Reading the World
“Me and my pen will journey the world putting one peck on every piece of paper. I recommend one peck changes the paper and these are the things that are possible and that we accomplish together.”
-Zion, Opal School 3rd grader reflecting on the question: What will be possible for you and your pen as writers this year?
From the beginning of the year, I want children to know that we never do this work in isolation. There are resources that we’ll turn to throughout the year as we accomplish things together. I want to share just a few of those resources and some of the ways we thought about them in the “Dogwood” community.
READING THE WORLD
In Portland, during our first week of school, the sky was an orange-gray and filled with smoke and ash. It was hard to breathe and we had shortened outdoor breaks because of the poor quality of the air from nearby wildfires. It was this awareness about what was happening in the world around them that sparked the idea for Caylan and Aleeza to write their poems on that first day of school. The world outside the classroom is a resource where children are getting ideas and asking questions and we welcome that into the classroom. Writing is a way of making meaning of our lives. Lucy Calkins says, “Writing allows us to hold our life in our hands and make something of it. We grow a piece of writing not only by jotting notes and writing rough drafts, but also by noticing, wondering, remembering, questioning, and yearning.” Through Story Workshop, we are inviting children to make meaning of their lives. We are inviting in their experiences, what they’ve lived, what they’re curious about, and what they’re grappling with. Children naturally play and tell stories as a way to make meaning of their lives. Their work is to read the world, so their worlds become our texts.
I hope to support the development of a culture of Story Workshop where children see each other as resources. Having an audience listen to my story and provide genuine feedback is one of the resources that I rely on most as a writer – and my hope for the children is that they will find that from each other. I want children to have classmates that will ask questions, respond with emotion, offer suggestions, engage with, and care deeply about the ideas they are crafting. In “A Sense of Agency” I shared how I brought Caylan and Aleeza’s writing to the group, which is just one of the ways I’m hoping to support children to see one another as resources. We’ll continue to grow the ways we share stories within the group and as we learn more about one another as writers, both teachers and children will be seeking opportunities to connect peers through their ideas and writing.
We also turn to professional authors as resources. I have a goal of seeking out and bringing in high-quality children’s literature as provocations during Story Workshop. These mentor texts are places to carefully listen, observe, and study; they’re launch pads for getting ideas, becoming inspired, and trying out new strategies in our own writing. Having professional authors in the room with us through their books invites us all to live and write inside of someone else’s powerful ideas. The wonderful author Cynthia Rylant, when asked how to teach writing to children, said, “Read to them…Read with the same feeling in your throat as when you first see the ocean after driving hours and hours to get there. Close the final page of the book with the same reverence you feel when you kiss your sleeping child at night…Teach your children to be moved and you will be preparing them to move others.” In the “Dogwood” classroom, the first published text we read was Philip Stead’s Ideas Are All Around. I brought the book to them to inspire their thinking about how Stead thought about finding and capturing ideas, just like the children had done on the first day of Story Workshop. Later, we celebrated all the work they had been doing as authors by finding other authors who were writing about ideas just like they were.
Will is writing a story about a frog – just like Gail Gibbons.
August is writing a how-to book – just like Jean Reagan.
Sienna is writing a book about leaves and fall – just like Carin Berger.
I’ll continue to look for opportunities to bring in literature as a way for us to explore the work that authors do. Eventually, I’m imagining a move toward a focus on ways authors craft their stories. We’ll use mentor texts as a way to notice, explore, and try out the strategies other mentor authors are using.
CONSTRUCTING THE WRITTEN WORD
My goal for Story Workshop is to nurture strong, proficient writers. To work towards this goal I need to provide students with tools that will support them in their understanding of how to construct written language. There are many things that can contribute to building this understanding.
When we came together as a group during Story Workshop recently, Finn shared that he was ending Story Workshop with a plan of where he would pick up the next day. He said, “I made the mountain in my story, but I wasn’t sure how to spell mountain. So tomorrow, I know I’m going to start by trying to write that word.” This observation provided an opportunity to normalize what was happening for Finn. I asked if anyone else had tried to write a word and they weren’t quite sure how to spell it. Almost every single child raised their hand and began talking about similar experiences they’d had. This plan that Finn brought forward offered an opportunity to begin talking about which tools and strategies we might use as we write words we’re not sure how to spell. The next steps I’m considering will be to introduce children to an “I’m Not Afraid of My Words” chart, where I’ll invite them to share their approximations as we put them side by side next to the conventional spelling of the word. I’m hoping that this will encourage a culture where taking risks are valued as we construct written language.
Reflect in your notebook:
- How are you creating the conditions for children to bring their worlds, classmates, and professional authors into their Story Workshop?
- What new possibilities does this post wake up for you? What will you try?