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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing, Learning and One Book, One School- January 31, 2012

Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                 

Friday afternoon our staff had an opportunity to listen to an expert on increasing student engagement in learning.  One of the strategies I was able to use right away with my son was the “talking through graphic organizers” strategy.  Kids often make outlines or use word webs to organize ideas or identify similarities and differences before they write.   Once the ideas are organized, the presenter suggested that we have kids talk through the organizer using complete sentences before they begin the task of writing.  As adults, we assume kids might already be doing this in their heads but unless we’ve explicitly taught them this strategy they may not make the leap to complete sentences and paragraphs.  When I had my son take his notes and orally rehearse them twice, using complete sentences, his writing took just a fraction of the time it typically does. You will see a variety of graphic organizers displayed around the school or you can visit for more ideas.  Organizers provide a framework to help children organize their work.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with students for a writing project.  Students used paper towel tubes, tin foil and tape to build a floating structure that could hold a cargo of washers.  Following the experiment, students wrote about how their team planned and implemented the task.  We had a number of volunteers help score the papers this time.  Older students had been working to improve sentence fluency by varying sentence beginnings and length.  Last month, sentence length typically ranged from 5-12 words.  This month, the range was from 1 to 42 words.  Students explored different ways of combining ideas, adding descriptive words and using onomatopoeia to engage the writer and make it enjoyable to read.  Younger students have been working to have a beginning, middle and end. For many, the ending sentence wrapped up the piece by describing the overall feeling of the project leaving the reader satisfied.   

In our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) we look at student work to see what skills students solidly have in place and what seems to be the logical next step for instruction.  At our staff meeting Tuesday, teachers will review the work and set goals for the upcoming six-weeks of instruction.  When all students in our building have had a similar experience and all have completed a similar written piece, we can collectively see the continuum of learning and how what is done at each grade level supports the next.  The projects students do with me provide a snapshot of student learning.  Another type of school-wide writing we do happens in the classroom where students have more support for learning.  At the start of the year all students listened to Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox then wrote about special treasures.  In November students wrote about gratitude.  Next, we will read All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and write about a special place. 

These school-wide, shared experiences bring a richness to our school.  When we have shared experiences, students make connections across grade levels.  Our school is once again participating in One School, One Book.  Thanks to our PTC each family will be given a copy of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. In addition to the book, each family will receive a reading schedule.  You are encouraged to read the story as a family.  Talking about the story, making predictions and pondering why a character might choose a particular action can deepen the experience for your child.   Discuss the book as you go. Your child will also have school connections to share.  On March 1, we will have Family Literacy Night with a variety of activities for your family to enjoy related to the book.

When I visited Miss Cobain’s room Monday afternoon, her mom was volunteering.  She was reading aloud Where the Mountain Meets the Sea.  She paused at special times and allowed kids to make predictions.  She talked about the meaning of different words in the text.  She dramatized different parts of the story all while kids sat, leaning forward to get every detail of the story.  Kids provided synonyms for the words fatigue, furry and weary.  She asked questions about how the character was feeling and why. She asked students to show what it looks like to gape at something. She made text to life connections about how moms feel in different situations.  Listening to a different voice read aloud was a special treat for the students.  They were clearly engaged!  When she finished a chapter she asked, “Should I stop there?” and the children responded with, “keep going!”

Clearly, reading aloud or sharing a story provides all sorts of learning opportunities for kids.  I know that the writers in our school are influenced by the stories they read.  Below is a summary of the significant ways in which reading stories aloud to kids will change their lives . . . and yours.   It won't happen overnight, as change is gradual, but continued and dedicated reading will most definitely bring noticeable, long-term changes.  In this day and age of hectic lives and busy schedules, reading together is a simple and enjoyable way for parents to take time out and focus on the family.  Young children need lots of special, dedicated time with their loved ones.  Reading children’s stories aloud to our kids is just plain FUN!  Reading children’s stories is a wonderful bonding experience that fosters meaningful one-on-one communication with our kids. It molds our kids into becoming readers, and raising a reader significantly increases our child's potential for academic success, as well as lifelong success in general.  It is a vital and integral part of teaching our kids how to read, as they learn how to read by being read to. It helps our children master language development.  It builds listening skills and increases a child’s attention span and develops the ability to concentrate at length, all of which are learned skills.  It develops children’s ability to express themselves more confidently, easily, and clearly in spoken AND written terms.  It develops and fosters a child's natural curiosity.  It develops creativity and a child's ability to use their own imagination!  It expands our children's horizons, quells fears, exposes them to new situations, and teaches them appropriate behavior.  Reading stories to our children provides the best opportunities for true teaching moments.  Reading picture books develops a young child's appreciation for the arts through exposure to many different styles of art and illustrations.

Thank you in advance for reading to your child in the upcoming month (and years).  Thank you for sharing your children with us.  I can’t wait to hear the conversations children have as a result of having this shared experience!


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
A.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.

Wish List--These are little things or jobs that will make a difference to our kids.  If you have things you'd like to share, feel free to send them in.
  • Prizes for Sparky’s Running Club
  • Wide-ruled notebook paper
  • Pencils and Pencil topper erasers

District Writing Assessment
Due to cost-cutting, the state of Oregon is no longer formally scoring writing papers at grades four and seven.  Because writing is an area where our district has struggled to make significant gains, we were pleased to hear that the Northwest Regional ESD would be providing a regional scoring opportunity that would simulate the process followed by the state. After the assessment is administered, teachers from neighboring districts will join trained Beaverton teachers at the NWRESD to calibrate and score student papers.  This feedback will provide important assessment information to students and teachers alike, as we continue our goal of improving student writing and building our students' capacity for college and career readiness.

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