Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing small to capture the big!

My mind is blown.  I've written this before, and I need to express it again; we are so fortunate at my school to be a Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project school.  Today, the wonderful and talented Alissa Levy was once again in my classroom teaching the next lesson from our units of study: fifth grade memoir session three.  What a great learning experience this was for my team, my students, and myself!

My teaching team and I started off the session by all chatting outside my classroom.  Alissa, my three grade level partners, my principal, our literacy TOSA, and I all discussed how our students were doing with the workshop and where we were going to take them for the upcoming session.  I expressed that the previous two lessons went well, but that the concept of memoir writing as opposed to recounting a moment in a narrative was tough for some students.

The lesson ahead of us was complicated.  The teaching point was that writers need to write small about the biggest ideas/themes.  If you're not familiar with this idea, I'll explain it a little further down.  After our first two sessions, I was dying to see Alissa bring home this point to my students.  And, bring it home she did!

Alissa engaging students during the
mini lesson with my principal, Anne, and
grade level partner, Jenn, taking notes
in the background.  So powerful!
The mini lesson delivered was focused, to the point, and involved example, demonstration, and discussion.  Alissa asked the four teachers in the room to sit at the four corners of the classroom rug area.  She told us that she will give the link that takes the students from the mini lesson to the writing/conferring period of the workshop.  Then, she'd pass the baton to us to repeat the link to a small group of students in our corner.  It was extremely effective to watch her state the link and then have us repeat it to a small group.  My takeaway is that we always need to be deliberate and precise with our words.  Mini lessons should never be more than 7-12 minutes in length.  This is something I need to work on improving!  I can get too wordy.  Way too wordy at times.

Once students started writing and conferring with each other, Alissa explained that we were going to focus on holding table conferences.  A table conference is a mini lesson of sorts with a small group that is seated together.  Alissa asked us to just watch four students sitting together write.  We noticed that they all immediately started writing small.  They truly internalized the point of the mini lesson.  The four of them used dialogue, explained their internal thoughts, and attempted to bring the reader back to the moment they were remembering.  Since all four were doing this, Alissa asked them to think about the big that the small was describing.  The big in all this refers to the theme or idea.  One student described a time working with a horse in the stable he often visits.  It turns out that this small moment was leading to a big lesson about working together to accomplish a task.  Through conversation and thoughtful questions, Alissa was able to help him identify the big and small of his memoir so far.

After the table conference with this group, Alissa immediately asked all of us teachers to find a group of students, observe their writing, think of a need they have in common, and then conduct a small table conference.  Watching her do a table conference, discussing its components, then practicing it myself was priceless!

This was only a small part of our day with Alissa, but it was a huge part for me.  I am anxious to see what tomorrow and Friday hold!  Again, I feel so fortunate to be able to take part in professional development like this.  I wish every teacher at every school had this learning opportunity.

My teaching team watching Alissa work her TCRWP magic! 

This student stated the big, "You need to be brave when trying something new."
Then, she moved into the small to illustrate the big.

This student is focusing on the small before the big is revealed.

This student is about to get to the big!

Two boys identifying and discussing their small and big writing.

Sharing at the end of the workshop.  Students all shared with their
writing partners before a few shared with the whole group.  This
method is great as all students get to discuss their writing before
the big whole group share out.

One student shares her piece in progress with the whole group.  

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