The Birth of a Word

View the Ted Talk here

Today I’m starting (and probably finishing) a book entitled Second Grade Writers- Units of Study to Help Children Focus on Audience and Purpose.  Sounds riveting, right?  Well, actually, to me it does; but it didn’t always.  The impetus for reading this book didn’t arise from some noble desire to be better at my craft.  I haven’t been trolling professional development websites to find just the right book.  If I’m really honest, brutally, disgustingly, honest, the motivation to read this book was social.  When my co-worker approached me, we’ll call her Robin Scherbatsky, I said yes so that I’d have an excuse to get together with a group of people and talk about something I like.  Which is just to say that sometimes we (maybe just I) get a little too ivory tower in the classroom, hoping that student will choose books because they are a “good fit” or they’ll expand their horizons.  And sometimes I find myself awed that a kid would read an obviously ill-suited-for-them book just because his friend did.  Today I’ve eaten my crow and put my foot in my mouth. So, now that I’m nourished and stretched, I’ll begin reading.

I’ll report back after I have some shocking revelation about how to teach kids to write good.

After Reading the Introduction

Firstly, I just need to comment that I didn’t start reading introductions to books and chapters of books until I was an adult.  Seriously, I had insurance of my own and a lease and a retirement fund before I started reading introductions.  Yet now that I do, I’m sad about the number of times I wasted what I’m sure were perfectly good introductions.  This intro laid out the format of the units and provided a rationale for each section within the unit.  None of this is particularly revolutionary, but I did appreciate Parsons’ discussion of revising.

Revision was a concept I struggled to teach throughout the year.  I revisited the concept time and again, maintaining consistency of language but varying the delivery technique. I modeled. I used small groups and individual conferencing.  But nothing motivated my students to revise. Similarly, when I tutored varsity athletes in college I struggled to get them to make any changes to a draft.  It seems that every writer is convinced they do it perfectly the first time.  Fair enough.  But Parsons says this about revising:

“We often think of revision as making our writing better, but a more helpful and friendly definition is this: revision is the act of making the writing match more closely the ideas and feelings of the writer.”

Basically, she argues that we not encourage the idea that bad writing is the type of writing in need of revision.  The opposite in fact.  She supplants the idea that good writing is what will eventually be publish-able- that is, writing we are invested in, writing we care about, and writing we think others will care to read.  Thus, good writing is the writing on which we should be spending our time;  no need to revise something we never liked to begin.

My auxiliary reason for liking this introduction is the additional reading it supplied.  Three books that made the imPenDing doom list are:

  1. Carl Anderson’s Assessing Writers, 2005
  2. Katie Ray Wood’s Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom, 1999
  3. And Katie Ray Wood’s Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop, 2006
Anybody read these? own them?
After Reading the First Chapter
I read the first chapter several days ago, but am only now getting around to writing on it.  Which is just to say that my thoughts am emotions aren’t fresh or raw like they were after reading the introduction; but I’ll do my best.
This first unit of study is all about building a classroom community of writers.  I appreciate Parsons’ method in designing the behavior management around what is necessary to be a group of writers.  I employed this strategy last year but in all content areas, which led to discussions about what we needed to be a community of readers, a community of writers, a community of mathematicians, social scientists and physical scientists.  It was a lot to manage because of the nuanced distinctions between subjects, but in the end it worked wonders toward providing children with some efficacy over their classroom.  Additionally, this method of behavior management helped the children distinguish what they had to do to learn and what they had to do as a personal favor to me- for example, there was to be no pencil sharpening simply because I hate the sound and not because it was a detriment to our learning.  Long story long, it was nice to see that strategy in print.  Parsons says this about classroom community:
The members of a true community care at least as much about the well-being and success of the group as they do about their own individual accomplishment.
I’m all about this statement.  About it.  However, I do wonder if there is some developmental inappropriateness to content with in this assertion.  I’m reminded while I reread this of all the times I said, “Ariadne, I appreciate that you’re trying to help Theseus, but it’s hurting your learning so please sit down and write.”  I spent a good portion of my year training children in when were appropriate times to help another at the expense of personal achievement and when weren’t those times.  And I think that training has some merit, because at the end of the day I’m trying to get my children to be college ready and they’ve got to have the individual skills to be such.  Thus, while I think the statement is terrifically representative of how we want our communities to operate, I wonder if it is a too little unforgiving for use in second grade…
Moving forward, I found the following quote hugely insightful:
If the only thing on the walls when your students walk into the rom on the first day of school is the last writing they did the year before, what better way to tell them their voices matter?
Not being particularly inclined toward making bulletins boards, I had definitely adopted the “this walls are empty because I’m going to fill them with student work” attitude.  Yet, truly, the thought had never occurred to me to hang work from a  previous year.  Brilliant!  Not only does this give children the sense that their voices matter, but also gives them a sense that their work wasn’t for naught (not? knot?).  If all teachers adopted this bulletin board idea, wouldn’t our students come to internalize their teachers as a team of stakeholders rather than isolated experiences that end on June 10 each year.
Likewise, Parsons names a possible minilesson in this unit- a good way to start a new day is by reading what we wrote before.  Here again, how completely intuitive! Of course we should be having children reread their work.  She says, “this is how they come to know themselves as writers.”  Way to go, SP!
Add a book to the imPenDing doom list:
  1. Randy and KAtherine Bomer’s For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action.
After reading chapters 2 and 3
Suspicions confirmed- I love this book. The second chapter is all about social justice writing.  Well, really it’s about persuasive writing as a genre, but Parsons does a nice job of allowing this unit to make children into advocates.   I am absolutely guilty of forgetting what and how much children know about current events, assuming that they don’t watch the news or talk with other adults about hot button topics. This unit is a perfect vehicle through which to put the kabash on those assumptions…
blah blah blah.  I for got to finish this post, but can’t figure out how to save it as a draft.
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