Student-authored newspaper articles are offered to our student bodyHonor the work of students. Make the work purposeful. Have students write much more than you could ever read, respond to, or grade. I’ve shared these mantras for years at my school, in my district, at workshops nationwide, and in my writing. Thus, I was delighted to see this short post and video from Hienemann yesterday featuring Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke. In the clip, Daniels talks about using the quick writing students do across the curriculum in class to start discussions or to stimulate other interactions with peers. Additionally, he speaks to how these informal pieces are evidence of student thinking over time, and, as such, are much more informative than a letter grade or a percentage. Using students’ work is a way of honoring their voices beyond just having them complete an assignment and turn it in for a grade. Classrooms are places to cultivate desirous, energetic readers and writers. The way to do this is to make the work purposeful, just as Daniels proposes. We don’t just read and write to get a grade. We read and write for real purposes.
Here are a few of my favorite examples:
In Mrs. Pledger's second grade classroom, our reading, discussion, and writing centered around the task of writing informational articles to inform the rest of the student body about Caine Monroy, a young boy from East LA, who became famous for the unique cardboard arcade he created out of boxes and other materials. We discussed and took notes while viewing two primary source videos then continued our investigation by closely reading an informative article. We studied newspaper articles to educate ourselves about form and structure before writing our own. Students were keenly engaged, knowing their work had real purpose. They also wrote a script for an intercom announcement to pique the school’s interest about Caine and inform students how to get their copy of a peer-authored newspaper article.
Lily's published newspaper article. I made 5 copies of each student's article for distribution.
The learning sequence was a hit with these second graders and their audience. One of my favorite parts of the learning was the conversations we had about the possible deeper meanings behind the people and events we studied. (This discussion affected the final three sentences in Lily's article.)
Another example of honoring the work of students and keeping purpose at the forefront happened in one of our sixth grade classrooms. Mrs. Jacobsen and her sixth graders became so engrossed with Malala Yousafzai; reading about her, writing about her, talking about what had happened to her and her amazing courage and voice, that they decided to host a 5K run to earn money for the Malala Fund. They created a Facebook page, fliers, buttons, and Tshirts. The students even appeared on the local news to let people know what they were up to and how to support the cause. They were able to raise $2200. These students surely left our school for junior high knowing the power of reading, writing, conversation, and collaboration. More importantly, they know the power of their own voices and the power they have to accomplish meaningful work and to put it out there into the world.
As a K-6 literacy coach I visit classes daily. When I walk in, I feel and see the energy when students are reading, discussing, writing, and creating to achieve a goal that reaches beyond grades and classroom walls. Students eagerly come up to share what they are doing and why. I love to linger in these learning spaces and soak in the excitement. Kids want to be in these places, too. This energy, excitement, and purpose are prime indicators of masterful teaching and learning.
A future post will feature our school's plans to continue along this path and intrinsically motivate our K-6 students to read. We're doing away entirely with book reports!
Happy reading, writing and thinking! As always, I welcome your comments. -Janiel
P.S. To learn more about the second grade newspaper article project about Caine Monroy and other learning sequences that offer high quality, purposeful tasks that motivate learners, check out my book from Corwin: