#SOL18: March 8

The Reason Why

N sits quietly, picks up his pen, starts to write, stares at his paper, and sets his pen back down.  He doesn’t disturb anyone else, but at the end of writing time, even with partner and / or teacher conferring, his production is minimal.

“What else can I try? Here’s an example after he recorded his story on the iPad.  Here’s an example after he acted out his story. What can I do to help him?” queries his teacher.

So N and I sit down to talk.  It’s time to get ready for conferences.  “Would it be okay if you practice with me before you get ready to use Seesaw?:  He seems delighted and eagerly opens his notebook.

And then . . .

N sits quietly.

He says nothing.

I wait,

the Queen of “wait time”,

but also mentally running through some possibilities,

my own mental checklist.

I open my iPad to be ready ,

to jot notes,

to take a picture,

and N says,

“What will you write?”

I pause.

ever mindful of

“Don’t put a scaffold in place without a plan to remove it”

and the “NEED to write.”

Does N not picture himself as a writer?”

Does N not see himself in his stories?

I have no magic answer.

I just have a NEED to help.

Is that enough?

“N, I want to write a story for my grandson.  But he’s little.  He’s not yet three.  Where do you think I should start?”

“Well, you make a heart map and then your idea comes from there.”

So I follow N’s directions.   He KNOWS what to do. He has listened.  He has paid attention to the steps.  He can say them all.

When I say, “But I am stuck, N. I don’t know where to start, ” he stares at me in disbelief.  I have the Heart Map in front of me. I picked an idea.  I told him him three things about the idea.

“Is it a tricky part?’

“Ah, yes, using some of his reading talk even in writing.”

But, N still hasn’t written and it’s been 20 minutes.

Of course, I’m not in panic mode.

My goal was to listen and follow N’s lead.

You see N is a fifth grader.  He moved into this classroom and district in November.  He’s such a pleasure to have in class.  He’s a sweet student who is ever, so helpful and will drop his work to “help” anyone else.  You have to look closely to see that N is so busy looking busy that he doesn’t write or read much.  He’s often so quiet that he looks like the most industrious writer in the class.

“N, can I show you a trick that I sometimes use when I hit a tricky part in my writing?’

Of course, he says, “Yes, ” and I gulp, this is it.

“Here’s one trick I use.  My grandson doesn’t live near me and sometimes I’ve forgotten part of the story.  So today I wanted to tell about the first time he went down a slide.  I can’t find the picture from that day.  I can’t act out what he did as a two year old because I’m not a two year old.  So I google “boy on a slide’ and look for a picture that kinda matches the slide. Like this . . . The slide looked kind of like this. I use the picture to help me start thinking about that day.”

“But what if you don’t remember?  What if you didn’t pay attention to what happened?”

“Good question.  So is it an issue with ‘it must be real and accurate’?”

“So N, here’s a second trick I use.  I look back at something I have written and I take one small idea and write more about that idea. I just write everything I can think of.  I can fix the details later.  I can change the order later.  I put words and sentences on the paper so that I can read it to my friend and she can tell me what she thinks.  Here’s a section I have called ‘characters’ where I just wrote about this person I saw in a diner and I wanted to remember her in case she fit into a story.  You’ve never met this person, but what could you tell me about what might happen next?

And N was off . . . adding to my story. He calls it our shared chapter book.  We’ve each written two pages.  Today I will have to email “my part” with a quick video clip because  I can’t be there and N is writing. Instead of two or three sentences, yesterday he wrote a full page.

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

Where do stories come from? 

If a student is stuck but they know they can:

  • practice telling it and touching the pages (while recording),
  • act it out (while recording),
  • make a movie in their head and slow it down and tell it bit by bit –

but the child still is not “writing” . . .  what are some solutions?

The idea for beginning a story and then seeing if the student could continue the story as I’ve been doing this week in my slices was one option that I wondered about.  I’m not real fond of story starters and things like RAFT so I really wondered about the “what if I use as an example, one of my pages where I’ve just begun to play . . . the girl in the diner . . . . ” and that my friends is the

REST of the story!  

And yes, there will be more of N and my work to come!  Just not today!

Interactive writing partners. A form of shared pen to increase writing volume.

Is this sustainable in the classroom?  Could this have been a small group lesson?  Is there another student in the classroom that would also benefit from this work?  Is there an “expert” in the class that could share how to get “unstuck” when writing?

Always more questions!


14 responses

  1. Wow! Fran, I am so intrigued by this classroom snapshot and the continuing story of “the girl in the diner.” You have captured both the teacher side and the student side. “Queen of wait time,” I think you have a book here.

    1. Diane,
      Oh, “Queen of wait time” comes with a cost. I will fidget with the best of them but it also helps me “count off” my wait time. So much to learn from our students . . . less to impose upon them!

  2. I think shared writing is a great strategy for some of those stuck writers. Teaching writing is so hard because it’s like spinning plates with all the strategies you have to be ready to pull out on any given day with any given child. And what works once doesn’t necessarily work the next. Great post. Can’t wait to hear more about N.

    1. Melanie,
      So agree. I think Burkins and Yaris’s message of “balance” across the week led me to this option. I don’t need a “NEW” strategy, I just need to “rebalance” the rest against the week. I’m thinking short term – less than 5 sessions and we’re going to change it up. Jumping to a new book, new idea, and not changing up group sizes first seems too common and also seems like way too much on the frazzle element! Burns us out! And yes, this may not work with any one else this year. . . but once is enough!

  3. Oh, I liked reading that snapshot of you and N! I was fascinated to see what you would try. We all have N hiding in our classroom and we can never have enough tools in our toolbox to help N find his writing voice. And you’re right, at the end, there are always more questions! Thanks for sharing this snapshot. I hope to read more about N and his journey this month.

    1. Thanks, Erin. It’s so complicated. And keeping all options open. As you could see, that was not my first choice. But when I saw it wasn’t going to take, I was willing to back up to try anything. More about the “anything” at a later date as I think we need a “wider menu” than we may have used before!

  4. I have seen many students who are well behaved, helpful, seemingly busy and totally unproductive. Their looking busy seems to be a mask they wear to hide their insecurities about their own writing. I like how you got N. thinking and writing without pushing him. It all came together in his time, not yours. This is something that we as teachers need to understand. Time is different for everyone. Sometimes all we need is a listener and guide.

    1. Mask is the perfect word for it. Silent so not causing trouble. Responding appropriately so I think he’s ready to move on but for some reason the “continuing on” does not happen. Hoping to build up enough steam to see it as all “downhill” . . . but still worried about how it will go today without me at his side!

  5. I am sending this to myself as a text to read later— after I get home and put on glasses. My phone is just too small and my vision too blurry after a hard day of screen time.

    That said— he sounds exactly, 100% like my son! His verbal expression is possibly even above average, but he hits stuck as a writer on every single task. He can say all the right things and then write none of them. Through testing and research – particularly consuming everything at SethPerler.com- we have determined that it is related to his struggles with executive function. It’s a real struggle!

    I will return!!!

    1. I used to “wonder” about causes and now I really just focus on what works as we move down the line. So many possibilities that we just need to keep trying. I can imagine some solutions that only count letter sequences, etc.

  6. I love this snapshot of a writing conference! And thank you for the reminder that silent doesn’t mean productive. I’ve bookmarked this post to return to later. Thanks.

  7. […] To recap our work (or you can read here) […]

  8. […] week I introduced you to N on March 8 and March 9. We’re hyper focused on helping this 5th grader (recent move in) literally get […]

  9. […] back in with N before the month ends. ( The story began Here, here and […]

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