A New Year for Writing + The Promise of Collaborative Conversations with Students

    A New Year of writing, a new commitment. I plan to write every single day in 2020. I won't be posting much of that personal writing here...I keep thinking someday I will, but something holds me back.  However,  I do, finally, after 20 years, plan to finish my so called, "Oprah book" (so named since it would most certainly have been featured on Oprah's book club  :)), now named __________'s book to be featured on ________'s book club.  We'll see.  Like so many writers, I hope my experiences and thoughts can touch a wider audience--help someone somewhere deal with something or feel something they otherwise wouldn't have felt.
     I have so much to say about education, as well.  So much to say.  One of my biggest breakthroughs last year was within the realm of collaborative conversations with students. I posted some ditties on Facebook and Instagram, vowing to expound on these experiences, so I've done so below. I have been literally blown away by the level of deep thinking students can go to when given the chance to explore texts in open-ended ways, piggybacking off each other's comments, focused on reading texts with particular attention to their own wonderings and noticings.  To my surprise, students of all ages (I work with K-6) come up with impressive thoughts, that lead to more and more conversation--noticings or thoughts that hadn't even occurred to me after reading some of these books a dozen or more times.
     A few of the conversations I had right before winter break included the following observations: 
*Reading 'Ish' by Peter Reynolds: 
S:  I notice the use of color.  He uses blue backgrounds to show sadness and yellow backgrounds for happiness. 
 Huh!  He was right.  I hadn't ever noticed that before and  I've used the book in workshops on teaching writing for at least a decade.  This thought led a different student to notice how many of the pictures are circular in nature, indicating the sort of infinite nature of the ideas being portrayed.  Wow--and these are just two notions I can recall off the top of my head. 
*Reading 'The Most Magnificent Thing' by Ashley Spires:
S: I notice how everything in the picture is black and white except the living things.
Another S:  That's not quite right, see how the stuff she is going to use to create her invention is in color?
Me: Huh.  I wonder why that would be?  I thought the same thing about the use of color--the living things seem to be the only things depicted in color.
Another S:  I think the parts for the invention are living.  She (the main character) will be using them to create the most magnificent thing so they are growing and changing.
S: I notice the author gave us a hint about what she would be creating.  It's in the illustrations. (Note: Readers don't find out what 'the most magnificent thing' being created is until the very last page in the book).
Me:  Tell us more.  Where?
S: The picture where the dog is worn out and panting and the girl is still calling him to come run with her as she rides her scooter.  Right there!  That's when she realizes if she makes a sidecar, the dog can come along even if it is worn out.
Another S:  That's called 'foreshadowing.'
Another S:  I didn't know author/illustrators foreshadowed in pictures.
Later, another S: Growth mindset is obvious in so many ways.  I love this!  I need to remember this!
Me: I just had a thought based on yours.  I think the growth mindset theme in this text is particularly useful to you young students because, look at the age of the character.  She is a young girl. And, look at her gloriously grand plans--to make a sidecar for her dog!  Nothing is going to stop her.  Ha, I'd have no idea where to even start.  But, she has done several things like this before as it says in the text and she...
S interrupts:  She plans her thinking on paper like you are always trying to tell us to do.  She drew and jotted notes before she started.  This is what helped her begin and then her growth mindset kept her going through all of her failures.

I could go on.  These are just a few of the thoughts I remember. I do know this...kids are amazing.  Having students read books and respond in static, lifeless ways is just a sad way to go about business.  Practices like worksheets and filling out tri-folds about every single aspect of every single chapter including all the text evidence for blah blah blah and all the vocabulary words (define and use in a sentence)...UGH.  I just hate to see this happening to students when we can be doing things that are so much richer, so much more revealing of their thinking, and so much more motivating.
   I bring this up because I am seeing this happen to my sixth grade son. He is so turned off to reading at this point, he hardly wants to read outside of school and he complains about the reading done in school.  If you've followed my blog, you've seen how, over the years, I've celebrated his huge reading appetite as I've highlighted strategies that motivate all readers.  I don't blame him for his waning interest.  I wouldn't want to fill out a tri-fold for every page I read, either.  Would you?  Teachers say, "I have to have something to grade."  Why not grade students' notes from collaborative conversations?  A simple rubric could be used as a guide and teachers could share models of notes that show deep thinking and effort -vs- those that do not (they could show their own notes, use notes from pervious year's students, or use notes from another teacher's class with names removed, of course.)
   Signing off for now.  Thank you for reading.  As always, I love to hear your comments.
Be well and write on!  Again, Happy New Year!


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