Years of teaching and personal journal writing have helped me recognize that putting words and thoughts on paper is no easy task. In June of 1992, I had the privilege of participating in the Writing Process, a program developed by and still maturing under the adept, creative energy of Lucy McCormick Calkins and associates at Columbia University's Teachers' College in New York City. The program aids teachers in seeing the process of writing through a child's eyes.
The Writing Process is a motivating approach to writing: At a young age, children are taught to draft, revise, and share their texts with one another as they write. Time is set aside each day (or a minimum of three days a week) to craft their work. Through interactive involvement, children begin to internalize that they can be authors.
Being involved in Lucy Calkins' program helped me step into a youngster's shoes and understand the anxiety that often occurs when writing in accordance with traditional, structured teaching methodologies. Since 1991, I have implemented the Writing Process in my classroom setting. It is a time-consuming task, but the result of its implementation has been that my children are empowered to use shared reading, critiquing and open discussion, and journal writing as readily accessible tools in the development of their own writing skills. Each child's progress is observed from the first day they begin writing in their journals to the last. Through interactive involvement, children begin to internalize that they can be authors.
What follows is a 16-week lesson plan showing how I implement the Writing Process in my classroom. Note that the process can be modified for use in all elementary grade levels at designated start-up times throughout the school year. (Based on your children's demonstrated readiness, you establish the start-up date for implementing the process). Many of the picture books highlighted in Section 1 can be used as springboards for journal writing throughout the process.
Composition notebooks and a writing tool box (we use children-size decorated shoe boxes containing pencils, markers, and crayons) are required supplies. At the beginning of the school year, I ask parents to provide their children with these items for classroom use. (I also recommend that, in general, they keep a set of these supplies on hand at home to help reinforce our classroom writing activities.) They are stored away until the Writing Process officially begins in our classroom. If your school is financially endowed, you can provide the supplies.
Throughout the process, children are encouraged to make use of words found in their classroom environment. One's classroom should, therefore, be inundated with words. Word walls should be strategically placed in center areas. Furniture, objects, supplies, etc. should be clearly labeled in highly visible, strategic places. Children should be encouraged to refer to readers, previously read storybooks, and other reading materials when they need help in spelling a word. The use of inventive spelling, where children really listen to letter sounds contained in a word and subsequently write words based on what they hear, is also encouraged. (When using the Writing Process, correct spelling is not a top priority; a child's ability to formulate thought and share those ideas and feelings on paper is the focus. Growth in these areas is visibly demonstrated as the process progresses.)
Shared reading should be frequently used as a prelude to journal writing. How books are put together, how illustrations play an integral part in conveying the story, how words appear on each page, and the overall patterns and elements of writing are highlighted and constantly revisited. Shared reading serves as a foundation for understanding the dynamics of writing.
Additionally, motivate your students to make use of oral language. Help them become engaged in discussion during morning meetings. Through open dialogue, children are given the opportunity to express their views, knowledge, concerns and/or their interest. You can get a feel for a child's overall use of language and expression of thought. At strategic moments, record their shared ideas on oversized lined paper. Through this interaction, children begin to recognize that spoken and written words are connected, that there's a definite pattern to writing. Keeping all of these points in mind, we can begin.
Weeks 1-5: Setting The Tone
The day begins with a story emphasizing a particular theme. (As time and the continued implementation of the process progresses, you will find students will automatically select their own themes.)
Through shared reading, students are given the opportunity to
*examine the components of a book and how it was put together
*make note of how the illustrations relate to the text
*think about why the author created this book
*discuss the portions of the book they like best
*talk about whether it makes them think of something personal
After shared reading has ended, the journal writing activity begins. When creating their stories, the children are reminded to make use of inventive spelling and words contained in the classroom environment—wherever possible, minimally relying on classmates and the teacher as a spelling resource. (Note: During the Writing Process, students are asked to write their thoughts unaccompanied by illustrations. For grades K and 1, where many students are still in the precommunicative writing stage, illustrations are acceptable. Have the child explain the story to you, and record his/her sentences.)
Allot a scheduled time for children to journal write. Journal writing should take place a minimum of three days a week, for a period of at least 30 to 45 minutes. I have found that early morning hours or immediately after lunch have proven effective and perfect times for my first graders.
Be prepared! Some children will assert, "I dont know what to write!" Although a specific theme may result from the shared reading, be flexible. Allow your children to write about whatever thought comes to mind. Perhaps, for example, the shared reading makes them think of how they wish their parent would read stories to them at bedtime—something totally isolated from the story theme itself. Encourage your student to write about that unrelated thought. Specify that the feelings inside of you are the focus. Simply let the words flow.
During this period, helping children begin to feel comfortable with putting words on paper is the goal. Each year, I am constantly flabbergasted by the results of implementing the process and the written works of my first graders! This year, for example, I began a February shared reading session using Eloise Greenfield's poetic anthology,
HONEY, I LOVE
. I hadn't realized it, but a fire was ignited in many of my students. One was Lamar, a youngster who at the beginning of the school year was unable to phonetically identify several letters in the alphabet and a child initially repelled by reading and writing.
During our journal writing time, he wrote:
Honey I love
like a friend!
I love a lot of things
a whole lot of things
like a toy
a car toy
like playing outside.
Honey I love
I love a whole lot of things
The above is the six year old's work exactly as he wrote it. Lamar had been given the flexibility to refer back to books in which he remembered seeing the words (he recalled reading an excerpt of this poem in his HBJ Reader, one of the text we use for daily reading in class). Well, Lamar referred to that page, and took advantage of it! He also used graphophonic, semantic and syntactic know-how . . . Lamar made effective use of all the strategies offered by the Process!
Once the Process begins, children become excited about writing, reading, and sharing! Camaraderie, social interaction, and an acceptance that each of us has the ability to be creative in written form takes place. Lamar eagerly shared his creation with fellow classmates, who gave him rousing applause and enthusiastically raised their hands so they too could share "their masterpieces"!
Weeks 5-12: Mini Lessons.
Teaching the formal elements of writing are not excluded from the Writing Process, perhaps simply presented in a more interactive and meaningful manner. Mini lessons are used to highlight areas where children demonstrate they are having difficulty. For example, for beginning writers, capitalizing formal names or words found at the beginning of a sentence and placing periods at the end of a sentence can be a difficult to remember. To empower children in this area, an interactive mini lesson (lasting no more than 15 minutes) can be conducted as follows:
Without letting your students recognize your intentional mistakes, write a few itemized sentences on the blackboard:
pat went to the store
she bought some cookies for her friend, ann.
she ate all of the cookies on way home
she had no more cookies left to give to Ann.
You will begin to marvel that many of your students will immediately notice the errors. Randomly select students to come up to the board and to make the necessary corrections. As your children master these skills, you can revisit and modify previously used sentences. Again, using the previously itemized sentences, rewrite them to emphasize that periods do not always appear at the end of a specific line:
pat went to the store She bought some cookies for her friend, Ann on the way home, she ate all of the cookies on her way home She had no more cookies left to give to ann.
The children have fun reading these unpunctuated sentences, and are eager to make the corrections. They also internalize the use of punctuation and begin to apply this know-how in their personal writings.
Mini-lessons do not always have to be presented in written form, but they can be strategically used to address any language arts concern. One day, for example, during our classroom morning discussion, I shared, "Make sure you tell you parents we is going on our trip next Friday." Laughter filled the room. One of my students, Shadaria exclaimed, "Mrs. Mullins, you made a mistake! It's we are going on a trip." Through this type of sporadically interactive exercise, children begin to focus in on and embrace inflections and syntactic cues.
Weeks 8 through 14: Peer and Teacher Conferencing
By this time, each student's journal is overflowing with "completed" literary creations. At this point, children are asked to review their entire journal. By revisiting their work, children experience the evolution of their writing and make note of how they have progressed over the months. During this time, they are also asked to contemplate selecting ONE journal insert they would like to craft further to make into book form. (Note: The creation of the book serves as one of many culminating projects to conclude the process. Poetry pages, big book/group story writing, etc. can conclude a session.)
During allotted times, children are given an opportunity to read their chosen selection aloud to the class. Constructive criticism is the focus. Questioning guidelines are established and adhered to by each student, and through this activity, children learn to distinguish questions from statements and comments. Through this activity, the young writer gains valuable insight:
Is the story actually finished? What, if anything, is missing? What would the reader like to know more about? Is the depiction of characters clear? Does the story flow? If it doesn't, what seems to be missing?
All of these inquiries are initiated by the children. Through this interactive discussion and critique, children begin to fine-tune and focus on areas where they need to become stronger. They go back to their journal and make changes that they believe are needed.
Teachers also hold individual conferences with children. One-on-one conferencing provides additional support and objective feedback and helps children recognize that editing is part of developing a well-written work. Appointments should be scheduled with each child for individual conferencing. It is a time-consuming process, but it can be achieved particularly when held during center time or while others are engaged in journal-writing activities.
Weeks 14-15: Layout and Design
Manila folders, 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of lined and plain, and the writing tool box are needed to begin this final phase of The Process.
By now, students should have selected one work for transformation into book form. Children will recopy their piece onto a lined sheet of paper: that sheet and other subsequently edited versions will be placed in the manila folders and referred to when actual book layout begins. (Journals are put away until this project is completed.) Restructuring and general editing of the selected story take place during this time. Each student will also envision the layout and design of their book.
Plain sheets of paper are laid horizontally (11 x 8 1/2-wise), center-folded, and stapled at the fold to form a booklet: with it, children will determine the number of pages needed to create their finished product; where wording and illustration will be situated on the cover page; whether a dedication and/or "About The Author" page will be included; sentence placement; and the type of media to be used to create illustrations. (The children really get into this phase! One of my first graders, for example, decided to write about the human skeleton: she cut out each page to look like the shape of a bone, and formatted the pages strategically so that text appeared on the bottom of the page and corresponding illustrations spaciously appeared on the top.)
Week 16: The Authors' Tea
Authors' teas can be held whenever children create a final product. So that they do not become commonplace and remain a rip-roaring event, I choose to conduct them only three to four times, at the completion of the major book writing and subsequent writing projects in which short stories, poetry, etc. are the highlight.
Authors' teas are quite a big to do. Groups of children, usually selected by table number, are designated to bring in fruit punch, paper goods and plastic utensils, fruits, cookies and cakes. Invitations are created by the students, and parents, fellow grade-level classes, and school administrators are invited to experience works created by budding new authors. Sometimes we dress up for the occasion. The classroom is rearranged to accommodate all of our visitors, and a special chair is decorated from which all authors will have an opportunity toread!
A sense of pride and accomplishment is the result of this culminating activity. Get ready to begin again, for the children are eager to get started on their next writing effort.