Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Student Writing + A Connected Staff = Powerful Collaboration/Learning!

We had such a fantastic staff meeting today!

Seriously, how many times do you ever hear a teacher say that, let alone start a blog post with it?  Honestly though, I feel very fortunate to work with my fellow teachers at Palo Verde.  My colleagues are such dedicated teachers who truly care about putting the needs of our students before all else. Working with Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project has only made that even more pronounced.

Today, two of our district TOSA's (teachers on special assignment) joined us in our staff meeting to look at student writing.  We were asked to bring two writing samples from one student to our meeting today.  Since I'm in room 20, I was to bring in the samples from the 20th student on my roster.  I liked taking the student writing in this manner as the samples and student were truly random.  My 20th fifth grader happens to be a great kiddo who initially did not see himself as a writer at the beginning of the school year.  The two samples were to be his initial narrative piece written two months ago and his published narrative piece at the end of the writing unit finished last week.

This particular student started the year saying, "I have nothing to write about.  I can't do this." He struggled with getting his ideas down and using his voice.  For his initial narrative piece, he wrote a title and three sentences in 45 minutes:
  
Eating Something at Disneyland

I went to a Mexican place in Disneyand.  It had 
 great food that I liked.  I wish I could go again. 

 I was curious about what my colleagues would say about my student's writing.  His recent piece is very different from the first piece shown above.  His current sample is longer and shows more voice.  It also shows an attempt to use feeling and expression.  He wrote, conferred, revised, and really sweat over his current piece.  It was not easy for him.  I was proud of him as I took one last look at his two samples before I placed them on the table. 

Matt, one of the TOSA's and a former teacher at our school, introduced the activity we were about to complete.  We were to look at each others' student writing samples and give feedback.   After I placed his samples down side by side, I stood up, pushed in my chair, and walked around the room to look at my colleagues' student writing samples.  I was wowed! 

Directions for the activity from Matt, @TheMrMLindner & Ellen, @KraskaE

I smiled as I compared kindergarteners' first pieces, which were just pictures, with their more recent labeled drawings and sentences across multiple pages.  It reminded me of the year that I worked as a school reading specialist with younger students.  It truly is remarkable to see how much students grow within even just one year of elementary school.  I then moved on to some second and fourth grade pieces.  My colleagues and their students are doing some incredible things in their classrooms!  On one piece from a third grader, I noted how she used dialogue to grab the reader's attention at the beginning of her piece.  On a first grade paper, I commented how impressive it was that the student wrote a great sequence of events to tell about a small moment.

Our school's work with using Lucy Calkin's Writing Workshop Units of Study has truly helped transform our writing instruction and our students' writing motivation and output.  We're all on the same page.  There is nothing more powerful than a consistent and collaborative staff at a school.  I still pinch myself sometimes.

After about 15 minutes or so, Matt asked us to all sit back down and read the feedback from our colleagues.  At the risk of sounding completely hokey, I have to say I was just overjoyed when I read the notes from my colleagues about my student's writing.  

"Thoughts and feelings are everywhere! 
Perfect for a personal narrative piece."

"Growth: elaborating & description. A complete 
story!Teacher Moves:  Teaching more thoughts, 
feelings, and actions.  Next steps:  Adding even 
more description.Attempting to set the scene."

"Details! Dialogue! Transitions!" 

"This writer took a small moment and 
stretched it out bit by bit.  Such growth!"

My student's two pieces side by side with my colleagues' feedback on post-its.


I left that meeting feeling so grateful.  I was able to connect with my colleagues over student work.  We all took our time to give valuable feedback to help inform each others' teaching.  Plus, I get to give my student a ton of compliments from all the teachers at school.  He is going to be beside himself tomorrow.  There is nothing better than that.

This is what being a connected educator is all about.  It's about connecting with each other to do what's best for our students.  

Dare I say I'm looking forward to our next staff meeting.  Who would have thought! 

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-Christina

 
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