Sunday, February 7, 2010

Final Book Study Post & Reflection

Chapter 13: The Golden Line
I absolutely love the title of this chapter....The Golden Line! When I read like a writer, I uncover "lines" that engage me and enlighten me; lines that inspire my own writing. The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite books for golden lines. She begins her book, "It was in the summer of the year when the relatives came.." which instantly reminds me of my childhood when all my cousins would come from Florida. They would stay for weeks! And literally become as she describes in her book, "it was different going to sleep with all that new breathing in the house". Finding golden lines in children's work is exciting. One student once wrote, "My mom is 99.99% perfect". Gary Paulsen's Canoe Days is filled with golden lines. He talks about the "green magic where the fish play" when describing the lake that his canoe glides across. I am inspired when I read like a writer. RF says that we should learn to write "memorable sentences". I totally agree that strong verbs is the key to powerful sentences. The example given on pg 110..."The Sun Dissolves" is a powerful demonstration of strong verbs. Jane Bell Kiester's Blowing Away the State Writing Assessment has a powerful chapter on verbs. Students can understand adding strong verbs and with modeling can do this in their own writing. Similes and metaphors are also tools that students should have in their toolbox. Making comparisons can add punch to their writing. "Overwriting" can be a problem. Sometimes when you teach 'similes' to children, they begin to write a simile in every paragraph to the point that the writing becomes 'over done'. Adding these impressive elements should be a natural process. That is why we need to provide them with many tools so that they don't take one idea and 'wear it out'.

Chapter 14: Putting It All Together
I like how this book first looked at various parts of a good piece and then put it all together to see how all the pieces fit together. I look at writing the same way. Using the rubric, I teach all the parts first to help students develop of understanding of what each part is and by modeling I show them how each part looks. Then, we put it all together in one piece. We can instruct by the rubric, write a whole piece and then assess by the rubric. I am amazed at the progress our third grade students have made in the past three weeks doing just this. First part by part with 'I do it' and 'we do it' strategies and now we have whole pieces where we can see how all the parts came together and are fitting perfectly.

Chapter 15: Last Thoughts (My Personal Reflection)
Writing has become an integral part of me. I live and love writing. It has become a personal and professional passion of mine to move students and teachers to love writing. As a teacher, I wasn't given the coursework or professional development opportunities to help me as a writer, let alone the instructional fortitude to guide students. I had to read and learn on my own. I guess you can say I am a "self taught" writer. But my 'writing road" was paved with great authors like Ralph Fletcher who broke everything down into simple understanding and then put it all back together so that I could learn about writing and how to teach writing. This book among the many others that I have read by RF and other great writers has guided me to where I am today....writing, teaching writing and reading about writing. As you continue to engage yourself in writing and the teaching of writing, I encourage you to "read like a writer", write often yourself, and provide many opportunities for your students to write daily.

I have enjoyed reading your comments as we have read Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher. I trust that you have gained some inspiration and instructional knowledge from this very simple but powerful book.

I leave you with one thought....What tools will you put in your young writer's toolbox?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chapter 10: Leads...Breaking the Ice
Great beginnings? Leads? Grabbers? Hook? All words for the same strategy!
Building a common language is most important when working school wide with any subject. All of these represent what the writer writes first and what the reader reads first. The writer has to capture the reader's attention. I use the term "Grabbers". Our fifth graders use rhetorical questions a lot. It is easy to turn the prompt into a question so it is usually the grabber they gravitate to most. Using Razzle Dazzle, we gathered a complete chart of grabbers for the students to "test drive" in their papers. By introducing the various type of grabbers, students have the option of using the ones that "fit" them as a writer. Since our students are writing 1 1/2 to 2 pages not a chapter book, for us...grabbers seem to work best when I teach writing!

Chapter 11: The End...Getting the Last Word
Endings are hard! Students can be frustrated on just how to end their papers yet they know it must come to a close. Humor is something I've noticed very little in most children's writing but I think it is because it is hard to "think" as a child. As a teacher of writing, you must work on "thinking" like your children so that you understand them through their writing. We must recognize what is humorous to them. They are just children. Currently, I use Razzle Dazzle's Take Away Endings with my students. It has given them "the power of the end". I provide a chart of the various take away ending stems and they choose which ones successfully end their piece. In Narrative, they usually choose two stems to complete to finish their story. It really makes an impressive ending!

Chapter 12: The Small Important Things
Wouldn't our kids just love the story of the "brothers who ate the world"? Yuk and gross all at the same time! RF says that students must "learn to use details to breathe new life" into their writings. I love the idea of choosing "odd details that will stick in the reader's mind". We are always telling our students to let our words make pictures for our readers. Descriptive detail writing does that. When looking at a picture (example: snowman in a wooded field) and asking students what do they see, they'll usually say a snowman and trees out in the grass/field. But when you teach them to zoom in on the picture...look deeper at the details, someone might say the trees are evergreen with thousand of green pine needles, the trees reach the vast blue sky, the snowman was built with spheres of snow and pine branches for arms, etc. The details make the piece more vivid and interesting to read. On page 105, RF talks about inventing details. The example of the clay is really a great example to show how our writing can be shaped and recreated into something wonderful. I call it the MSU strategy! My students know it well. MSU-Make Something Up!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chapter 7: Conflict...Here Comes Trouble
RF says,"In a good story something happens." I say, "Let it happen". I love this chapter. The friction/heat example is a real world example that you can demonstrate. I enjoy teaching students about Person against Person (PAP), Person against Nature (PAN) and Person against Self (PAS). Many of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad stories fit these types of conflicts. I agree with RF that the different kinds of conflict are not always "distinct"---often they are mixed together. When studying types of conflict, there are other kinds but these three presented by RF are "doable" for kids. Often students want to tell the "exciting" part (which I label the DURING) at the beginning of their piece. I love the quote on p. 56 by Charles Dickens: "Make them laugh, make them weep, but above all make them wait". We must help students be powerful in their "During" planning!

Chapter 8: Setting...The Missing Ingredient
Setting...the place! Setting helps define characters....
If your setting is camping at night, your character could be a fisherman that enjoys campfires, the night sky and the sounds of animals in the woods. I enjoy using picture books and looking at the settings. I teach students to write about places they know and to give their places creative names like "Cox Park", "Dunston Drive", "Jones Junction", "Peters Park", etc. The ADAW measures Time Frame which includes when and where.

Chapter 9: It's About Time
When writing the "before" in the Narrative, the students always want to write about everything... the whole story. I love the idea on p.70 of "cutting". I usually tell the students to think about what happened 5 or 10 minutes before the "During" when they plan their Before paragraph. They only have one paragraph and they need to focus on specifically what the story is about in the "Before". I used the example on p. 71 about Disney World with a 5th grade class today. It seemed to help clarify what truly needs to be in the "Before" paragraph.