It is always a major task to get the writing momentum going at the beginning of every school year. It is as dependable as the seasons changing or the sun rising. We are working to write personal narratives, a task that seems to challenge the children even further. It feels like a chug-chug-chug up a hill. I've been through it enough to know that eventually we will come to a tipping point. The children will hear things they want to emulate in a friend's work, take some advice from a trusted source or start looking to authors as mentors. They will start taking some risks and trying new things. And when they start to see their writing improve, they will barrel forward at an unstoppable pace. But until we get there, it can feel like we ... never ... will.
Our Writers' Workshops introduce brainstorming ideas for how to identify stories one might tell. We learn to relive the moment with a movie in our heads to remember how the events unfolded. We learn to make timelines and then work to turn those timelines into bare-bones stories that we later go back and fatten up with details-- action, setting and dialogue. And yet beyond all of that there is another level of "stuck-ness" that some writers find. Sometimes, for whatever reason, there comes a time when these strategies just do not work.
One thing I love about teaching at Sabot is the constant freedom to think outside the box, to experiment when things are not going well or just when we want them to be even better. We, like the children, take responsible risks in order to try to help the learning in our classrooms be as productive as it can be. We aren't always sure our new ideas will work, but it is worth a try.
Mauren and I have been thinking hard about how to help a few writers find their stories and get them down onto paper. It brought us back to a story from a few years ago.
There was a student who had discovered that acting his story out in blocks really helped him to form his thoughts before he put them on paper. Mauren came to third grade from Kindergarten where they work on writing through Story Workshop inspired by Opal School in Portland. Is there a way to bring the media of Story Workshop into our third grade writing without letting it distract from the work? How can we open the process of writing to the variety of ways we know minds can work? What other "languages" can we make room for as children think?
We decided to experiment some more.
We needed to set parameters and limit the pallet to media we felt like would be quick, editable and not make any kind of big mess. We decided on
- building materials (pop cubes, kapla blocks, pattern blocks etc.)
- loose piece collage (felt, paper, buttons, feathers, pebbles etc.)
- modeling clay
- story boarding
There were also guidelines.
- The purpose was not to create a beautiful masterpiece
- The materials were meant to help us get our ideas out or as Tom put it, "to jot our ideas down."
- They were to be built alone and then shared with a friend for rehearsal and feedback.
- If the materials were becoming a way to avoid the hard work of writing, we would need to put them away.
We set out to give it a try.
|After working with modeling clay, the hands and tables needed to be scrubbed. Without a sink in our room this took much longer than we intended and took writers away from their work, so we scratched it off of the list of available materials.|
Just today I saw a child playing with things after he had finished his initial writing assignment. I went over to help redirect him to his work. Turns out he was acting out his next story with loose piece collage materials. He was working. Looks like it takes some adjusting on the teacher end too.
At first there were children who were using the materials as a way to avoid the work of writing. Over time, and as we stick to our guidelines, the children have been using the materials in ways that bring clarity. Not everyone uses them, just an occasional child or two. Mauren and I are watching, undecided. Will this be as useful as we hope? Will the children who like them still want to use them in six months time? We shall see.