Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Using Quick Writes to Foster Writing Fluency

Writing of just about any type helps students to express their emotions and assists with retaining content. Learning is reinforced and solidified when students write about their thinking and learning.  Using Quick Writes in the classroom is one such strategy to get kids writing and thinking.

What Are Quick Writes?

Quick Writes is a literacy strategy that can be used in any content area with just about any grade level.  It can be used to develop writing fluency, to reflect on learning, and to assess student thinking.

Quick Writes are...
  • short bursts of writing (anywhere from 2-10 minutes)
  • non-threatening- directed toward a specific task
  • can be a journal entry, an "Exit Ticket", a list of questions, drawing and writing, a list or sentences of what the student learned, or completion of part of a graphic organizer, such as a K-W-L chart.
  • can be used before, during, and after learning
  • can be used to assess schema and activate background knowledge
  • can be used in all content areas
  • can be incorporated throughout the lesson.
  • can be used as an informal, formative assessment
  • writing that is not taken through the entire writing process
  • writing that is focused on content and ideas, not mechanics

I have used Quick Writes with students as young as kindergarten through eighth grade.  With primary students, I often have them do a Quick Write and a "Quick Draw".  For example, in science, I could use this structured Quick Write after a study or a reading on ocean animals:

From my June Writing Prompts packet

Students could start with the drawing and then progress to the list. My purpose for using this would be to assess what my students have learned about our study of ocean animals or to assess the students' understanding of key details from a nonfiction text.  As with any strategy, I would model how to complete a Quick Write and offer many opportunities for shared writing.

Usually the Quick Write is very structured and is "framed writing" with a specific target.  I could have students simply write a list of questions they have at the end of a lesson, to define a vocabulary word ( key concept), complete  any column of a K-W-L chart, or I could ask them a specific question such as "What causes erosion?".

My students kept their Quick Writes (Q.W.) in their content folders or notebooks.  For the above question on erosion, they would complete the Q.W. in their science folder or notebook.  Or, they could complete the writing on a sticky note, index card, or a handout I give them that has the question written and has lines for responding.  We label these with a Q.W. and glue loose papers into the folder or notebook.

Why Use Quick Writes?

  • To help students to make personal connections
  • To develop writing fluency
  • To provide a reading purpose
  • To have students reflect on key concepts
  • To assess student knowledge
  • To stimulate student thinking
  • To help build confidence in the writer
  • To provide opportunities for students to capture "seeds" of ideas for more extended writing pieces

Quick Writes are flexible, versatile, and varied.  When I first use them, I start with a question or an open-ended writing prompt/stimulus and model for students the expected behaviors. That is, I show them what a writer looks like and what they are thinking (by using a Think Aloud) when completing a Q.W.  I usually start with journal prompts that are kept in our writer's notebook.

The goal is simple:  to develop writing fluency.  How much can I write in five minutes?  How quickly can I get my ideas from my brain to the paper?  Do I have to draw first and then write?  Am I stuck on ideas?  Do I have a hard time getting my ideas down on paper?  Little writers need to be reminded that their ideas are what is important and not mechanics.  They do not have time to agonize over spelling and sentence structure.  I tell my littles, that I am much more interested in what is in their "smart brains".

The next goal is to use the Quick Writes for student reflection and assessment.  Reflection could be having students reflect on themselves as a learner by making a list of the parts of the lesson that were difficult.  I could give students an Exit Ticket and jot down questions they still have.  Or, I could stop midway through the math lesson and have students write and draw the definition of a quadrilateral during math class.

For me, using journals is the easiest and most fun way to introduce Quick Writes.  I use journals as morning work.  It's what students do first at the very beginning of the day or class.  When I taught Language Arts to students that came to me for their L.A. block, it was the first thing they did.  Each morning was a good exercise in writing independently, writing quickly, thinking quickly and creatively, and in getting one's brain warmed up.  In a self-contained classroom, you may use a warm-up before each content class.  That most likely is a Quick Write!

Speaking of journals, I just completed my June Writing Prompts and have the set posted in my store.

These monthly writing packets are what I use for Quick Writes and for journal writing.  For me, the difference between the two is that journal writing is more about the writing process (even if it's only a draft/sloppy copy) and is more detailed, and therefore, a little more involved time-wise. 

I have a wide variety of prompts for the month of June that you can use as a Quick Write.  Here's another example of one you could use in science class after learning about ocean animals.  Or, you could use it for Language Arts after reading a text about such animals.  Or, you could have students complete it as a fun way to get them thinking and giving them practice on writing their ideas quickly- developing their writing stamina.

If you are interested, you can see the complete packet by clicking here.

Using Quick Writes throughout my day just comes naturally to me and is actually a tool that I use as a learner.  Writing what I am learning and writing about my learning helps me understand and retain information more efficiently and at a deeper level.  

 How do you use Quick Writes in your teaching?  Do you use them across the content areas?  Please share your ideas in the comments section!

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

This Mom Doesn't Want the School Year to End.... It's NOT What you think!

Well, at least it is almost out for the year here in PA.  Just a few more short weeks left of packing lunches, early bedtimes, weekly spelling tests and then this school year is wrapped up.  I have never liked beginnings and endings, hellos, or goodbyes.  The school year is no different for me. I get weepy-eyed at the start and end of school year.  Now that my oldest is an adult at the age of 22 years, I am all too aware of how fleeting childhood is.  My two youngest boys, ages 8 and 9, are a precious, miraculous gift, and I want to cherish every.single.minute.

That it is already the end of the year seems unfathomable to me.  I want to stop the clock and prolong their childhood.  We are not the same people we were at the beginning of the school year.  That's good, as there have been growth, maturation, and blessings.  On the other hand, there have been set-backs, disappointments, and let's face it, growth can be painful and scary.

We started the school year strong, even though this mom wasn't ready for her middle child to be a 3rd grader!  He really was this excited to start the school year.  And now, I am thinking how he only has two years left of his elementary school years... this is just how my brain works.  I know I can't be the only mom that thinks like this, can I?

At the beginning of the year, I was homeschooling my youngest son who is finishing 2nd grade.  Except, that he was sick with a fever the first day of school.  And then, we had some bumps in the road and I was hospitalized for 21 days between October and November.  

With a heavy heart, my husband enrolled him in public school.  It was what needed to be done at the time, and even though he has had an incredible school year with a one-of-a-kind-amazing teacher, I still mourn the fact that I wasn't able to homeschool him. 

As we learned many times this year, things don't always go as we plan, hope, and pray for.

This year, my oldest took a year off from college and joined the Army National Guard.  Instead of hitting the history books, he spent the year in basic and advanced trainings.  He is not the same "kid" he was a year ago. My heart has ached and missed him so much this year, as I went months without speaking to him let alone seeing him.  We are beyond joyous that he will be closer to home in a just two weeks!

At this point, I am hearing my father's voice fire off a "And your point is..." in my head.  My point is this:  even on days when my boys are driving me nuts, there is no other place I'd rather be.  For I know that this whole mom gig is over  While some parents are celebrating the beginning of the school year like it's Christmas Day and grieving over the end of the school year, I embrace this long stretch of summer vacation that is just peeking on the horizon.  Days that we spend 24/7 together doing, well, doing "our thing":  days spent at the lake, at the pool, at the beach, at the library, at home, riding bikes, playing in the mud, and walking the dogs-- just being a family.

Because the end comes all too suddenly and then POOF! they are grown.  And I know that is how it is supposed to work.  And year after year, I had warnings and reminders that it would end some day.

Like now, the end of another school year beckons that one day I won't be surrounded and engulfed in the messy life of a mom to three boys.

So, yeah, it is sad that another school year has come to and end, but not because I will now be with my boys from "son"rise to sundown. It's sad that my boys are a year older. The end of school reminds me that time is marching on at break-neck speed. 

Weary moms:  know that the cliche' that kids grow up in the blink of an eye really is true.  Know that what you are struggling with right now will only last for a season and then later you will cherish the memories of that season.  Know that the days are long, but the months fly by and the years have no mercy as they race on.

Embrace and celebrate the end of yet another school year. 

The summer season lies wide open in front of us... make the most of every moment and enjoy the memories you will make!

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Writing and Journals: It's Good for the Dendrites!

This spring I am reading Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites by Marcia L. Tate.  I had seen other bloggers discussing the book a few months ago, and being intrigued by brain-based research, I knew I had to check out this book.

The book offers 20 teaching strategies for brain compatible instruction.  The very last strategy in the book is writing and journals, and that is the focus of this blog post.  I also want to share with you my brand new May Writing Prompts for journals and writing centers.  I am slowly finishing my writing prompt series for all 12 months.  You can see all the prompt packets I have created here.

Included in all of my writing prompts packets, is a variety of forms ( stories, lists,  etc.), writing purposes (persuade, inform, and narrative) and various levels of difficulty.  Not all prompts require the same writing skills and you can pick and choose which prompts to use depending on the writing abilities of your students.  As well, you may find that the prompts are too difficult for your students, or that you will have to guide and scaffold the writing.

My intent was to make this packet as flexible as possible for you to use!

Now, for a little of the research from the author, Marcia Tate.  First, I love how Tate explains that teachers are gardeners; they are dendrite growers!

"...because every time students learn something new in their classrooms, they grow a new brain cell, called a dendrite." (p.6)

Both writing in general and journal writing are brain compatible strategies that give the brain a real workout!  Writing makes use of intrapersonal skills (from Multiple Intelligences) and is a visual and tactile experience.  Because writing makes use of different modalities, it is a very active and sophisticated skill, which is why it is good for the brain!

Other Facts About Journal Writing 
{from Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites}
  • Writing should be cross-curricular.  That is, writing should be integrated into all content areas, and it is easy to do!  Writing about the content one is learning helps to "cement" it into long term memory.  It is very easy to complete a quick journal entry as a way to check for understanding or to have students reflect on their learning.  You can also do this with Quick Writes, which I will discuss next week!
  • Journals allow teachers to focus students' attention toward the content, monitor students' understanding of the content, and allows students to freely express their ideas in a risk-free environment.
  • Journal writing assists the brain in making meaning out of the new information it acquires.
  • Journal writing can be done at any grade and content level.  It increases retention and a positive transfer of information.
  • When assigning writing, teachers should give many opportunities for authentic, real-world and cross-curricular purposes.
  • Allow for choice (freewrites) as often as possible.

A Peek at my May Writing Prompts

My monthly writing prompts were created for students in first to third grades.  When I was homeschooling my first grade son, I wanted him to keep a journal where he could explore and experiment with various topics and purposes.  I wanted him to have a place where he could respond to fun prompts without worrying about being graded.  I wanted him to become a more independent writer who had more self confidence (he detested writing!)

And so, my monthly prompts idea was born.  The prompts are flexible to use.  You can print them and place in a pocket folder (the one with the prongs down the middle).  We hole-punched the pages and placed in the folder.  He colored the black and white cover page and glued to the front.

Cover Page- Student colored and glued to front of pocket folder

Use the writing prompts as morning work or in a writing center.

But, and here is where the flexibility comes in, you can pick and choose which prompts you will use and distribute them one at a time, place in a writing center, use as a Quick Write, or use for morning work.  You can staple the pages together with the cover page the student colored on top, or use the colored version of the cover page that is included in the packet.

Cover page done in color is included

My little writer sometimes has difficulty in composing his thoughts and getting them down on paper.  That is what makes writing so hard!  Writing enables the brain to reverse the reading process.  The brain starts with internal thoughts and ends with the written word (encoding).  So, sometimes, I allow him to color the black and white prompt page while he is thinking about what to write.  You may not have time for that and may have to wait for down time for the students to color.  

All prompt pages are done in black and white!

The prompts I wrote are based on special and fun days in the Month of May.  Examples include Cinco de Mayo, Brothers and Sisters Day, National Barbeque Month, Pet Week, Memorial Day, and lots more!  I wanted the prompts to be enjoyable and allow for creativity.   Many prompts allow room for drawing for those that need to draw first to brainstorm and for those that enjoy illustrating/visualizing their writing.

Also included are prompts that represent the different writing purposes!  There are prompts that are persuasive/opinion, informative, and narrative.  Students can make lists, write a story, write a letter, complete a speech bubble, and write an opinion piece.

"Friday Freewrites" were very popular in my class!  I included a prompt page for that as well so students can have choice in what they write.

Lastly, if you use Writer's Workshop in your class, you can have students select one of their pages to take through the entire writing process.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the May Writing Prompts!  You can check out the listing in my store by clicking the picture below.  Oh, and look for the June packet to be finished in a week or two!


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