Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spaces, Places, & Tools for Learning

Where do we learn? How do we make space, in physicality and time, for the types of learning we'd like to include in our classroom?

Sitting here in Panera, basking in the glow of their WiFi, I'm thinking about these questions. Jackson is sitting across from me, typing messages to my sister. They're generally very long and filled with many consonants and few spaces, sprinkled with the occasional words he knows how to spell and a few that T9 creatively correct for him. What's he learning about writing? What's he learning about life in this unexpected week of no school? And no electricity? Certainly this week is fodder for writing ideas. The warmest AND snowiest October on record. Halloween cancelled. The third week this year with no power. How to cook pancakes on a griddle on a coffee table in the living room, where the generator powers an outlet.

So many outside influences on what goes on in the classroom. Snow days, hurricanes, illness, family emergencies and issues, and of course, the ever looming MANDATES. Some days, all requirements and mandates of and for teaching leave me stranded on the couch at midnight, actually feeling the crush of stress as I desperately try to find something utterly stupid on TV to take my mind off the 8,498,949,358 things I'm supposed to have done, half of which are yet unfinished.

So, I really enjoyed this week's readings. They were very reflective of things I'm experiencing in the classroom currently. How to balance the high stakes of testing with the rest of the world of writing? I read Rankie-Shelton and Fu's article about Nancy, a teacher who seemed to find something that worked for her. Bringing in both the writing workshop model and an intensive period of test preparation, her writers managed to navigate the world of high stakes writing tests while still building a love of writing. It seemed to me that her class was able to make it through those 6 weeks of test prep and the test itself as a result of the writing community they had built up over time during the writing workshop - the trust they had in each other to share their writing and critique it, their resolve in working together to build their crafts. I found the article inspiring and saved it on my hard drive. ;)

From there to more specific and immediate concerns. The chapter on revision and evaluation in Best Practices was one of the best yet. I love the POWER mnemonic for the writing process and am totally stealing that. I've been struggling lately to get my kids to revise their writing at all, and have been modeling revising and focusing on revising for certain qualities of writing. Even so, I still have kids who will reread their papers, look back and forth through the pages, serious expressions on their faces, deep in thought, and then look up and say, "Nope, nothing needs changing. I'm done."

This was of course, before I realized that I would need to devote much, much, much more time in writing class to the teaching of revising that I had originally planned. I liked how MacArthur pointed out that in teaching revising, we continue to teach the craft of writing and it will apply in future writing. Usually by the time we get to the revision stage, especially of assigned writing, we all just want to be done with it.

(Side note: I just got Georgia Heard's The Revision Toolbox and I really love it. (Check out some sample lessons from it here. It's a PDF.) We cracked geodes in class last week as part of an anchor lesson on "cracking open our writing" and the kids loved it. And I've used some of the activities in there and the kids really enjoyed them. They seem to be starting to help - and funnily enough, I see it more when they are drafting something than when they are revising it.

Anyway, I digress. So, those kids whose writing is perfect. I have a temptation to laugh when they say it because I'm so with them (as a non-planning, non-revising writer). I've been working on really breaking down the task of revision - starting with something so simple as "Reread it." So I liked the mention of think sheets for revising, with directions for the editor (whether its peer or self), and clear, explicit steps for how to revise. I think my kids are pretty good at making changes - but they have a really hard time finding what they should change and are constantly asking me. Of course, my goal is for them to be able to evaluate their own writing and decide what needs to be changed. I've been bringing in some criteria checklists for them after we read the book on Formative Assessment, and it seems to be helping somewhat. I think the evaluation questions they mention in the chapter will be helpful in directing them to a place that needs revision. I also love how peer response groups are used and while I constantly think about teaching my kids to revise each other's work, we haven't really gotten that deep into it yet. We're mostly at the peer-editing/proofreading stage of things.

Ok. So I just changed the order of two paragraphs in this blog, added a couple sentences and changed a word. Does that count as revising? Trying to practice what I preach. ;)

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