Saturday, August 04, 2012

To Choose or Not to Choose

As I reflect back on the Northern Virginia Writing Project's Invitational Summer Institute I have a few big idea take-aways that will directly impact the choices I make as a teacher this year.

The first one that stands out as I reread my notebook from the past four weeks is student choice. I never tell my students what to write. We do study different types of writing (narrative, instructions, letters) and they must write in that genre at some point, but that's the most prescriptive I get. This comes out of a firm belief in the importance of choice, especially for kids.

I still believe that and I still intend to give my students plenty of choice. That said, I also want to do some more structured writing, similar to writing to a prompt. I found myself trying completely new things as a writer this summer when forced into a structure or prompt. I also heard a lot of stories about students who felt a need for this support rather than completely free choice. I'm not yet 100% sure how this is going to look, especially with first graders.

One thing I want to try early in the year is listening to music and drawing pictures. Most first graders can't write all the ideas that come into their heads from the music they hear, but they can draw it. Then we'll put those pictures into their writing folders (or just draw directly into our writers' notebooks) and use them to help generate writing ideas throughout the year.

One possibility is having them pull small items out of a bag and use them in a story or a piece of writing. This will likely require some oral storytelling initially to help generate ideas and organize them. Again, drawing pictures will likely help them tell their story as well.

I also want to think about how to push their composing of writing through means other than pen and paper. I worry that my students become stifled as they try to write all the great ideas in their heads and they can't spell the words and even forming the letters can be such a challenge. I want to make sure creating stories orally or through some of the tools and ideas from ds106 is an option for them.

Oddly enough, my hope through offering some choice and forcing some writing is that they will feel a new freedom as writers. I hope they will discover some new possibilities through what I force on them and it will encourage them to stretch as writers in all the writing they do.

I feel like I should be putting the word writing in quotation marks. For me, more and more, it means the composing of a story or text more than it does the physical act of writing it on paper or a computer. However my students 'write' I want them to be doing so as well as they possibly can.

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