Shifting The Notion of Writing

As I began thinking what I want my seventh graders to walk away with this year from the content that I am teaching, my mind continually goes to, “How will I get them to love writing?”  I feel confident that I can get them to love learning in my classroom.  I can build strong relationships to transform these students into empowered learners, but loving writing is a different challenge, a more personal challenge.

As a child, I loved writing things.  My parents lovingly remind me that at the age of three I asked every person I saw their name, how to spell it, and I would write it in my journal.  In fourth grade, I won a cultural arts award in the category of Composition from a story I wrote about my move from Illinois to Texas. I am writing this to say that as a child I enjoyed it, but somewhere along the way that enjoyment stopped.  Somewhere along the way I got the idea that I could not write, I was not as good as others, I did not have anything to say, and I was being told what to write.

This feeling lasted many, many years.  Actually, it wasn’t until two years ago when listening to an inspirational educator speak about blogging and the many reasons why that I began to write for me. (Thank you, George!) Yes, I was thinking about an audience as I wrote, but I felt inspired because I had found a way to get all of the thoughts that were spinning around in my head out.  It was blogging!  And it relaxed me.  I enjoyed it!   Even if no one else read them, I had found a way to share my thoughts, feelings, and have my voice heard.

It is this last reason that I feel is most important and I want my students leaving my classroom with this imprinted on their hearts.  I want each one of them to know that they can write to let their voice be heard.  They can do this as a kid, a teenager, and as an adult.  It should never stop.  It is hard being a kid, but especially hard during these teenage years when they have so many emotions and feelings that they are learning how to deal with and not sure who to talk to or if they even want to.

Side Note: It takes me back to when I was in middle school writing in my diary that I kept under my mattress, until my boyfriend discovered it. Gasp!  Then in high school the diary I wrote in every single night was on a computer like this!

I have always loved typing, and until recently did not even realize that this was writing.  This was my way of sharing my voice and feeling heard. Thankfully, a real person never heard it.

This is where I think the disconnect is in teaching writing and developing the love of writing in our students.  Similar to reading, when we tell them what to write it becomes a job. When they are given time to write in meaningful ways to them, they learn all of those things we are required to teach them. And they actually remember them!  I hope to share my love of writing for reflection and letting my voice be heard this year and that my sweet, precious students learn to do the same!




The Lesson Anchor Charts Taught Me

Today I realized I need to share something that I see happening over and over in my classroom.
                 Very simple.
                          Very important.

      Kids really do ANCHOR back to Anchor Charts!

Weeks ago I was teaching a dyslexia intervention lesson and asked the students what approach stroke we would use for this new letter we were learning how to write in cursive.  They all (including myself) looked over to the spot in the top, left corner of my whiteboard where I had the approach strokes sketched out. Nothing fancy, but we knew they were there.  Except-they weren’t. They were cleaned over the weekend!

What got us laughing was the fact that we ALL looked there and then at each other in surprise. Doesn’t take very much to crack us up!  All fun aside, this meant something.  As a classroom teacher, my colleagues and I would always whine about how after we moved on from the concept on the Anchor Chart that the students created we didn’t have space to leave the charts up.  Okay, okay… if I am really honest, I do NOT do clutter.

(Side note: There are so many ways now to store them: Google Slides, Google Drive, Live Binders, etc. One way I chose that worked best for my classroom of students was the Magnetic Curtain Rod. This saved space and still allowed the students to anchor to a place they knew, and quickly.  Click here.)

Here are a few examples of how I used the magnetic curtain rod to hang anchor charts when we had limited space.

So this is why I must write this blog.  This morning while teaching another dyslexia lesson, when it came time to write our words I noticed the students anchoring back to the place where my writing letters used to hang.  At that moment it hit me.  I need to move them back to the original location.

Even though they have been in the new spot the entire year so far.
Even though I thought they fit better on the other side of the room.
Even though I was sure they could see them better on the other side of the room.

The truth is, once they had their anchor in a certain spot, this is where their eyes went back to every single time.  There is something to be said about the visible learning, visible thinking, visual aspect in remembering things.  Think about it, how many times have you covered things up and witnessed students looking up at that spot? How many times have you done the same thing when trying to recall information?!  I could go on forever about the research, but I just wanted to share a quick A-HA moment!

After moving them back to their original location during my lunch break my afternoon kids did smile a pretty big smile when they saw them. I noticed (even if they won’t admit it) that they looked right at them while writing!

This is not rocket science, friends.  I knew this, but I guess I never truly knew HOW important these Anchor Charts were until I found myself anchoring as well while teaching! I won’t even stop with Anchor Charts, ALL Thinking should be VISIBLE!

I will leave you with this advice: Don’t ditch the charts. 🙂  They may not be beautiful or clean looking (does this really matter?), but they really do make a difference in recall and securing the learning!

Just sharing my A-HA moment from my literacy room on this fabulous Tuesday!

Differentiated Instruction and The Whole Child

If you know me, you know I am the biggest advocate for Differentiated Instruction.  I am also a huge advocate for The Whole Child.  Recently, The Whole Child Blog posted on DI. It was like educational Christmas for me! 🙂  If you have a chance, it is worth your time to explore this site.

They mention how and why it is important to differentiate, and how it can be done through content, process, product, and learning environment.  I think the ones we are most familiar seeing in classrooms are content and product.  

For example: We are comfortable pre-assessing to determine where a child is and meeting them where they are to challenge them. (Content)  We are comfortable giving choice and allowing students to show their learning in multiple ways. (Product) 

That got me really evaluating, are we this comfortable in the Process in which we are presenting the information?  Are we this comfortable in the area of Learning Environment? I think this is where it gets a little muddy.  When we think about the definition of Process, ASCD defines it:

Process. Process is how the learner comes to make sense of, understand, and “own” the key facts, concepts, generalizations, and skills of the subject.  A teacher can differentiate an activity or process by, for example, providing varied options at differing levels of difficulty or based on differing student interests.

Differing student interests – this one stuck with me.  Unless you are completely new to the world of education or have been in hiding, you have heard about Genius Hour and Passion Projects! You have probably done these in your classroom to some degree.  So many times we think this concept is taught in isolation from our core subjects.  We allow one hour to let our kids create in school.  Imagine if this is the only “hour” they feel in charge of their learning and passionate about what they are learning.   

What if we looked at integrating this concept of Genius Hour/Passion Project into our everyday teaching?   Are you crazy…you might be thinking, but think about it.   If WE are interested in what we are learning, we will do anything!  Right?  Our students will rise to meet the expectations we have for them.  I truly believe that we can collaborate with other creative teachers and find ways to teach the content we are required to cover in a way our students will feel in charge of their learning and passionate about it!  We want them leaving us each day inspired to do more and craving to come back for more!  This will happen when we differentiate around the needs of the whole child.

Differentiating the Learning Environment is one that I never really listed with differentiation, but was always something I considered. So much of this goes hand in hand with knowing your students. Knowing their interests, their goals, and knowing who they are as individuals. When we stop and really consider the whole child, we will see it is very clear what learning environment they need in order to thrive.  And sometimes… just asking the student will give you insight you might never have imagined!  🙂

When I think about my own classroom, sure…I had the varied seating, lighting, and choices to work at the solo desk or group tables.  The students were always allowed to choose where they sat depending on their need for that day.  I didn’t always do this.  I first started it when I asked myself, “What would I want if I was my student?” I would want to have choice.  

Yes, it is hard to give up the control.  We have a list of excuses as why it wouldn’t work for us and it can work for someone else.  I’m not even saying it was the best thing for each class I had each year.  This is where we come full circle to asking ourselves, “What is Best for THIS learner at THIS time?”  

I am writing this to share my huge passion for The Whole Child and Differentiated Instruction, not to say this one way is the best way. I hope that I will always think about The Whole Child and Differentiate the Learning Environment just as much as I do Content, Process, and Product.  

I will leave adding this great list from ASCD of how to differentiate in response to the learner profile.  Do you….

  • Allow students to choose to work alone or with a friend?
  • Balance perspectives and acknowledge the ones less popular?
  • Build a strong class community?
  • Provide opportunities for authentic learning around talents and interests?
  • Focus on teaching Character Education?
  • Present information through kinesthetic, auditory & visual modes?