Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writers Consider the Drama of Their Short Story


The fourth grade classroom I was visiting today was working on the unit of study, Short Stories. Each of the students had finished at least one scene in the story. Today was the deadline for that to be done. During the lesson time, the teacher talked about creating scenes and thinking about how the character influences the drama of the scene.

The class discussed ways they could do this:
  1. Speaking--character
  2. Small Actions
  3. Thinking--character
  4. Character description: What is the character doing with his hands, his face, his body?
The students were to think about how their characters influenced the drama of their story.  They were to slow down the scene and make it seem real to their readers...make a movie in their minds.

During the writing/conferencing time, I was able to talk to four students. Each of them were at a different place in their scene. The theme that I saw for each of them was: needing to slow down the moment to make it more alive for the reader. They had the tools they needed to do this from the focus lesson, but they were not applying it. Tomorrow the teacher will again take this same focus and try in another way to model for them how to slow down a moment. Some things take teaching over and over for it to become a tool students can easily use in their writing.

Sharing time was allowing students to show how they revised their scenes by adding to the story. Many of them did the "spider leg" strategy and some used a ^ where a small thing could be added. This unit of study will continue with more small scenes in the story.

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Book: Notice & Note

Last week I got a text from a teacher asking for some help with Close Reading. The request got  me excited. I explained to that teacher, that I really hadn't done much work in that area. I had an idea of what I thought it meant, but since I've been retired and just working in classes focusing on writing, I would need to read up on it. Yes, I knew that it was a focus in the CCSS. Yes, I had done some reading on the subject. Still, I didn't feel comfortable working at the expert level! So, I checked out Heinemann and found a new book. Yes, I know I'm retired and do NOT need more professional books. Still, I bought it!
After receiving the book today on my doorstep, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading! I am now about 1/3 into it. I am fascinated and can't put it down. The authors start out introducing Signposts to look for as reading is taking place. This is in order to find things that call out for close reading.
The three parts of the book are: The Questions We Pondered, The Signposts We Found, and The Lessons We Teach. So far, my favorite chapter is: What Do We Mean by Intellectual Communities? For so long, I have believed that students need to have discussions that are deep and ask the questions in discussion time, instead of teachers asking the questions. (When they already knew the answer they were looking for!)

"The purpose of schools ought to be to create intellectual communities where students are encouraged to be risk takers, to be curious, to be willing to try and fail, and to be more interested in asking questions than providing answers." pg. 24

I know teachers are going to love the part that is full of actual lessons for each of the signposts, including charts that they can lift out of the book and use in the classroom. To add to that, in the Appendix are the actual texts for teaching the signpost lessons!
I can't wait to meet with those teachers who are ready to take the next step and dive into close reading to help their kiddos have the tools they need to be productive readers. Did I mention that the authors understand that it is more important to have intellectual communities than to teach to the test?

"What might make a difference would be schools becoming the intellectual communities that they ought to be but can't be when the penalty for not teaching to the test is so high." pg 25

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Writers Use Theme to Plan the Plot of a Short Story

Leaves blew across the street as I made my way to the front door of the school. I pushed the button and gave the secretary my name and destination. The season of autumn is in the air, but the children in the fourth grade classroom had only the story they were writing in their heads today. They had been working on their fiction pieces for several days and were ready to think about how the theme of a story helped them to plan the plot.
In the past they had worked on an overview of the story, so they knew where they were going. They were also working on a story as a class. They knew they had to be true to the theme of the story and let it lead them as they planned. They knew they could not just throw in a theme at the end.
As I conferenced with them today, I noticed that they either didn't know how to plan or they just wanted to get right to the story.  I think this is common at any grade level. Everyone was working on some type of story. There was fantasy, realistic fiction and historical fiction. They had worked on sketching out the scenes, but still were struggling with the overall plan.
As teachers, it is hard for us to remember that these young authors are just approximating the skills they will eventually master. It is hard for us to remember that planning is a difficult thing to master. These nine and ten year olds just want to get to the good parts...fighting or loving, they want ACTION. What's to plan with that?
So, as teachers, we have to model, model, model for them. We think we taught the skill well. We think they have already heard it over and over and over. But, actually, we have to keep on going over it again and again. They will get it and it will come naturally, but for now, we have to praise their approximations!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I'm A Runner!

One of the passions I have discovered since retirement is that of running. So far this year we have run in three races. We started with the Peachtree 10K Road Race in Atlanta on the 4th of July. We have run that for many years, but this year was different. I found myself running and not stopping to walk. I walked through the water stops due to the hot weather, but I did not feel the exhaustion as I have before.

When Darrell heard about a small race in a nearby city to be held in September, we decided to try it. It was just a 5K, but still a challenge for us. We usually quit running in the summer after the Peachtree. This year we kept up our training.  Usually that meant running on the weekends and doing elliptical work during the week.  We did the Hog Jog 5K and I ended up getting second in my age group of women and 4th in the 40+ group.

Next came the Fort 4 Fitness Health Fair in Fort Wayne. It is a group of three different distances.  We decided to do the 4-miler. It was a great race and I found out I placed 4th out of 71 women in my age group.
This week we decided to try for another local race, another 5K.  It is to be held on a Saturday in November and I am already adding miles to my training during the week. This last Saturday we were ready for a 4-mile training run in the neighborhoods around us. We warmed up with a walk and then took off for the run. When we got just a few yards from our house, it began to sprinkle. It looked like it might start raining, so we came home. We watched the weather forecast. We paced around the house. Finally, we thought we had a window big enough to get the run in and we took off.  We were fine for about two miles and then it hit.  It rained harder than I ever remember. We were soaked, but we kept running. Cars went by with people looking at us like we were crazy.  We made it home and felt good to know we did it!

Yes, we are runners!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Writers Use Character Traits to Write Interpretive Essays

This week I was able to finally get to another school where I do classroom visits.  This school is part of Fort Wayne Community Schools and is a magnet school. The 5th grade classroom has 26 students. They are currently working on finishing up the unit of study on interpretive essays.

It was interesting for my first visit to have the teacher do a review of what they were doing in writer's workshop. They had been studying this genre for several weeks, but now they were working in groups of two or three to do a character study of one of the characters from the class Read Aloud they had recently finished.

After the mini lesson, I settled in with three boys who were intently discussing their essay. Max, Sam and Corey had the introduction to the piece done. They were using Sabrina, but had chosen the character trait of being bossy.  They felt this was the character's main trait. They could tell me several places where the character showed bossiness, but their work was proceeding slowly because there was more talking than writing happening. My teaching point for them was to show them how writers sometimes divide up the work and work independently. They were willing to do this. They had a plan of writing their part, coming together to revise and then add it to the essay.  They went off to work with new energy.

Next, I worked with Jenna and Airion. They had finished their draft and even had some revision done. Since I had never read the read-aloud book, I offered to listen to what they had written and let them know what wasn't clear for me.  My teaching point ended up being to show them how writers ask questions as they revise.  The questions we came up with were: What was Sabrina thinking? and When did she change? These girls will be finishing their essay very soon!

It was great to meet these wonderful writers.  I am looking forward to watching and working with these students as they grow as authors this year!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Author Visit: Tess Gerritsen

On Tuesday night my friend, Sandie, and I traveled to Angola to their library. The purpose of our trip was to see an author that we had come to love.  We had read one of her books for our Book Club and decided we needed to hear her in person.

This was not a normal publishers way of getting more of her books sold. This was a "love-of-libraries" book tour that she just does. She says that libraries are not getting the funding they need. They are getting to be not as popular as they once were due to the online reading. So, she decided if she could get a few libraries to go together and host her, she would visit.  Thus, the trip to northern Indiana.  She picked a great time because Indiana in the fall is the best!

My favorite book of hers and the one we read for our book club, was The Bone Garden. It is a historical fiction. Actually, she said it was one of her favorite, too, even though it is not one of the better sellers.  It takes place in Boston both in present day and in 1930. Oliver Wendell Holmes is a main character. Due to the fact that Tess is also a doctor, this book showed her interest in that part of her life.
Many people know her as the author of the Rizzoli and Isles books. They are now a series on TNT and very popular. She told us how she came to develop these characters and how actually, Rizzoli was not supposed to live past her first appearance. But, Tess just couldn't kill her off! She also told us how she reads newspapers to get ideas for her books.

Sandie and I were so excited to get her to sign our books and have our pictures taken with her, too.  We are big Tess Gerritsen fans now!