Tag Archives: first grade

#SOL15: A Tale of Two Readers


In seventh grade,

she vowed to read every book in the library.  She began in the fiction section, left to right, top to bottom, methodically working her way through the alphabet.  Favorite authors included:  Louisa Mae Alcott, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Daphne DuMaurier, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy. Reading was about the stories and the stories opened up the world.


Her social studies teacher handed her a copy of The Sun Also Rises. They talked about the themes, symbolism and imagery.  It was a paperback.  Days were spent on the book.  Questions abounded:  “Why read this book?” “What was her learning supposed to be?”

Language Arts class was all about diagramming sentences and practicing for a spelling bee.  No reading. No writing.

Book two was A Farewell to Arms and more conversations. The depth of conversation was intriguing. Read and then talk?  A readerly life was redefined. She was reading with a purpose – for that conversation with an adult, a teacher. Savoring the words. Wondering “Do I really understand this book?” Treasuring the conversations. Bringing the world to the reader.

Why did the student set such a lofty goal?

What role did her teachers play?

How did that goal shift?

A first grade reader 

wanted to read books. Her teacher said she had to pick books on the first grade shelf. It was the lowest shelf in the library. The shelf was four-foot long. It was not even completely filled.  It had 41 books.  By November, the first grader had read all the books because after all, there were no chapter books on the first grade shelf.

One day she chose a book from the second grade shelf. The teacher shook her head, “No, you can’t check those books out. They are only for second grade readers. Read something from our shelf.”

Those words made the girl’s stomach ache so much that she went home sick. She missed 37 days of school in first grade.

How big of an impact does a teacher have?

What teacher actions support a reader?

So what happened to that first grade reader?

When she went home, she read her books from the public library.  Three books each Saturday – that was the checkout rule! She devoured the Nancy Drew mysteries and sometimes had to switch to a different book so she could read them exactly in order.  Bobbsey Twins was another favorite, and because her brother did not check out books, she also read every one of the Hardy Boys books.

A reader was born in spite of the lack of books at school.  And when she went to junior high, her seventh grade teacher was drafted to serve in Vietnam. The long-term substitute for social studies came from the University of Iowa and one day handed her a copy of The Sun Also Rises.

Years later, I still read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier at least once a year to consider the masterful craft that begins with, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  I remain a voracious reader.

And now YOU know the rest of the story!

How do you know you are having a positive impact on your Readers and Writers?


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

#SOL15: Generative Writing and Word Study

I was back in some classrooms this week and I was continuing to think about generative writing, in particular with younger students.  See this earlier post for the nuts and bolts about generative writing.  I continue to believe that it’s a powerful strategy not only for writing but also for formative assessment.

I saw students working with tubs of objects based on the vowel sounds of the words.  The tubs looked like these.

vowel tubs for phonics

These first graders were using the tubs to name the objects, write the words and / or use the words in sentences as part of a focus on Word Work during Daily 5 rotations.  Students could choose the vowel sounds tub that they wanted to use.  Some students were writing words, others were writing sentences, and still others were filling a page with sentences that clearly demonstrated their understanding of the items in the tubs.

How did I know the students were learning?

At first glance it seemed that students were working on many different levels of writing.  How could I capture that information?  My mind was buzzing.  What did I see in front of me?  How could I capture that information and make it usable as well as “teacher friendly” so that it could be one piece of formative assessment that was used to guide future instruction?

What if I created “messy sheets” to “sort the work that students were doing?  See Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan’s blog (@ClareandTammy), “Organizing and Displaying Assessment Data so We can Use It” for an explanation of messy sheets (or check out their book here).

Here are my drafts of two types of messy sheets (student names would surround the ovals – initials are shown for the first two ovals on the left): one for volume of writing and one for quality of writing. (Do note that I did not have a complete set of classroom data and I was operating on the basis of what I saw students doing at that point in time.)

Volume Messy Sheet

writing quality messy sheet

What do I know about a writer who only uses the “word” as the last word in a sentence (thinking back to the previous post about generative writing)?  Which “Messy Sheet” helps me better understand these writers?  Is it an either / or?  Do I have to choose one? My questions continue on and on.


Take a deep breath.

Remember my “OLW15” (“One Little Word”).

Can my questions guide my continued study of the student writing?  If yes, then I might also consider adding ovals or even a third “Messy Sheet” for conventions.  From this writing sample, I could gather data about the “transfer” of learning from one writing activity to another.  Which students consistently have capital letters at the beginning of their sentences?  Which students consistently have end punctuation?  (I don’t need to give students a prompt.  I can use this “data” to add to my picture of each student as a writer!)

How could a teacher use the information from the “Messy Sheets” to guide instruction? 

In order to determine the need for additional small group or whole class explicit instruction, I could develop instructional groupings! Here are three examples:

Use generative writing in small groups to work on missing skills in writing for the students.

Tape record instructions of generative writing for students to complete in small group with a leader in charge of the recording. (interactive white board with picture and recording or ipad)

Revise and expand generative writing in a mini-lesson during Writer’s Workshop. (ie. Work with revising sentences in writing pieces to further develop sentence fluency and/or to show word meaning when deepening word understandings)

Additional Word Work:

Let’s consider the “long a” tub that is open in this picture.  It contains the following miniature items: snake, scale, whale, bacon, baby and a cage.  Students can practice naming each of the items and can record those words on paper because they are listed on the under side of the cover.  Additional activities that involve sorting could be combining items from the long a and short a tubs and sorting them  into columns based on the vowel sound, the location of the vowel sound, or even the number of syllables in the words (or even the spelling patterns that are used for that particular vowel sound – How many follow the cvce pattern?).

How might you use generative writing in the primary grades or to teach the writer?

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsy for creating a place for us to share our work.

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