Unit of Study: Writing to the Prompt –Narrative

As soon as we return from February break, our teachers will begin the push to the state test (beginning of March).  We’ll have about 3 weeks before the first section of the test — which is always the writing prompt.  For our third graders, this will be the first time they’ve done the high-stakes writing to the prompt.  I’ve been working with one of my teachers to develop a plan for helping our young writers transfer their skills to the demands of the prompt.

Here’s what we have so far:

Day 1:  One way writers plan for prompt writing is by using a super quick graphic organizer.  (We’ll be showing the kids a quickie organizer and practicing sketching it on paper as quickly as possible)

Day 2:  One way writers plan for a prompt is by mining the prompt for information.  (the prompt usually provides the character, setting and a clue about the problem)

Day 3:  One way writers plan for a prompt is by quick listing the events in their story plan.  (this is essentially filling in the G.O.  with what the prompt didn’t give you)

Day 4:  One way writers plan to include elaboration in prompt writing is by marking spots for using description.  (the students will add a * to the G.O. to plan ahead for stopping the action and describing — snapshots)

Day 5:  One way writers plan to include elaboration in prompt writing is by marking spots for inside stories.  (students will add a ! symbol to the G.O. to plan ahead for stopping the action and telling what the character is thinking or feeling)

Day 6:  One way writers plan to include elaboration in prompt writing is by marking spots for “show don’t tell”.  (students will add a # symbol to the G.O. to plan ahead for adding some showing of emotion rather than naming it.)

Day 7:  One way writers plan for interesting prompt writing is to rehearse leads in their head before they write.

Day 8:  One way writers plan for interesting prompt writing is to choose an ending strategy before they start writing.

Day 9:  One way writers deal with the time pressure of prompt writing is to pace their writing during the time period.

Day 10:  One way writers deal with a prompt they don’t like is to “tip it” into something they know they are good at writing about.  (we want the children writing, not being frustrated by a prompt that they don’t quite know what to do with)

That’s it!  10 simple days.  With other school obligations etc, it will take most of the three weeks that we’ll have before the test.

Small Group: Coaching Cycle

I shared some of my thinking an planning around my small group coaching with teachers. Now I’ve worked out the plan that I want to work from.  Here’s how it looks right now.

Essential Question:  How do teachers identify and plan to form a small group?  How does the mini-lesson architecture transfer into the small group?  How does progress monitoring fit into strategy group instruction?

Objectives:  Teachers will pull 10-15 minute groups based on common identified needs (rather than reading levels).  Teachers will employ the architecture of the mini-lesson to provide short, sharp, effective small group instruction.  Teachers will monitor student progress during flexible, short-term group instruction.

Ways to Form Groups (beyond the level)

  • Fountas and Pinnell Continuum and Assessment data
  • assess engagement
  • interactive read-aloud with stop-and-jots
  • teaching points at book levels flip book (a building resource here)

My plan —

1.  Team meeting to look at engagement and how we can check back in on student engagement at this time of the year.

2.  Mega-lab session with Read Aloud with accountable talk and stop-and-jots.

3.  Team meeting to actually form the groups and make a plan.  Work through the architecture of the mini-lesson as a part of the plan.

4.  One-to-one coaching of teachers using the Teaching Points flip books and the architecture of the mini-lesson.

5.  Teacher independent with small group sessions using the flip book and the architecture of the mini-lesson format.

Lets see how it goes.

Test Prep

We’re facing the dreaded state testing soon.  And everyone is in a high panic about it.  We’ve taught the students.  The students have worked hard, they’ve learned what we’ve taught them.  And still, we’re in a tizzy over the upcoming test.

Are we afraid that we haven’t taught what we think we’ve taught?  Or are we afraid that our assessments of what our students have learned isn’t accurate?  Or do we just let the generalized anxiety of the testing environment spill over and infect our complete beings?  Understand, I think that all of these are true for most of us.

We often haven’t taught what we think we’ve taught.  We have unintentionally taught our students powerful lessons that were not what we wanted or meant to teach.  We’ve passed on some of our own baggage around learning and writing and reading.  We’ve accidentally created some paradigms about what it means to be a learner or a reader or a writer that aren’t what the unit plan indicated.  And those unintentional lessons may cause some of our students some difficulties, both on the state test and in life.

Likewise, we often haven’t assessed learning, but rather, we’ve assessed performance on our tasks.  We’ve checked that the students have completed the tasks we’ve demanded of them, but we don’t always look more closely to ensure that real, deep learning has occurred.  Task completion doesn’t prepare students for the upcoming test — learning does.

Finally, there is the general anxiety that seems to pervade all school buildings leading up to the high stakes testing cycle.  Sometimes I swear some chemical is infused in the brickwork of the edifice itself and it seeps out and clogs all of our brains.  I’m determined to develop the anti-toxin for this nasty, yet potent poison.

But right now, I’m starting small.  I’m working with a third grade class and teacher on getting ready for the writing prompt.  In our state, we already know which genre will be demanded — in third grade, that means personal narrative (sort of).  And we already know the structure and format of the prompt.  We also know the rubric by which the student writing will be scored.  So — we’re planning for how to help students best address a prompt in the limited time.  And we’re using lots and lots of oral storytelling — we’re not going to wear out those hand and arm muscles before we even get to the test.

I’ll post our unit plan soon.