Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 29 - Still enjoying Memoir Unit

On Monday, the students shared their posters. When not sharing, the students took notes. They thought more about: What is memoir? What could memoir be? What is memoir NOT? and we charted this information.

Through this inquiry process, the 5th graders understand that memoir is both personal narrative and essay based on their past and the ideas related to that past memory or memories. They know it could include other genres like poetry, but doesn't have to. They know it is NOT fiction.

We then spent time on Tue-Thur generating MORE stories and ideas in our notebook after I shared and my co-partner shared the stories we have written (many from our Slice of Life work during the March Writing Challenge by TwoWritingTeachers!) As my co-teacher and I reflected Friday morning, we felt that they could use some guidance to get more into their notebook before having them choose and begin to draft. We realized that many were drafting long stories each day and not generating LOTS of story/idea to get more into the notebook in order to interpret for patterns and possible memoir drafts.

So, I decided to spend the whole class guiding the groups through QUICK WRITES.

1.Think of a person you spend time with and a memory you have spending time with that person.
I showed these sentence stems and told them to write:
Once I was with _____. I remember ____. I felt ____.

After about 4 minutes, I told them to draw a line.
2. Now think of a place you spend time. It can be a place in the neighborhood, a place you get to by car, train or airport. I showed these sentence stems and told them to write:
Once I went to _____. I remember _____. I felt____.

After 4 minutes, I told them to draw a line.
3. Now think about your life of 10-11 years. Most of those years has been spent in school.
Think JUST about Pre-K or K and your memories from that time.
Once I was in Pre-K / K at _____. I remember ____. I felt ______.

After 4 minutes, I told them to draw a line.
4. Now think about 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade....

After 4 minutes, a line was drawn.
5. Now think about 4th grade. Today at our school, the 4th grade is celebrating Heritage Day.
Maybe think about how you celebrated that last year OR any 4th grade memory.
Once in 4th grade _____. I remember ______. I felt _____.

6. After 4 minutes, 5th grade memory.

After 4 minutes, think about something you do outside of school.
7. Think about doing something outside of school that was challenging or made you feel shy.
Once I _____. I remember feeling challenged / shy when ______.

NOW you have 7 Quick writes! Let's try one more entry.
8. Think of an idea you have. Something you really believe and feel passionately about.
I feel that schools should teach writing as a class because it is such an important skill.
Those 3rd graders during Jamboree on Tuesday believe cancer needs to be cured. So much so that they are raising money for cancer research and they are raising awareness by shaving their own heads. What do you believe. If you need an IDEA, look at the chart we made during our Essay Unit about topics we have ideas about.

Pick an idea. Write: I believe that _______.
Now keep writing about your idea. As you write, I will say some elaboration prompts. Use the prompts to grow your idea.
In other words _____.  An example ______. I realize ______. To add on _____. Some people think ___ (the opposite of your idea) but I think _____. In conclusion ____.

We had 5 minutes to reflect before the end of class.
What do you think of your writing work today?
"This is the most I've ever written in a day."
"I see that sometimes, I wrote about a similar idea as I wrote stories."
"It was fast which was hard, but it got me to write lots."

I am grateful for my co-teacher who suggested this idea to guide all to write more FAST.

Next week - we PICK a topic to write our memoir about and draft it and begin revising it.
We also need a checklist to guide us. At the TCRWP Sat Reunion, I got some ideas for using checklists. I can't wait to try it out during this memoir unit!!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

March 21 - PARCC over and Memoir Unit begun

It really is unsettling to go to work but go to a different classroom to guide a different group of kids through a half-day of instruction and a half-day of testing. But I did it 2 more times for the Math PARCC. Then on Wed, I returned to being a 5th grade writing teacher!

I launched the Memoir Unit, using he brilliant ideas of Lucy Calkins and Alexandra Marron from their book Shaping Texts: From Essay and Narrative to Memoir. In Session 1, they suggest not telling what memoir is but instead, reading a memoir and noticing what is happening. "Today I am going to teach you that when you start a big writing project, it helps to read over work that is the sort of thing you plan to make."

So that is what we did on Wednesday. I gave out copies of Eleven by Sandra Cisneros and an organizer with 4 columns - 1) What this memoir is about 2) What writing structures are seen in the memoir 3) Evidence of each structure 4) The lesson or big idea of the memoir. I read it aloud, pausing to think aloud about the way she was writing this piece. "This first part sounds more like her ideas about birthdays and your age" and "Now this middle part is a story, a sad story about that red sweater" and "Again she is back to thinking big ideas about our age and how we are not just one age but all the ages before also." One wise student in my second period class said, "I think that last part sounds like a poem." And when I reread read it aloud, he was right. It sounded very much like poetry!

I told the class I still wasn't going to tell them what memoir was yet. For homework, I asked them to ask those at home what they think it is. See if they have read a memoir before. Keep thinking about Eleven and that tomorrow, they would read another memoir in small groups.

So over Thursday and Friday, I gave five groups of four students each in each of my four classes, a copy of a memoir. I used: Last Kiss by Ralph Fletcher, Car Trip by Jon Scieszka, All-Ball by Mary Pope Osbourne, Scouts Honor by Avi and a memoir from last Wed's Food section of the Washington Post about a guy with Leukemia who has friends that send him food while he has medical treatments. The first 2 stories were short so I purposefully gave them to the tables with kids who struggle more in reading. I also went to the public library and checked out 30 picture book memoirs. I knew groups would finish at different times so I had these available to read as groups finished their tasks.

The tasks were: read the story alone and fill in the information about memoir on the organizer. Then when all in the group are done, talk about it. Then make a chart to teach this memoir to the class. I reminded the groups that they are the only ones in the room that read this memoir so they need to first tell what it is about, show HOW the author structured the memoir, annotate the story on the chart with evidence of essay / story elements and then at the bottom of the chart state a lesson or big idea learned. I took our work form Wed and made a chart of Eleven to help them see what they needed to produce.

Then they got to work!! It was very quiet at first with all the reading. I went from table to table checking in, defining words, clarifying parts. Once all were done reading, they started discussing what it was about and the structures. Again, I circulated and guided them to think about structures. I also pointed out to some groups to be sure to teach ___, as their memoir is the only one like that. For example, Jon Sciezka's was the only humorous one so I reminded them to point that out when they taught the class. I asked Ralph Fletcher's group about the jellyfish part and why that was there. When they explained, he was comparing, I reminded that group to be sure they teach that to the class as that is a craft move in memoir we might want to try when we write out memoir. As class ended on Thursday, all had finished reading and were discussing and the two shorter story groups were beginning to make their charts. Friday, they arrived and got right back to work! ALL finished and most had time to read a picture book, too.

On Monday, I plan to have each group share information about their memoir using their chart. Then all in the room will have read Eleven and another memoir, listened to info about 4 more memoirs and may have read another picture book. Then as a class, we will co-construct the definition of memoir. With so many mentor texts of memoir fresh in our mind, I feel we will confidently write and try some memoir craft moves we learned about. Then on Tuesday, we will begin generating memoir ideas in our writers notebook! So far, I am enjoying this Memoir Unit!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14 - Half-way through March PARCC testing

I got 2 days this week to review for the PARCC and then the ELA was taken over 3 days - Wed through Friday. MOnday I used to explain the Independent Project the kids would work on each half-day when they were not testing. I did this because they would be staying in their homeroom with a 4th grade teacher as a proctor and their teacher. I would be in 4th grade and not be with my 5th graders to answer any questions.

This use of class time went well. I gave an overview of each of the 3 projects (describe your future, create a new country, or tell all about our school to those moving to Mars who want to build a school there). After each overview, I had the kids do a quick write related to the topic. It was a relaxing way to write but relax and work our creative brain.

On Tuesday I gave final tips for taking the test. Reminders about using the PARCC passages as their word wall so they spell correctly and a reminder about how long they have and what each day's task would be. Then as a fun way to practice, I had them watch the end of the Broadway Musical - Shrek where they are singing "I'm A Believer", I gave them a prompt and the lyrics to the song and for 15 minutes after enjoying the song (the kids had just finished performing this play as the school musical!), they read the prompt and wrote about the theme of the song!

I think this fun, relaxing exercise was a great last activity! When we still had 10 minutes, we enjoyed another scene from the DVD. Then I sent each class off and told them I'd see them in a week when testing was over.

Then Wed - Fri, I administered a test either in the morning or afternoon and monitored a group of 25 4th graders doing independent projects in a 4th grade classroom. I'll do the same on Monday and Tuesday as the Math PARCC is taken.

Then I get my 5th grade life back on Wed, March 18th. I plan to start a Memoir Unit!! Looking forward to memoir, Poetry in April and allowing them a chance to complete their own independent writing project...we are in the home stretch!!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday, March - It's like a Sat because yesterday and today are snow days!

I changed school districts this year, from Fairfax County to the District of Columbia. Many things are different but the one that stands out right now is reaction to the snow. In Fairfax, a district that included MANY miles, closes school due to a little snow and even for very low temperatures. They simply cannot get the kids to school by bus when winter weather is added to the equation.

DC is another story. My school doesn't have buses. Being an urban school district, many teachers and students use public transportation. The temperatures in the city usually aren't as low as outlying suburbs. So what if it is snowing? We still have places to go and stuff to accomplish.  The most I have enjoyed (yes, I'll admit, I enjoy an unexpected break from my job due to winter weather) is a 2-hour delay.

The snow came at a perfect time for me. I completed my final PARCC Writing about Reading lesson. I have tips to share and an explanation of the Independent Project the kids will work on when NOT completing a PARCC test but I still have Monday and Tuesday. So for me, this was a perfect break.

And how did I spend yesterday? I organized all the students' Writing about Reading papers, I made a spreadsheet to add their grade and comment. I LOVED time to do this! My goal is to type a comment that can be used on the report card NOW so at report card time, I can simply cut and paste and NOT spend every waking weekend hour making all the comments. SO feel good about the system I set up yesterday.

Looking back....
Monday was a 2-hr delay due to the ice storm over the weekend. It was the day to let them try the Research Writing PARCC question. It was the day to let the kids watch the video with headphones. With shorter classes and my Smartboard not working, it didn't go as seamless as I would have liked. But all got a chance to try out this question on the computer. Monday night I made them a homework Scavenger Hunt assignment. I listed all the tools and told them to spend time getting used to these tools.

Then Tuesday and Wed, I gave them 20 minutes each day to work on the Literary Essay PARCC prompt. As we ended each class on Wed, I felt they were ready for this test!! I'm excited for them to show off all they know about reading and writing. I think I prepared them well.

Would I do this same kind of prep next year? DEFINITELY!
I loved using a story they knew (ISH by Peter Reynolds) and writing a story from a different point of view.
I loved spending time talking about HOW TO READ A PROMPT. I think I'd do this FIRST next time.
I loved having them plan and orally share a GROUP Literary Essay using 2 easy stories - Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood. Then I loved seeing them transfer this work to do it independently using ISH and The Dot.

I could have spent more time on the RESEARCH ESSAY but we had just finished the NF writing unit. I think next year I will ask them to prepare a PROMPT...find 2 articles and a video to watch related to a topic (maybe a a group activity) Then THESE can be practice questions for us.

I have to say that I like helping the kids prep for a writing test. I honestly wish it wasn't timed but I'm glad they get assessed in writing!

And I'm glad I get snow days!!