Monday, March 31, 2008

using nonfiction for writing- slice of life day 29

I'm really on vacation this week. I have a few more days to sharpen the saw and think of stuff other than good instruction, students, and teaching. And I would have done that today. Except, I missed this workshop a few weeks ago (forgot!) called, "Using Nonfiction to Teach Primary Grade Writing," and I had another chance to attend. I had a very blink moment about this workshop when I read the description over a month ago. Something told me it would be good and worth attending even now during my vacation. I was right.

The teacher presenting had literally written the book. I sat down at a round table in the library with two other teachers in what would soon become a standing room only crowd. I didn't really notice the nonfiction resources, colored pencils, glue, paint, water, and paint sponges that were going to be my tools for the next hour and a half. It was a library after all. I met my colleagues and turned to see these beautiful, student authored/illustrated books all around the bookshelves. They were written by first and second graders. I recognized the curriculum. Is this what we were going to learn how to get our students to produce? Yee ha!

An agenda was given and then we were directed (one of the few she gave) by Ms. Groeneweg to not take notes on it. We were to take notes in the white covered, blank, 8" x 11" hardbound book she was placing in front of us so we could create our own, individually meaningful versions of her presentation. Brilliant! Our student eyes lit up and we caressed our new books, as we considered all the possibilities. A few people weren't too happy their's had smudge marks on them and they were soon traded in so everyone could have a clean slate. Ms. G. demonstrated one of her techniques for beginning a unit and eliciting interest, using a gift wrapped book. We all got brightly colored tags to place on our first wrapped book of the future. She had a teacher cut off the ribbon and tear a little piece of the wrapping to expose a bit of the cover. Who doesn't like to rip open large gifts? Excitement was building. Another teacher came up and tore a bit more paper. The sound was great. We noticed how she strategically tore in a place that might reveal the title (an assessment for concepts of print?). More anticipation. Finally, after some brainstorming, more tearing, deducting, and discussion, the cover was revealed. Yeah! Butterflies are Born! Ms. G asked us to now do a quick write in our new books, (she showed us hers) including pictures, about unwrapping the book. Our first notes and nonlinguistic representations. Marzano would have been proud.

An interesting thing happened while we were writing. Teachers wanted to copy hers. "Like this?" they asked. Teachers were a little afraid of drawing or noting something wrong. Teachers queried, "Is this right?" Ms. G assured everyone to just start writing/drawing, to relax, to just put in whatever they liked; it was all going to be good. Teachers still tried to steal a peak of her page but soon the room fell silent as we got busy making sense of our new knowledge.

The workshop included a field trip to Ms. G's classroom in the building. It was stimulating, alive, and rich in content. Every adorable student produced item had an academic purpose. Writer's notebooks were full of mentor texts, author ideas, drawings, and story starts. Interactive notebooks had prepared notes and important vocabulary, each complete with a student's nonlinguistic representation . Marzano again... this time at it's first grade best. The daily Venn Diagram elicited both a response and provided assessment about essential knowledge. Markers with names were placed by students in the appropriate set circle (or intersection) to show if "I know if a carrot is a root or a plant" or "I know what a verb is" We kept adding to our notes.
We came back to do the covers of our books. (We would actually do this part first with our students.) Our books included titles, headings, table of contents, our notes, dedications, a back cover picture and caption, and pages dedicated to one feature of non-fiction text. We saw more student produced non-fiction writing. A newspaper, a dictionary, an alphabet book. We took more notes. In the end every one of our teacher produced books was awarded a Caldecott. Ms. G. apologized for the compacting of the workshop. Who could complain after winning a Caldecott? We hadn't even realized the time. We walked out and were presented our own copy of "Unwrapping a Book" by Nicole Groeneweg (Creative Teaching Press, 2006). Good stuff.


BK said...

What a great way to spend a vacation day and what a wonderful piece of writing that brings this powerful "student/teacher" experience to us.
Loved it! Teachers teaching Teachers, sounds familiar.

Snippety Gibbet said...

Ah, I wish I could have attended! I go to this sort of thing at art conferences, but it would be nice to attend with classroom teachers. A new perspective would be helpful.

Stacey from Two Writing Teachers said...

This is great stuff!