Writing About Reading
With teachers working hard to meet Common Core Standards, I thought it would be good to hear from Laura Peters, a teacher in Forsyth County, Ga that does an amazing job helping her students write about their reading. This is a photo of Laura working side-by-side with one of her students.
Lola: Laura, please give us your job description and a list of the grade levels that you’re working with this year at John’s Creek Elementary School.
Laura:This year I am fortunate to work with a variety of grade levels which include 2nd grade ELA, 4th grade ELA as well as 5th grade Horizons. I am responsible for the English/Language Arts report card grades for my second graders and my fourth graders. The students leave their regular classrooms to come to me daily for their reading, writing, and language instruction.
Lola: You’ve always been passionate about the teaching of English/Language Arts. This year you are working with children from three different grade levels. What are some of the similarities you see with their interest and growth?
Laura: Working with three different grade levels keeps me on my toes! I’m learning that it even though you may teach different grade levels, some issues are the same regardless of the students' ages. Each class has a wide variety of academic capability. Each class has the students who love to write and are eager to try different strategies along with the students who find it difficult to put their words onto paper. Tying the writing into whatever we are reading works well with all of the grade levels. It seems to motivate the ones that love to write with a chance to emulate an actual author while, on the other hand, the reluctant writer has the ability to pull out ideas or expand existing ideas rather than become frustrated over their own lack of ideas or the ability to create an idea out of nothing. All students, regardless of grade level, need to be trained to take care of themselves during writing workshop. They seem to want to be done and move onto something else that doesn’t involve their notebooks so creating an environment that fosters and encourages daily writing is important in all of my classes.
We’ve already worked with different genres of writing in all the classes. It appears that students in all three grade levels find it most difficult to write about themselves. For example, in a second grade narrative, the students were asked to write about a time in their life when things didn’t go their way. There were several students who struggled with finding a moment in their young life when things didn’t go the way they wanted. In fifth grade, we did a similar entry about a time in our life that we wished we could change, a moment of regret. Again, several struggled with finding that time in their life that filled them with regret – a moment in which they either said, did, or felt something that they wished they could change. Of course, there are the ones who always find it easy to write no matter the purpose or audience.
Lola: I know that you’re having students write more about what they’re reading this year. How do you organize that? Is this formal writing that they turn into you for a grade? Or do you have students write about their reading in their notebooks? What are your goals for them?
Laura: I’ve structured the classes the same as before. We begin our ELA with Reading Workshop and end with Writing Workshop. When the writing is closely tied with their reading such as a character response or comparing and contrasting literature elements, the students write in the Reading Notebooks. However, most days, we still have Writing Workshop which will spin off from what we are doing in Reading. For instance, last week in second grade, we were learning about fables in reading and reading several over the week. So in writing, we focused on the elements of fables. We did some craft lessons with word choice from our read alouds and a lesson about problem in addition to planning a story. The students wrote a fable at the end of the week. In fourth grade, we are reading a historical fiction novel in literacy groups and I’m using the book to teach narrative writing since it has all the components ranging from character development, plot, conflict, word choice, and narrative techniques such as flashback and foreshadowing. The only thing I wished I had was 30 more minutes of instructional time! I’m also finding myself bringing home journals every week.
As far as published pieces for a grade, my second graders have published two pieces while my fourth graders have published one piece. All other writing is in their notebooks so far this year. Grading is done differently in fourth grade so while the students have only published one piece for a percentage grade, I have graded other work for a formative grade.
My goal for all students remains the same: show growth in their reading and writing. I would love it if they discover something new about themselves in reading and/or writing whether a new author, a new genre, or a new love for writing!
Lola: Since your students are writing about something that is rather concrete – their reading material – how has that effected the quality of their writing?
Laura: I think the quality of their writing has improved because they are writing about something concrete so they focus more on their organization and elaboration rather than formulating their own ideas.
Lola: How does this increase in writing about their reading impact their comprehension of the literature? Do they ever reference the stories, informational pieces, or poems as they’re writing about them?
Laura: The student’s reading comprehension seems to be increasing. Citing evidence from the text is a reading standard in both literary and informational reading. Students work on this almost daily. Referencing the text seems to be aiding the student’s ability to develop their thoughts and reasons in their writing.
Lola: Since the standards require students to write narratives, informational texts, and persuasive/argumentative pieces, how do you incorporate those genres into their responses?
Laura: Just as students must read a wide variety of genres, students must write the different genres. We read a wide variety of text and we write in different genres. I still need to focus my writing instruction on genre lessons as well as craft lessons.
Here is an example of the kind of writing Laura is getting from her students.
The students were asked to read an article from Time for Kids entitled “Work Your Mind” then respond to the prompt: What are your feelings or thoughts after reading the article?
In “Work Your Mind,” I like the passage because I can finally have a new way to learn: By trying it by myself! It also makes extreme sense because when you struggle in work you may get them all right. But then you will learn how to do it and then on the test you will obviously do a great job. From now on I will not be afraid even if I don’t get the correct answers right away because I newly realized that problem solving process plays a more important role in learning.
Therefore, this article is very encouraging to me to take a new perspective about learning. That is making mistakes are not all bad. Rather it will give me more ideas through the solving process and eventually it will remain in my brain and in my mind longer so I can utilize the knowledge more in other problem solving.
Student author – Andrew , Grade 4