I am eager to write a post today as it’s been a while since my last one and I feel the passion for sharing my practice. Coming up with a focus is at issue though. What are some of the things I could reflect on?
- recent class assessments on narrative writing and clear expectations for kindergarten writing
- using online math programs
- plugging up the holes in my instruction (hey, we all have them!)
- developmentally appropriate practice and why it is given short shrift
- what to share with parents so they feel “in the loop”
- new experience – Student Teacher on board for the first time
I think I really attacked this week with energy and greater focus. I was able to complete the kindergarten writing assignment / assessment so I will have artifacts for our district wide professional development sessions next week. I used the EGUSD rubric or matrix to assess learning to this point and found specific areas for instruction. Most visible is the need for learning punctuation, spacing, and the proper use of upper and lower case letters.
Sadly the assessment never asks for demonstration of a writer’s voice. That is a critical piece and is sorely lacking. It has been sacrificed to conventions and the more technical aspects of writing.
We are at a critical place in student writing when we ask them to share their thinking in kindergarten. There are delicate seeds of interest being planted and the students’ needs are quite evident. In my opinion, it is far better for them to tell the story in their own words, with passion and expression, and more challenging vocabulary. But by having them “write” the story with conventions as the primary focus, we put a pin in the balloon of interest and passion.
Students avoid challenging expression and usually lose track of their message as they break down phonemes and try to print them. They settle for a sentence or two that is all too often flat and less interesting. It is hard work and the message gets lost too easily.
The pre-writing experience I give them is much more exuberant. I have a display of icons on a white board. There is a smiley face for Who, a star for Where, a sneaker for What happened, and a heart for a personal Reaction. The icons help the students to target their message with enough detail to have a clear story.
The pre-writing process – I invite someone to tell us a story. As they stand in front of their friends sharing their thinking, I put a check mark under each of the icons when they hit that piece in their story. When they are finished, they turn around and see the display. Did they cover everything? Did they have lots of check marks? Are there any check marks missing? They can quickly revise the story to include those.
Now they take the writing paper to their seats. The icons are at the top of the page for easy reference. They try to write the letters and sounds for the words they want and they put checks under the icons as they go or when they re-read.
I conducted the writing assessment sessions in 4 small groups of 3 – 5 students, all of similar proficiency. Teacher help is quite limited during these assessments. Our district team of K teachers established quite clearly how the session would go from start to finish. This included a wrap-up where I pointed to each icon and asked if they included all of them.
We have a handful of children who can keep the flow of print going, but most students lose focus, as well as interest, after a short time. There is rarely any spacing, proper use of lower case, and no one has used any punctuation. More focused teaching during interactive writing and writer’s workshop will help that.
During the assessments, many of the children lost interest after a short time. A few needed all of the text written for them but this can actually mean a better story (writer’s voice) and a happier experience. Those students were encouraged (one-on-one) to contribute letters for sounds they recognized whenever they could but notes were taken saying it was not done independently, so no proficiency. Many of those who worked alone were easily distracted by a variety of challenges, including fidgety peers. Hey it’s kindergarten!
I know the students will grow and change over the coming months and they will become much more relaxed risk takers when it comes to putting words on the paper. It happens every year. They will have a better handle on the word walls, letter sounds, and sight words for a more fluid experience. Until that time, I will encourage them and share some student writing each day in a debriefing. That will help them build more confidence knowing that their work is “good enough” for their audience.