things I’ve found particularly helpful in working with this population of students:

1. Use lots of lists and/or heart maps.  Many students have a hard time getting started.  Brainstorming a list of likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. or filling in a heart map can help narrow topic choice and give students an entry point to their writing-  writers write about what they know, and everyone knows about something!

2. Keep a portable word walls in writing folders.  Sometimes it is a challenge for students with specific learning disabilities to utilize a word wall that requires them to get up, scan, and copy.  A portable word wall they can be customized with sight words, content-specific words, or wonderous words that students may want to use in their writing.

3. Confer individually or in a small group before releasing students to independent writing.  Prior to sending off students to gather their materials and head to their writing spots, I find it helpful to meet with my group of hesitant writers and make sure that they have a plan and a mini-goal for the day.  We state our writing intentions: “I’m going to write about _________________.”  We make a mini-goal for independent writing:  “I’m going to try and write 3 sentences….I’m going to reread yesterday’s writing and check for capitals.”  Whatever the goal is, it is short and attainable within the 20-30 minute writing block. Then we check in at the end and see if the goal was met.

4. Make mentor texts accessible during independent writing.  Typically the use of mentor text is to teach or demonstrate a specific craft technique.  Having these texts (multiple copies if possible) available for students to use as guides during independent time can be especially helpful. Students can look at a mentor author’s craft and imitate it.

5. Be intentional with writing partnerships and conference partners.  When students are stuck, they can request to confer or work with a partner.  I try to suggest partnerships between hesitant writers and eager writers.  The student who is unsure can get a great model of what the writing could or should sound like.  The confident writer gets a chance to improve his or her own craft by providing suggestions and feedback.

The overall goal is for students to feel like successful writers.  Putting in place different strategies for success will benefit not only those learning support students, but all students in the classroom. Write on!

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A little poem about poems

National Poetry Month means I write my own mentor texts for a lot of my lessons, because poetry is my jam.

Today we wrote “how to” poems and I wrote about how to write a poem. Very meta. Here it is:

How to Write a Poem

Open your eyes

and your mind

Observe what is not there

Crumple up the rules,

discard them like wrapping paper

on Christmas morning.

Invite your soul out to play

Let words fall onto paper

tiny raindrops dotting the pavement

Eventually blurring together

to make art. -JLG 4/16/19

How are you and your students celebrating #NationalPoetryMonth??

The Final Slice (for now)

Well, slicers…we made it.  This was my first time participating in the Slice of Life Challenge.  Thank you to all at TwoWritingTeachers.org for creating this opportunity.

I really did not think 31 days ago that I would be able to do this.  The idea of writing every single day in my notebook is not daunting, but somehow the sharing aspect of this challenge intimidated me.  I have to say, this was a really rewarding experience, even though it was challenging and sometimes frustrating.

Some days I did not feel like writing.  Some days I did not know what to write about.  But there was something that compelled me not to give up.  Truth be told, I’m sure no one would have noticed or cared if I dropped out and stopped posting midway through.  And if I’m being honest, I thought about it.  But somehow I felt this weird accountability to myself- I said I was going to do it, so I’m doing it.  I wish I applied this same determination to my diet when a parent sends in donuts from the Amish market….

It felt good to push myself. I found myself noticing things and thinking, “ooh that’s going to be my slice for today!” I looked forward to reading and commenting on other posts and I loved when I found that someone had commented on mine. How odd that we feel so validated by total strangers.

But that’s the thing, though we may be strangers in the sense that we’ve never met in real life, we are somehow bonded in this community of writers and teachers and humans.  We shared each other’s joys, sorrows, and laughs.  It made us feel close to each other even though we’re as much as an ocean away geographically.  It made me smile when I noticed names on Twitter and thought, “oh I read that person’s slice today!” The internet is a weird and wonderful thing.

Thank you friends, for encouraging and inspiring me.  While we might not write every single day, I hope our virtual paths cross again before next March.

Opening Day

This week was Opening Day for a new MLB season.  A spike in temperatures also made me declare today, March 30, as Opening Day for sandal season.  Or, toe-pening day if you wish.

My feet have enjoyed the off season, hibernating in cozy socks and boots.  Now though, my toes want to come out and enjoy the sunshine.  They are ready to slip into sandals, flip-flops, and any other footwear that one could consider “open-toed”.

The problem is that they haven’t seen the light of day all winter.  So they need a little TLC.  Much like fans don their team shirts and flock to the stadium (or secretly live-stream the game at work), today is all about celebrating my feet with a luxurious pedicure.

I make a modest income and I have a mortgage and grad school tuition, so spa pedicures are not a luxury I engage in often.  Opening Day is an exception.  It is a full-service, treat myself, kind of day.  I can almost feel my blood pressure lower when I slip my toes into the warm, bubbly water.  My shoulders come down from my ears when the pedicurist massages my calves with hot stones….even though I’ve never once gotten a pedicure where the person did not make a comment about the paleness of my skin.  There is something so restorative about sitting in a comfy chair, reading a book, periodically peeking down to assess the progress- my toes radiating my favorite OPI colors:  “Not Really a Waitress” red and “Strawberry Margarita” pink.   (Side note: I would LOVE to have the job of thinking up nail polish colors.  It seems so fun).

Many people spend days like today in the garden, or sunning themselves out on the porch.  But today, the first really spring-like day of the season is my version of Opening Day.  Enjoy!

Testing, Testing

This morning I sat in a meeting about our upcoming state tests.  Everyone who actually spends time in classroom with kids knows that these tests do not truly measure learning.  But so many policy makers and people in power seem to think they are somehow reflective of what happens in schools.  Once, someone sent me a meme that said:

If your job is to tell me how to do my job, shouldn’t you at least know how to do my job?
I’d really like to send this to the current secretary of education.

The rules that the testing overlords come up with are just so ridiculous.  Now I love to read, but why is that only thing kids can do when they finish the test section? Is any kid seriously considering drawing pictures of the questions and answers that some other kid might happen to see? In my experience with fourth graders, they just want to draw pictures of rainbows and robots, not congruent angles.

And why must you immediately snatch the book out of a kid’s hands when they close it?  Are they going to memorize the next day’s questions if they flip back through to find their page after using the bathroom?  They’re likely not paying any attention.

The testing overlords have created a sense of terror in the teachers and administrators, which is then transferred to the students.  I’m fairly certain that no epitaph on any gravestone in any state reads “HERE LIES JOE. HE DIED IN REGRET; NEVER GETTING PROFICIENT OR ADVANCED ON HIS STATE TESTS.”

It amazes me just how many specific rules exist-  are these the result of cheating scandals or do the testing overlords sit around in a room competing to see whose rule is the most asinine? If it is the former, perhaps we need to take a look at why a school would feel compelled to cheat- I’d wager it stems more from fear than from disbelief in student abilities.  If it’s the latter, then…get a hobby.

There are enough reasons to feel stressed and fearful in today’s world.  Just turn on the news.  Performance on a test that means nothing in the grand scheme of life is not something that should keep kids up at night.  It is not something that should determine the worth of a teacher or the success of a school district.  There is just not one benefit that comes from state testing in elementary schools, in my opinion.

All You Need

Some of my students are in a writing rut right now. My learning support students in particular have a difficult time getting started.  They open their notebooks and immediately the, “I don’t know what to write,” begins.

We brainstormed a list earlier in the year about where we could look for ideas.  Today we revisited the list and added some more tips for how we can get “unstuck” when we don’t know what to write.

Our additions to the list are as follows:

Write a sequel to one of your other books

Look back in your notebook for unfinished pieces that you could revisit

Confer with another writer for ideas 

Check your heart map and expert lists or make a new list of things you like to do

Then, one small voice spoke up.  “All you really need to be a writer is 1. a pencil and 2. an imagination. Then you just go from there.”

The simplicity of this struck me.  To this little writer the solution was simple because if you have a pencil and an imagination, you’re all set.  There is no writer’s block.  I definitely would have agreed with him before embarking on this slicing challenge.  Some days I didn’t know what to write about. But I did follow some of the suggestions from our list, most often checking my heart map and my expert lists and memories.

I had a keyboard instead of a pencil, but I have an imagination.  And that’s all I need.

Hoolets and Bawdrins

As mentioned in previous slices, I love Harry Potter and I recently traveled to Scotland.

So it’s no wonder that when I saw a copy of the first book in the series, written in Scots, I had to buy it.  One year a student brought back the 5th book from a trip to India.  I love it, except that it’s in Hindi and I can’t read a single word of it.  And I’m so curious which set of characters is the translation for Dumbledore.

Anyway, I digress….Scots language bears a very slight relationship to standard English. For the first time in my adult life, I realized what it must be like for a child who struggles with reading.  Some words are sight words (regular English) and I know them right away.  And some words are really confusing, have vowel combinations I don’t know how to pronounce, and some I couldn’t understand even in context.  I could read a few words fluently and then would get tripped up on one.  There was a lot of Googling translations. The struggle was real and I felt a newfound empathy for my kids who experience this every single day.

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One word I was able to infer from context and background knowledge was ‘hoolet’.  The hootlets were acting very peculiar in the first chapter of the book and Uncle Vernon took notice.  They are owls of course, and I very much enjoy the word hoolet.  More so than owl.

The other word I especially like was “bawdrins”.  This one took me a second to figure out because I couldn’t make a connection between this word and its English translation. img_0956

Bawdrins means cat, and again, I prefer this word as well.  So from now on, owls and cats are hoolets and bawdrins in my vocabulary!