Saturday, November 2, 2013

Teaching Writing - It's So Hard!

I enjoy writing workshop - when it's going well.  When the kids have great writing stamina, my conferring has a steady rhythm and students are trying out the techniques we learn during mini-lessons - it's fabulous!  When students love the mentor text and look forward to reading like a writer and notice the authors' writing style and craft - it's wonderful!

But I feel like my workshop is all over the place this fall.  I began with writing small moments but couldn't seem to stop my students from writing those long, drawn-out stories that that go on and on like a list and end with them going home and going to bed.  And don't forget my favorite line, "It was fun." 

 Maybe I gave up too soon, but I decided to use a few mentor texts that would provide some structure to their stories while also providing opportunities for me to teach my second graders ways to add more details to their writing.  So I used Cynthia Rylant's When I Was Young in the Mountains, When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis and When I Was Five by Arthur Howard.  Even with these structures my students needed a lot of help brainstorming topics.  (I couldn't bare one more, When I Go to Disney... Story). So we brainstormed important places, like grandmas and camping and the beach or our backyard. I knew my students had lots of experiences to draw from, but they seemed to continue to want to write about the movies, video games or theme parks!  We are even doing a shared writing, called When We Go To Recess... So that we can try some of the techniques together.

But then the other day I decided to take my class outside for writing.  It was a beautiful fall day and I wanted to let them observe nature and write.  They had a bit of experience with writing using the 5 senses, so I thought we would go with that.  I kept my directions simple.  Find something in nature to observe and write about it.  Yikes! It was crazy.  They couldn't stop talking and most were unproductive.  Bad idea I told myself.  And wondered how I could have better prepared them?

Things are going better now, but I worry about making sure I teach them narrative writing.  Should I let students go back to their small moments writing or stay with this format a little longer? And will they transfer some of the craft lessons to their narrative writing later? And do you think I can get Lucy Calkins to make a visit to my class so she can model some writing lessons for me?

Writing workshop is hard - always - I realize.  It's hard to write and hard to teach writing.  I need to remember that.  After all, I always remind my second graders that sometimes learning IS hard.  That just means we are about to learn something new.