Monday, August 8, 2016

Making Provision For Revision in Student Writing

Revision is a phase of the writing process frequently ignored and commonly misunderstood. Because it is misunderstood, it is often glossed over. And yet it is in the revision phase that the writer has the greatest opportunity to lift the quality of the writing.

Recently, I found myself reading curriculum documents that only referred to editing. Revision did not warrant a mention. 

There are currently commercial companies pushing so called ‘writing programs’ to schools that only focus upon the surface features of writing- essentially editing. This lack of attention to revision means young writers are being denied the opportunity to appreciate how this important action assists them to noticeably improve the content of the writing. Revision is a lot more than the teacher merely telling the young writer they need to add more details, or they need to use more describing words.

When teachers inform me students passively resist revision as a tool for improving their writing pieces, I begin to wonder about the way it is being presented.  Their students are yet to understand that ‘revision is the magic behind great writing.’  If we, as teachers of writing want students to embrace the idea of revision, we must remove some very obvious obstacles that may be hindering meaningful revision.

Let’s Start With Topic Selection
When students are able to choose what they really want to write about, then they usually display increased commitment to producing their best writing. As a consequence, they are more likely to indulge in their best revision efforts. They are more engaged in the writing because they have ownership. It is important student writers realize how important it is to only choose topics close to their hearts. Writing to please a teacher will not engender much in the way of passion for revision. Student writers need to be helped to understand a good piece of writing can grow into a great piece of writing with revision.

If the teacher owns the topic, the idea, the response, the student experiences a disconnection from the piece. Allowing students to choose topics is central to the philosophy of an authentic writing program. If students feel a sense of passion about what they’re writing, they’re more likely to produce something worth persisting with and worth reading by others.

The Principle of Purpose
The writing our students are doing must have a real and obvious purpose. It is critical that the writing has authenticity at its heart. For this to happen it must be linked to the notion of audience from the beginning. We must ask questions that nudge the young writer to think:

Who are you writing this for?
Who are your readers?
Where will this be read?  
Why is it important to write this?

Without a reason to write there is little point being invested in the effort required to write the piece in the first place. It saddens me to hear students respond, ‘It’s for my teacher’ when I ask them who the writing is for. As teachers we need to invest adequate time in establishing an awareness of audience in writers. This implies publishing and a range of audiences. This is where purpose resides… 

As teachers we need to be more creative than merely pinning the writing up on the walls of the classroom. Taking writing beyond the classroom walls is critical. It is imperative to encourage student writers to consider not only HOW they will share their writing, but also WHERE the writing will be placed.  When writing goes public, it leads to feedback. This leads the writer back to the purpose and value of revision. 

Is This Editing or Revision?
If we as teachers are confused about these processes then it will hamper the level of revision that occurs. If students just ‘fix up’ the surface features of the writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) they are not revising the piece, they are editing. Revision requires the writer to re-vision the writing. This means revisiting the content and working to improve the way it is written. The writing is re-crafted, not just fixed up. Sometimes this may involve surgery, cutting and pasting chunks of text. Young writers need to be shown how to do this. Telling them to do this important work without showing them how it actually works is a waste of time.

Did I Mention Mentors?   
All young writers need regular contact with someone willing to share their writing. Someone willing to share their writing at all stages of the writing process. Students need to see how another writer uses revision to improve the content of their writing. This is the action that most effectively breaks down the resistance to revision. It is up to the most proficient writer in the class to demonstrate how revision works for them as a writer.

There are many ways a writer can improve a piece of writing. Inexperienced writers can easily be overwhelmed by the idea of reworking the words they have written. The developing writer has little experience of re-visioning their writing. To assist the young writer to gain this important insight we must show them how a writer improves the content at various levels.

-the word level (word choice- verbs, adjectives, nouns)
-the sentence level (beginnings, variety of sentence lengths)
-the paragraph level (expanding on ideas, zooming in)
-craft strategies (show don’t tell, simile, metaphor, alliteration, repetition, voice Inside/outside, lift a line)

Let’s not forget that an understanding of how revision shapes a piece of writing is very much developmental. Our youngest writers have little experience of such authorial actions. We must foster the awareness of revision and its power to improve the quality of a writing piece with deliberate and mindful teaching.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ideas For Writing Need To Involve Asking, HOW?

Finding writing ideas does not have to be difficult, but it does involve some thinking time. Sometimes using your senses can be a catalyst for writing ideas. Recently, as I sat in my favourite writing space, the sound of my neighbour's lawn mower buzzing and roaring triggered a memory.

I had an idea, but then I had to think about the genre in which I wanted to write. A recount would have been easy, and also a little predictable. As a writer, you have options. In my mind I had numerous thoughts and memories triggered by a familiar sound. The challenge this time was not what to write about, rather how?

Student writers need to engage with their peers and teachers around such ponderings. Once they have identified what they want to write about, what messages they wish to convey, the question of how needs to be discussed.

Last week I found myself in a brief conversation with a young Grade 3 writer who had recently visited the Lerderderg Gorge situated in the Lerderderg State Park less than an hour's drive from, Melbourne. 

Rather than write a recount of her visit to this special place, the writer chose on this occasion, to write a poem capturing the atmospheric aspects of her experience. She wanted her readers to know how she felt while walking in this space and noted in particular the sounds and the smells she recollected as she walked the track. It was a refreshing choice. It was an inspired choice. A brave and thoughtful writer is emerging here.

So, here is my response to the sound of my neighbour's lawn mower. It triggered memories of childhood chores and this little poem evolved complete with paradoxical ending. The repetition of the line, 'mowing the lawn' pays homage to the obvious patterns lawn mowing involves. It can be repetitive too.
Lawn Thoughts
Mowing the lawn
Is clippings in your hair
Up your nose
In your socks

Mowing the lawn
Is smoky fumes
Swishing blades
Aromas of cut grass

Mowing the lawn
Is hugging the edges
Avoiding the cat
Gliding past Mum’s chrysanthemums

Mowing the lawn
Is refilling the tank
Dumping the clippings
Raking and sweeping

Mowing the lawn
Is a summer chore
A neat grassy haircut

-And pocket money

Friday, July 22, 2016

Writing Opposite Poems

 Opposite Poems

In his book, 'How To Write Poetry,' Paul Janeczko presents the idea of opposite poems. Paul suggests they could also be referred to as antonym poems. This is wordplay and it's fun to try.

Here are some examples Paul provides to help us see very clearly how these short little poems work.

I think the opposite of chair
Is sitting down with nothing there

What is the opposite of kind?
A goat that butts you from behind

Paul Janeczko

You will  notice the poems are written in rhyming couplets. They can be extended so long as you remember to write in couplets. Paul shows us how this is done.

What is the opposite of new?
Stale gum that's hard to chew
A hot-dog roll as hard as rock
Or a soiled and smelly forgotten sock

You might notice that some of Paul's opposite Poems begin with a question. The remainder of the poem answer the question posed.

Opposite poems are a challenge, but it is a challenge worth trying. Not every thing has an opposite and not every word has an easy to find rhyming partner. 

It might be a good idea to begin by brainstorming a list of feelings, thoughts and objects that clearly possess opposites. Make a quick list in your writer's notebook. Adjectives are a good place to begin when looking for opposites.
Paul advises young poets not to be satisfied writing all two line Opposite Poems. Try and challenge yourself to compose a four line poem. 

So, with Paul Janeczko's sound advice in my head, I had some fun creating my own opposite poems

I think the opposite of skinny
Is the bottom on my Auntie Minnie

What is the opposite of dark?
A flashlight beam- bold and stark

What is the opposite of  fit
Someone who prefers to sit

The opposite of sweet, I think
Is my brother's shoes-they really stink

The very opposite of happy
Is someone cranky, nasty, snappy
It's screaming, yelling, don't come near
It's go away, don't want you here

The very opposite of morning
Is late at night when I start yawning
It's darkness falling around
When nightfall covers all the ground

Finally, I give you this poem by Richard Wilbur.

Some Opposites
What is the opposite of riot?
It’s lots of people keeping quiet.
The opposite of doughnut? Wait
A minute while I meditate.
This isn’t easy. Ah, I’ve found it!
A cookie with a hole around it.
What is the opposite of two?
A lonely me, a lonely you.
The opposite of a cloud could be
A white reflection in the sea,
Or a huge blueness in the air,
Caused by a cloud’s not being there.
The opposite of opposite?
That’s much too difficult. I quit.

Opposite Poems, give them a try... 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Box of Poetic Possibilities

Quite some ago I purchased an old wooden box from shop called Quirky Interiors. the shop specializes mainly in antiques pieces. The inside of the box was divided into eighteen compartments, equal in size.  I knew the box had potential for my writing, but I was not completely sure how I would use it. So I waited patiently for inspiration. 

Last week, the inspiration arrived!

I decided I would use the box to encourage brave young poets to explore poetic possibilities.

I labeled the box 'Poetic Possibilities.' Into each of the compartments I placed words and phrases I harvested and typed onto cards. The words selected were from poems previously published. 

Students were offered the challenge of selecting a card from the box. With that card, they were further challenged to use the word or words in a poem of their own creation. They could place the word or words anywhere within the poem- beginning, middle or end. They could also repeat the word/words.
However, once chosen the selected card could not be returned to the box. They were allowed however, to swap the card with a fellow writer if they so desired.

In a group of 34 writers, 28 took up the challenge. This pleased me. I watched them closely as they talked about connections to the card they had chosen. They discussed possibilities, made lists and began to compose their poetic responses. Fresh, raw words began to emerge on the blank pages of their notebooks. They paused to think and they persisted. No one gave up. No one said this is too hard. 

During share time they did admit it was challenging to begin, but they also liked grappling with the task as presented. They were brave writers. I reminded them that writing a was 'problem solving.' process.  I will return in two weeks time to see their polished pearls of poetry.

Apart from the poetry connection, this task extends vocabulary, the use of poetic devices and writing stamina. 

I see the potential for students to contribute their own words to the box. Words arising from their own reading. Words from Read Aloud sessions and words from their writing. 

For this activity I used an old wooden box. It could have just as easily been a jar, a tin, a small chest, a paper bag, and envelope- any container that arouses, mystery and curiosity among learners and brave poets alike.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Dangerous Part of the Writing Workshop

We have reached the most dangerous part of our lesson young writers’ I announce to the group of students seated before me.

I lower my voice and lean towards them…

 ‘We must be careful going back to our seats to start our writing. There is a danger of being ambushed and taken away from your mission. Do not let anyone distract you from commencing the writing mission you have just discussed with your writing buddy. Someone may try to strike up a conversation that may lead you off course. Who can make it back to their writer’s notebook safely without being drawn away from their mission? Stay alert to the danger. It's all around you.'

They all smile knowingly.

It’s all a bit of a game, but the truth is I am aiming to narrow the distance between the young writer’s intentions and actions. I want every writer in the room to have the best possible chance to fill the blank page with their amazing words.

 So, it becomes critical they become aware of the possibility of being distracted from the task they have identified during the pre-writing stage of our workshop.
The strategy I am employing is just another way I am aiming to increase the time these young writers spend actually writing.

Observation gathered from many writing classrooms has informed me that many students continue to socialize during the independent writing phase of the lesson. It is this distraction that inhibits the flow of words onto the page. All those wonderful words inside their heads, and lodged in their hearts fail to materialize on the page; lost in distraction.

Following some debriefs with teachers of students the need to build writing stamina in the same way we build reading stamina is established as a goal.
Talk and other distractions have been identified as impediments to composing during the independent writing phase of the workshop.

Efforts have been made to directly teach into this problem of practice in an effort to alert students to the potential problem distractions carry for their writing outcomes.

For this reason talk has been quarantined to those parts of the workshop before and after the independent writing phase. Unless of course teacher and students are involved in writing conferences or strategy groups. In these classes talk is being used in a mindful and targeted manner.

As developing writers, students need assistance and guidance in learning to shut out potential distractions. It is imperative for them as developing writers to understand the benefits of sustained time on task.

When writing stamina increases, the real benefits begin to emerge.

For a start;
  The volume of writing increases
      The writing is more cohesive
·     The ability to concentrate improves.

Students often assemble for share time making statements like:

‘I am able to focus on my writing.’
‘The more I wrote, the more I remembered.’
‘I am writing more in one lesson than I used to write in a week.’
‘I like it when everyone at my table is writing quietly, it helps me concentrate.’

Talk is essential for writers, but it works best when harnessed. This conscious use of talk ensures it benefits the writing as much as possible.

Classrooms can be difficult places in which to write. So many potential distractions. We must continue to refine our practice around writing in order to let the best words emerge.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Teaching The Craft of Writing Effectively

How do we teach developing writers to independently use the different elements of craft that are discussed and taught in lessons?

We begin by honouring the reality that terms like voice, sentence fluency, and writing with detail are descriptions of where we want our students to be, not next steps on how to reach those goals.

We need to identify specific elements of craft when assessing student writing samples and use such revelations to help plan instruction that is both relevant and timely. If we adopt this approach to planning curriculum action we are able to teach students the specific craft techniques that will move them forward as writers.  Katie Wood Ray in her book, Wondrous Words provides an excellent guide for examining a text for its potential to teach craft elements to developing writers (See below)

As teachers of writing we must develop a concrete process for noticing craft in writing so that craft lessons can be planned and developed Craft lessons based mindfully on students' writing. Planning must be fluid, It must reflect the changing needs of students. When teachers meet regularly to assess the effectiveness of their teaching, the efficacy of their planning is more likely to reflect the current needs of the student writers with whom they are working. Planning is not something a teacher does merely at the start of a term, or a project. it's not a case of set and forget. Planning is a dynamic process. When teachers moderate outcomes, their planning prospers.

Learning the techniques that make up good writing allows teachers to see craft in many different levels of writing, a skill that is particularly powerful when conferring with below-grade-level writers.

Most of us know good writing when we read it, but writing teachers need to know what makes it work. They need clear insight into identifying and teaching the small elements that make good writing successful. These authors become our unwitting collaborators. We enter the classroom each day with a host of potential mentor authors. We are not alone in undertaking this important work.

Learning to read like a writer takes time, effort and regular practice. Those teachers who themselves are writers possess a distinct advantage. They understand the struggle of composition. As writers, they appreciate that writing is essentially problem solving. Their eyes see things, non-writers fail to notice or understand.

As teachers we must reach the understanding that it is important for students to do such focused work in their notebooks. What better place to practice and experiment. It’s a chance for developing writers to flex their writing muscles

Building Curriculum from the Writing of Others
NOTICE something in the text
TALK ABOUT IT and develop a theory about why the writer might have crafted it in this way
NAME what it is the writer is doing in the text
CONNECT IT to another text if possible in which a writer is doing the same thing
ENVISION yourself or your students making this same craft move in your writing.

Source: Wondrous Words
 Katy Wood Ray

The craft of writing is built upon our observations regarding the potential of a text
to assist us in being effective teachers of writing.

'If the expectation of what we teach students about writing is changing, then so should our preparation. If we are to teach the craft of writing to students, and not just mechanics and spelling, most of us cannot rely solely on our own histories of writing instruction.'
Crafting Writers, K-6, Elizabeth Hale

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fostering Thinking Among Student Writers

 My earliest memories of writing are entwined around the weekly writing topics I was given in primary school. We wrote every Thursday afternoon, immediately after the lunch break. It wasn't even called writing. Our teacher referred to it as 'composition time.' We wrote for about twenty minutes in absolute silence in our 'composition' books. 

At the end of the allotted time, we handed in our written responses, then waited an entire week to receive feedback for our labored efforts. It consisted of a mark out of ten and a page of red ink comments and slashes across the page. Then we sat and waited for the next teacher topic to be thrown our way.

We wrote one day a week for twenty minutes. It wasn't much of a writing program by today's standards. It wasn't much of a way to learn writing back then either. I'm surprised we learned to write at all on such a starvation diet. I was just lucky enough to be the kind of kid who was driven to write in places other than the classroom. This is clearly what sustained me. My engagement with words was varied and rich. I compensated for the lack of writing time we had in school. There was an inner drive. I was fortunate.

Fast forward, and today teachers generally provide student writers with a lot more time for writing. Sadly though, there are still classrooms where writing time is rationed.

Time is an essential element of an effective writing program. The developing writer must be afforded time in order to develop confidence and proficiency.

Donald Graves in his extensive research into writing discovered that when children write every day, they begin to compose even when they are not actually writing. They enter what he called, 'a constant state of composition.' When the young writer reaches this important stage of writing development, they begin to spend time on task beyond the immediate classroom. They rehearse for the writing that comes later. They develop writing ideas for themselves.

If the developing writer is not afforded daily writing opportunities, their writing will fail to thrive. They will not learn to think through their personal writing. They will not grow to see writing as something purposeful and useful to their learning.

If a writing program is limited to a few days per week, or a few hours per week (as occurs in many secondary settings) only students of exceptional ability, or students who are driven to attending to writing outside of school hours will survive such a meagre writing diet. For EAL (English as an additional language) students, or students with confidence issues around writing, providing limited or irregular writing time amounts to a subtle form of abuse. It foster poor habits around writing. Students fail to develop any trust in writing to fulfill their needs. They are being sold short as learners.

Over many years I have learned that teaching writing requires me to show students how to write, and how to develop the craft strategies necessary to improve as a writer. From experience I know full well, that this is a quest that takes time to accomplish. In order to narrow the gap between intention and action, students need regular time on task as writers. This is the way they develop a writing history that is positive and purposeful.

Occasionally teachers lament that their students can't think of topics/ideas to write about. Often the answer lies in the fact their students do not write on a regular basis, or they do not have the opportunity to practice making decisions that involve topic and genre decisions. When young writers have predictable writing times and they know they will receive opportunities to write every day, their energies are more likely to go towards rehearsing and thinking about their writing options. When teachers direct topics, the young writer is caught unawares. There is no time for rehearsal to inform the thinking necessary to make an informed choice.

When teachers show students all the places writing can come from, and how simple everyday events may trigger writing pieces, the student writer is able to consider a range of writing possibilities. Students need to hear their teacher talk through what he/she is doing as a writer. Witnessing the thinking that accompanies writing is a powerful influence on attitudes to writing.

When teachers provide time for students to write, they will discover what writing can actually do for them. They will begin to see where ideas exist and the important fact that they exist all around them.

The student lament, ‘I can’t think of anything to write about’ vanishes when conditions that support thinking are central to the teaching of writing.

‘If we want our students to be thinkers, researchers, collaborators, readers, writers, and evaluators, then they need to see us thinking, researching, collaborating, reading, writing and evaluating. We need literally, to live the life we’re asking them to lead.’
  Regie Routman
Source: Literacy At The Crossroads

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Voices of Student Poets

Poetry at Brighton Primary School, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Friday I had the special treat of working with Year 7 poets from Brighton Primary School in Adelaide. During the day we closely examined a range of poetic structures and devices and applied them to our writing of poetry.

With one group I introduced Suzanna Marshak’s  powerful book ‘I Am The Ocean’ to alert these enthusiastic poets to the potential power of writing through a mask and using personification. Another group looked at personification through their connection to things in the world around them. 

Pre-writing discussion followed by intensive writing.

Using the poem, ‘I Am These Things And More’ as a model.  Students were challenged to think about these important connections. A particular focus of the writing was to try to incorporate effective use of repetition, line breaks, simile and white space in their composed pieces.

These young poets talked in groups and identified their targets for personification. They rehearsed their opening lines. They rechecked the list of craft moves available to them and then they set about writing their pieces.

Later in the day a group of students looked at Rant Poetry and readily embraced the challenge of unpacking those pesky thoughts that sometimes surround our lives. 

 I shared Shane Koyczan’s powerful spoken word poem, ‘To This Day’ by way of encouraging writing close to the heart.

Finally, we looked at Emotion Poems using Sara Holbrook’s simple yet, effective structure.

Reading poems aloud to windows and walls before sharing allows the writer to hear what the reader hears.

All round, it was a day for writing some powerful poetry using a variety of forms and functions. In the next few days the students will hopefully further polish and revise their special words, shaping them into even more powerful pieces.

Here are some examples from these young poets, I believe deserve to have some light shone upon them. Thank you Brighton Poets!

I Can’t Escape, Jack. D

I get called KFC lover                                                      
I get called fat   
All by the same people                                           
I can’t escape

I keep taking them back
They just keep going 
I can’t escape

I get called worthless 
I get pushed hard                                                                               
I can’t escape

I get called laughable 
I get called doughnut master 
I can’t escape

Worst of all
When I fight back
They call me slob 
I can’t escape

They keep begging me to take them back 
I always give in 
I can’t escape

But thank goodness other friends back me up               
Thank God my tormentors don’t go to my school  
Sometimes I can escape

I Am Such Things,  Manasi. D

I am the pitter-patter of the rain                                                       
I am the sourness of your pain                                                          
I am the hands of a clock                                                                   
I am the leader of the flock                                                                 
I am the boxer’s power punch                                                             
I am a very tasty lunch
I am as soft as sand                                                                             
I am the vastness of the land                                                              
I am the song you hum                                                                       
The big boring maths sum                                                                 
I am the cold morning breeze 
The big snooty sneeze                                                                         
I am the complications of a human brain
The sweetness of the sugar cane                                                         
I am the colours of the rainbow
The sharpness of the arrow                                                                
I am your best hunch                                                                          
I am a carrot’s crunch                                                                        
I am a detective novel full of mysteries 
I’m the sailor sailing the seven seas  

Why Does Frozen Have To Exist? Isabella.C

Now, I really hate Disney movies                           
I don’t want Olaf to play all day                                                    
I want to sit and play my games  
I don’t want to build a snowman 
I’d rather watch Peter Pan! 
When will Elsa find out she can’t sing? 
She makes God cry in spring
What will happen to Elsa in summer? 
Will she melt?    
Oh, what a bummer
If there is a book to be read  
I might possibly drop dead
If I have to watch Frozen again
May god have mercy on my soul  
And instantly turn me into a foal
I can’t let it go

This Is Me,  Bella B

I am the rage of the unfed tiger                                  
I am the warmth of the crackling fire    
The sweetness of cinnamon
The bitterness of a lemon 
I have the speed of the waves  
I possess the stamina of a hurricane  
Even though I lack the strength of a bull  
I am never afraid to give things a go
I am the brave creativity of a young child  
Yet ideas may take a while
I have the understanding of a wise elephant 
But I will keep on learning as long as I can

Anger, Andrew T

Paper scrunching                                                          
Floor Stomping                    
Face punching  
Sister hitting 
IPad smashing 
Head bumping 
Voice screaming
Brain bursting  
Throat strangling    
Eye twitching

Bored,  Giles

Pencil nibbling
Mind wandering   
Paper doodling
Eye Shutting
Ear blocking
Face palming  
Finger flicking  
Eraser rubbing  
Feet Tapping   
Music playing                                                              

I Am What You Know,  Jacinta

I am the creepy FNAF character 
Who works at the pizzeria 
I am the Geek  
Creating superheroes every night  
I am the gazelle gracefully leaping   
I am the surf beneath your board that brings you closer
To the ocean
I am the alien from another planet                       
Who will never understand humans
I am the girl with millions of family members, but no grandma to love 
I am the moon at night guiding you
From unimaginable horrors
I am a computer slow to process 
Fast to act   
I am the wind blowing life about   
I am time stalled 
Forever the same                                                                          
I am dynamite, so 
Don’t blow my fuse  
I am a paper page filled with ideas    
I am a sausage     
Who knows what’s inside?    
I am the gumtree growing and growing 
And you can’t cut me down 
I am my Mum’s chocolate no one must touch         
I am the rubber ball  
Pushed down, only to bounce back  
I am a stream of light glowing foreve
I am an amethyst  
Only to be revealed when you break me open
I am me 
Never gonna change