Around this time every year, I start channeling my inner white rabbit. As of today, I have 3 months until my kids will sit for their end-of-course exams. If you subtract a half week for mid-winter break, a week for spring break, three days for state testing, and another three for a giant field trip that will take two-thirds of my class, I’m left with closer to two months.
There’s no way they’ll be ready. We have so much more to do.
Yesterday I was feeling particularly white-rabbity.
I missed Monday because I was out with a sick kid, and there were rumors of a snow day for today (which came true! YAY!), so the five days of teaching I had planned became three. I stood in my classroom trying to rethink the day’s plan to cram more stuff in, but, luckily, my gut told me to slow down. My kids were *hopefully* heading into a three day weekend. I needed them to leave excited about their new writing projects and ready to spend a little of their snowy Friday writing.
Generating excitement, though, takes time.
This writing piece we’re starting is the most choice-filled thus far. Some of my kids have an idea and are running with it. Many, though, need some help. I decided to scrap the day’s plans and instead do some purposeful talk about our writing.
The first step? Divide students into small groups and set up some stations.
My kids sit at tables with writing groups, but for generating ideas and excitement, they needed to hear new voices. So, I mixed them up. I grabbed some mentor texts (use the mentor text dropbox and save yourself time!) for two of the stations. Another station was for free writing, and the final station was for talking. They rotated through the stations–7 minutes at each one–and talked.
Mentor Text Stations
Students are choosing to either work on analysis or argument in this piece–two types of writing we’ve worked on a lot this year. They’ve read and studied tons of mentor texts in both genres, but for this piece they have free reign of what to analyze or what to argue. That’s fun for some kids and overwhelming for others. For an argument mentor, I chose this op-ed by Roxanne Gay about mass shootings For analysis, I gave them this take-down of Fuller House. I taped both texts to large sheets of butcher paper, gave them some markers and asked them what they noticed. They noticed all kinds of great stuff:
- A hilariously specific and extended comparison between Fuller House and a Hostess cupcake.
- Some interesting vocabulary that they had to Google (frog march, Kama Sutra-yikes! Google carefully, children!)
- Powerful short sentences
- Repetition of “we need” to drive home Gay’s point
- Structural choices (a parallel opening and closing in the analysis; an argument that builds in complexity)
I could keep listing because their observations went on and on, but what they noticed isn’t really the important thing here. The important thing was that they were engaged in reading like writers and thinking about the choices a writer was making. As I circulated, I could toss in a few questions like, “Why is the comparison to a Hostess cupcake better than just a cupcake?”
A Writing Station
The writing station was just that simple. Get out your notebook and just write for seven minutes. Play around with one of the things you noticed in one of the mentor texts. Is there a specific comparison you could try? A repeated phrase that might drive home your point? Seven minutes isn’t overwhelming and it forced them to get something down on paper and get started.
A Talking Station
The talking station was where I spent the most time. This was a great place for the groups to share what they think they’re going to write about. The ones that had ideas shared first, and in almost every case that sparked an idea with the ones that were still struggling. One student shared his plan to analyze an episode of Black Mirror and that inspired another student to write about her favorite episode of the same show. Another student was debating between two ideas so the group talked about if it would be more fun to write in the Fuller House style (relaxed and tongue-in-cheek) or the Gay op-ed (passionate and argumentative). By the end of the seven minutes she was leaning toward an op-ed.
So are we “behind” now? I guess, technically, yes.
We didn’t do the discussion of the reading we’ve been working on. We didn’t work through the annotations I wanted to get to last week, and I didn’t check in on their multiple choice practice. All of that is valuable, too, but I think this time we spent talking and generating ideas and excitement was worth it. My most hesitant, resistant writer stayed after class to run her idea by me. Another student stayed after and asked if she could “just start two pieces” because she can’t decide on a topic.
I don’t know if they’re writing today, but I think some might be. And even if they’re not, when they come back Monday they’ll have all of these ideas floating around in their heads and scribbled in their notebooks. In order for students to truly engage in writing, they need to care about what they’re writing. And that just takes time. I think it’s worth it.
How do you slow yourself down and make time for talk in your classroom? Share your ideas for what we can give up to carve out time to think and talk in the comments below or share your ideas with me on Twitter @TeacherHattie.