This Thursday I was excited to have the opportunity to walk over to Middle Tennessee State University to attend a videotaping of a session titled: Writing in the content areas. Michelle Pieczura taught the session and is a part of the leadership in the Middle Tennessee Writing Project. I was fortunate to have the chance to be a part of the Writing Project last summer and learned so many great ways to apply writing to all aspects of my classroom teaching. When I get the chance to learn from Michelle, I'm there! In this blog, I hope to offer some of the resources that were offered in the class as well as two of the ideas that I took back to the library and implemented successfully the next day!
First, let me tell you about MTSU's Center of Educational Media. It is an amazing resource for classroom teachers! With your free registration on the site, you can access and watch any of the archived training videos from your school or home in your free time. Some of the session topics include the following:
- teaching with primary sources
- adaptations for the differentiated classroom
- STEM! engineering for everyone
- common core strategies
- mathematical literacy (Dr. Jeremy Winters)
- much more...you can search by the specific subjects you need
So, Michelle had one hour to teach us all of the most important ways to incorporate writing in the content areas! She taught us about the four arms of writing. Then, we tried two on our own. The first strategy came from the writing to learn arm. We wrote to consolidate and review. Michelle explained that to quickly review material you have previously taught, you can easily show a short video, a picture, a word or words, or a song to your children. Simply ask them what comes to mind when they see it. I used this strategy immediately with my third graders who are learning about fables. Last week we learned about Aesop, his life, and his fables. I wanted to review the material I taught the previous week, so I popped a picture of Aesop up on the Elmo. The picture came from the book, Squids Will Be Squids, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.
I gave each child a clipboard with a small sheet of paper on it when they entered the library. I asked them to take about a minute or two to list everything that came to mind or anything related to it when they looked at the picture. I was amazed at how well the students remembered what I taught the previous week. We could quickly share our writing and then move forward with the lesson. The writing samples also let me see that five students did not know specifically that the person was Aesop or any information related to him or his stories. I know that these students need remediation. This review took about five minutes. After our review, I had the students write their own versions of fables that could happen as Discovery Elementary, just like the fables that take place in Candace Fleming's Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary.
The second strategy that Michelle had us try was related to the writing to learn arm. We were writing to reformulate and extend our writing. The skill that we used is called looping. When you loop with your students, you give them a starting point to write about. The students write off of that point for a few minutes. Then, you ask your students to go back to what they've written and choose a word or a line to write off of. What we found was that when you write the second time, your topic might automatically narrow itself or go in a different direction. I thought I could apply the looping skill to my fourth graders who are writing poetry.
I am currently collaborating with one of our fourth grade teachers and we are walking our students through a poetry unit modeled by Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters book. I love this book!
Our students are becoming amazing poets! I modeled the looping skill by taking a poem that was already written (I borrowed my fourth grade teacher's poem she had written in her personal poetry notebook) and I chose a word or words that I felt I could take and work with. I modeled how I circled all of the choices that gave me ideas. Then, we talked about how the word or phrase could give me inspiration to write about something that was related to the poem or that might take us in a different direction. I circled the word "backyard" in her poem and wrote a new poem about all of the memories I have from backyards I have lived in throughout my life. Remember, I am doing this in front of the students! The modeling is so important. Then, I chose the words "Whitney Houston" from my backyard poem and they gave me inspiration to write a different poem about how I used to sit and listen and sing with Whitney Houston on my jambox. I then wrote an acrostic poem from the word "me" in the Whitney Houston poem. The "M" in me stood for mischievous and I am going to write about a time that I did something mischievous to one of my teacher friends at school! This looping activity proved to be a great way to take the students writing deeper into a specific poem or in a different direction with a new one. It was definitely a spin on the original idea of looping, but I felt like it really worked for our kids and they loved the idea.
P.S. We called this "lifting a line" with our kids. Next week we are going to try lifting lines from our poetry and gifting them to friends to use in their own poetry. We are also going to "lift" lines from poets who are famous.
P.P.S. My collaborating teacher lifted her lines in her poem differently than I did. Instead of choosing one line or phrase from each poem to start a new one, she lifted several lines from her original poem, each beginning a new poem.
P.P.P.S. (this is getting ridiculous) Here is the link to some of Michelle's student work examples. Click on "Tennessee Fridays" on her site to see many examples of how her students write in science and social studies.
We are hoping to have the children publish these poems by creating hyperlinked poetry where the word or line that has been looped is linked to the new poem the student has written.
To sign off, I just have to say that I am so thankful for the Middle Tennessee Writing Project and the amazing work that they do educating teachers about how to be better writers and teachers of writing. They have changed my writing life and my students' writing lives in the library forever.