"Poems explore everything. You can go anywhere," explains Amy VanDerwater, author of Poems Are Teachers . In her new book, VanDerwater argues that poems should be the backbone of writing instruction, instead of being swept under the carpet as an afterthought. She shows us that there is a poem for every kind of life experience, big or small.
One of my first moments of seeing the power of visuals in math learning came over a year ago, in June 2016. I was teaching fifth grade, and I gave my students an open-ended math task on a green sheet of grid paper with two different right triangles printed on it. I chose this task from several I’d gathered at a math conference that March.
This task held the promise of a different, and I hoped better, way to teach math. Until then I had been teaching each lesson pretty much as it was written in the curriculum guide, following along as best I could and finding myself unsatisfied and discouraged year after year.
Adapted from Teaching Nonfiction Revision by Sneed B. Collard III & Vicki Spandel
I have a confession: I love to cut. Almost nothing pleases me more than to read through a manuscript and find a sentence, a paragraph, a page – entire chapters – that can be placed under the guillotine and dispatched into history once and for all. My general rule of thumb? If I can’t cut at least a quarter of my first draft then I’m not doing my job.
Fortunately, the majority of early drafts contain more fat than Iowa-raised bacon. Let’s talk about Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style cuts – you know, hacking off large sections of your manuscript to make it better. How do you know where to begin?
Written by Anna Cockerille
Information writing is one of those topics that can seem, on the outset, rather dull. For many teachers, the genre conjures up their own school projects from decades past, projects involving research reports on assigned topics, stacks of note-cards, one confusing, fact-packed tome after another without much related (or relatable) information.
What has surprised and delighted many educators who witness information writing in action in a writing workshop is that for kids, it is anything but dull. A key distinction: when kids get to choose topics of personal expertise about which to write, their writing simply comes alive. We cannot stress enough: if you’d like your students to write lively, voice-filled, high-volume information books, and to stay motivated and engaged throughout the unit, let them choose their topics. Even if you choose an umbrella topic, say, animals, and they each get to choose their favorite animal to write about, let them choose.
As a class, study favorite published information books and talk about what makes those books great. It often doesn’t take a lot of teacher help for students to notice that great information books have:
- Amazing facts the captivate the reader
- A beginning that draws readers in and makes them want to learn more
- Clever use of text features to teach certain kinds of information
- Information that is organized by topic
- Other kinds of writing tucked in, like stories, that help readers learn more
- Ways to teach the lingo of the topic, like bolded vocabulary words and a glossary
- A memorable ending that might leave the reader with some strong feelings about the topic, or that might encourage the reader to take action
Then, you can help students to see that most of these characteristics fit within one of two main categories, structure and elaboration. Students’ observations instantly become a checklist they can use to lift the level of their own writing:
Qualities of Great Information Writing
Rehearsal for writing is just so lovely in an information writing unit. Gather students into clusters of 3-4, and have each teach their little group all they know about their topic. They’ll amaze you and each other with how much they know. And then, have them pour all of the great information they just taught into their writing.
At this week’s @TCRWP Twitter Chat, staff developers Jen DeSutter, Anna Sheehan, and Valerie Geshwind will be on hand to discuss ways to get your 1-3 grade students to write well about information. Don’t miss what is sure to be a lively, inspiring chat. As always, bring your questions, observations, anecdotes, and photos.
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Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @JenDeSutter, @AnnaSheehan627, and @ValGeshwind to chat about getting students to write well about information (grades 1-3) tomorrow evening.
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Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.
Anna Cockerille, Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series.
Anna was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and taught at several TCRWP institutes, including the Content Literacy Institute, where she helped participants bring strong literacy instruction into social studies classrooms. Anna also has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and Navigating Nonfiction in the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Most recently, Anna served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.
The following is adapted from Reimaging Writing Assessment: From Scales to Stories by Maja Wilson.
I was mostly disinterested in the Atari that my brother got for Christmas in the late 1970s; the excruciatingly slow back-and-forth of Pong bored me. But when Pac-Man was released in 1982, I was intrigued; fleeing a ghost made sense to me. Still, I was confused by Pac-Man’s motivation when it came all to those wafers. One after another, screen after screen, he just kept gobbling them up.
“Why is Pac-Man always so hungry?” I asked my brother while awaiting my turn at the joystick.
His explanation was offered with an exasperated eye roll, “He isn’t hungry. You get a point for each one.”
We hope you have been enjoying the new format of this series!
Each month, we share 2 posts designed to provoke thinking and discussion, through a simple framework, incorporating mini-collections of linked content into your professional development time.
For December, we get to take a moment to slow down and rediscover opportunities for these six posts and accompanying frameworks thus far. Looking for a way to have focused, quality professional learning time with your team or staff? Here you go! Please let us know if you have any topic ideas for series' posts in 2018.