(Lisa Byers, a Kindergarten teacher at Arcade Elementary School confers with her students)
This past October, I had the opportunity to attend a week at the Writer’s Workshop Coaching Institute at Columbia University Teachers College. One of the highlights of an exceptionally informative week was attending a workshop with Carl Anderson. For those of you that haven’t heard of Carl Anderson, he is an author and literacy consultant who has written several books that give useful ideas for effectively conferring with students about their writing. Two books in particular that provide useful, effective, and practical tips and strategies are: How’s it Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers and Assessing Writers.
Elementary classrooms once focused primarily on instruction using narrative texts as mentors in reading and writing. Since Shift One now requires a “Balance of Literary and Informational Texts,” Carl’s workshop specifically addressed how teachers can analyze informational mentor texts for teaching points in WWS for both mini lessons and conferencing looking through the particular lenses of: meaning, structure, detail, voice, and conventions.
Why use mentor texts in mini lessons and writing conferences? Carl explained that the text is used to model for students both “envisionment” and “revision.” Envisionment focuses on immersing students in a genre by reading mentor texts that demonstrate features of that type of writing. It helps students to envision the draft they’re going to write, imagine the shape of the draft and its features, and enables students to draw upon specific aspects of craft while building a repertoire of craft options. At the same time, the text can be used specifically for revision (making changes to a draft) and serves as a model of options for how a draft could go differently. Before the unit, the teacher chooses one text that has many, many teaching points within it that will serve as the mentor text to use and refer back to in both mini lessons and student writing conferences throughout the unit.
So, how specifically can teachers look at structure with their students?
1. Look at leads with kids:
Name what kind of lead it is:
2. Look at endings with kids
3. How does the writer transition the piece?
This can be as simple as the turn of the page serving as the transition from part to part. If a student “mushes” together the facts all on one page, show them how to separate parts of the piece (we do this to help the reader understand) It is like when a person holds your hand to cross the street (they guide you across) You guide the reader through your book with the structure.
4. How does the illustration help communicate the meaning? (focus within the pictures to highlight a specific part of the text)
5. What kind of text features did the author include?
Fun facts: connected to a specific part of the book and supports the text (not random)
Writers have a repertoire of details they use to strengthen their narrative writing such as:
1. Action Facts: Ex. “Most grasshoppers eat plants and leaves” (what something does)
2. Descriptive facts (what something looks like)
(this may include numbers, or number facts that include size or color facts)
3. Definition fact (uses vocabulary) Ex. “Baby grasshoppers are called nymphs”
Precision of facts gives kids an option: Look at mentor text first to show this!!!
What voice techniques does the author use?
Bring a book to show spacing, punctuation, etc.
Conferring effectively with students is one of the most challenging aspects of writing workshop for teachers to feel comfortable implementing. So next time you are looking for a way to improve your student conferences or mini-lessons, choose a book that you have analyzed in regard to meaning, structure, detail, voice, and conventions and watch your student writing pieces soar!!
By: Colleen Root/CABOCES Staff Development