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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