Monthly Archives: February, 2014

Reading and Writing in Grade 1


First grade teachers are believers.  They know that their students need to be “writing more” in order to meet the demands of the Common Core / Iowa Core.  But the struggle becomes more of a management than a pedagogical issue.

“How do I fit it all in?”  “How much should students write?” “What should they write?” “How much time should I devote to Writing Workshop?”  or “How much time besides Daily 5’s ‘Work with Writing’ do my students need?” are just a few of the questions that I frequently hear.

So we began by planning first grade literacy learning.  The teachers determined that the focus would be gathering evidence that the students had met this standard:

RL.1.3   Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.

Teachers using the Lucy Calkins Units of Study in Writing or Reading Units have a vast array of resources to support reading and narrative writing for their students to provide evidence of meeting this reading standard.  Other teachers may consider going to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s “Unpacked ELA Standards” for further clarification of student expectations.

“RL. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3  First grade students continue to build on the skill of asking and answering questions about key details in a text. At this level, students use key details to retell stories in their own words, reveal an understanding about the central message of the text, and tell about the story elements.

Use questions and prompts such as:
• Can you tell me what happened in the story at the beginning? What
happened after that? What happened at the end of the story?
• Can you tell me where the story took place?
• Can you tell me the important things that happened in the story?
• Who are the characters in the story? What do you know about them?”

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We have been talking and thinking about a “body of evidence” that shows “mastery of learning” the standards.  How much evidence is needed?  How do we define mastery? The signposts matched our confusion!  What else did we need to consider during the planning and implementation of this study?

Before going any further our next question was, “What other English Language Arts (ELA) first grade standards are related and could possibly be combined or bundled together to provide deeper learning for students?”  In a coaching conversation with a group of teachers we identified the following ten standards as possibilities.

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Our thinking was that if we were aware of all the possibilities, we could consider and experiment with an array of recording techniques. For example, we might include a checklist format for specific standards and/or utilize a narrative writing prompt that might be a “higher level” of application that could be used to demonstrate understanding in reading and writing.  We struggled with the idea of having to record every single standard in oral language, reading and writing.  Driving questions were:  “How can we make this manageable for teachers?” and “How can we show students the learning targets?”

Our next step was a look back at the kindergarten reading standard that we would be following in this work: “RL.K.3.  With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.”

After the standards review, we created the possible checklist/rubric below. We believed that our one star rating would allow many first graders to begin with success and also showcase their kindergarten learning.  Ultimately, we would like the students to explain their own “star rating” with a reason why they chose that rating.

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What process have you used to plan reading and writing instruction?  Have you found standards that “fit or bundle” together?  Does this process transfer to your grade level?

Is Our Writing Improving?


How can we measure writing so students, parents, the community, and the teachers know that students are improving?

If this is our definition of assessment, we have many options for measurement.

writing assessment

If I am a student, I can use rubrics, checklists, my personal goals and feedback from peers, teachers,  and those I communicate with through blogging, etc. to talk about what qualities are present in my writing now that were not there earlier in the year.  This could be in the form of a summative reflection that is posted with two or three papers/writings that I believe demonstrate my growth and that I would have annotated with those specific qualities for a quarter or semester or across the entire year.

But what keeps a student writing on a daily basis?  How does a student know that this week’s writing piece is better than the last piece?  Or that this piece really was the perfect match for the audience and purpose?  I believe that students need feedback to not only be able to “improve” their writing but also to have the language to explain what they are doing to others. Excitement about a topic can carry a student for several days, but at some point the enthusiasm may wane as the task of rewriting or revising becomes laborious.

John Hattie believes that feedback needs to include these factors:

“• focus on the learning intention of the task
• occur as the students are doing the learning
• provide information on how and why the student understands and misunderstands
• provides strategies to help the student to improve
• assist the student to understand the goals of the learning”  Source 

So a learner would need to know the task/goal, be able to explain what he or she is learning and have some strategies that enhance his/her understanding of the work.  The checklists in the new Units of Study in Writing, from Lucy Calkins and the many, many talented folks at Teachers College Reading and Writing, would help meet those criteria especially if the students are involved in daily writing workshops that allow them to continually stretch and grow and there is a safety net provided by the teacher and peers.

Is this the only writing format that meets these criteria?  No, other rubrics such as 6 Traits + 1 within a writing workshop model could also set up this learning and feedback environment for students.  These environments would include clear writing targets, models and strategies for students to continually plan, reflect and self-assess.  When working well, these classrooms are better than well-oiled machines; when not working well students might be saying, “I don’t know what to write.” or  “What do YOU want me to write?”

How does that all fit in a writing workshop?  Very, very carefully as a teacher combines both student-led and teacher-led activities to increase student independence!  At the end of the mini-lesson, the teacher may ask the students to go ahead and begin an example of the task/work at hand before they even leave that comfort of the writing circle.  A few students may stay for a quick conference and/or a more specific “check-in” with the teacher.  A student may have put a post it up on a strategy chart to mark the specific work that is his/her goal for today that will improve the narrative (adding action, adding dialogue, or adding thoughts).  The teacher will circulate and may have a “mid-workshop” interruption where student work that is “on target” is quickly celebrated and shared.  Students may quickly meet with writing partners to see if they are “still on course to meet their goals.”

This is an example of “knowing specifically what a student needs to do” to meet the learning target in kindergarten – first grade writing.

K end of unit one writing

The student will have a “collection” of writings in a folder that will be evidence of learning.

What will the parents and community members see?  They will see examples of early writing in a unit and later writing.  They will see “student revision” in work and evidence of student thinking.  Parents and community members will not see traditional “percentages” for grades.  They will see comments that delineate what the student CAN do.  The students will be able to tell their families what they have been working on and how that has helped them be more powerful writers.

And the teachers . . . How will they know that “students are improving”?  Teachers may have to take a step back because the “day to day work” may cloud their view when they think of overall growth for all students. But student growth, when students are writing every day in writing workship for 45 minutes to an hour, can be seen after three weeks (Lucy Calkins, June 2013 TCRWP Writing Institute).  Will it be easy?  Heck, no!  But will easy provide results that will help your students meet the demands of opinion, informational and narrative writing?

What are you waiting for?  February is the month to “Fire Up” student writing in your classroom.  Your students will love writing with you!

What questions do you have?  What do you need in order to get started?

Information about the K-5 Units of Study

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