This is the sixth and final post in a series about research and writing in Heather Bitka’s kindergarten classroom.
- To learn more about this project’s purpose and outcomes, you might want to read the first post.
- If you are interested in understanding how this project enabled the teachers and coaches involved to position themselves as learners, you can click through to the second post.
- The third post demonstrates the beginning of instruction, where researchers applied strategies that helped them gather facts.
- The fourth post reveals how learners were taught to make connections, determine importance, and revise their work.
- The fifth post demonstrates how children used Skype to connect with others and seek additional facts as researchers.
And this post will outline the writing process that unfolded as this unit continued.
After these researchers completed their initial fact-finding and used the iPad to design visual notes for each fact found, they began to plan their writing. Earlier in the unit, Heather exposed her students to the concept of planning by modeling the way she planned to design an egg before asking them to do the same:
When I revisited the concept of planning with the class, all of them had a context for what it meant as egg designers, and this made the walk to creating a writing plan an easier one.
Next, we introduced writers to one of my favorite planning tools: the story board. Whether I’m wearing my writer hat, my teacher hat, or my instructional coach hat, I find that there are a handful of power tools that enable the construction of great writing. What makes a tool a power tool in my opinion? Its capacity to support writers of varied abilities and experience levels in their pursuit of varied forms. The story board is a great example of a power tool: often used to organize narrative text, I’ve also watched writers use story boards to develop games, plan projects, construct essays and research papers, design skits and even plan poetry. Heather modeled how she used the story board to begin organizing the facts she found from her own research:
As students began practicing on their own, this provided us a great assessment opportunity. Peeking over each child’s shoulder enabled us to determine whether or not writers had refined their topics and aligned appropriate facts to them. There were some who needed to do more research and capture additional facts by taking more visual notes. There were others who needed to do a different kind of research. Nearly every writer’s work work revealed something unexpected though: the need for additional specific, refined detail. Heather used this data to determine how and when she would differentiate instruction the next day. She used their boards to determine the design of several invitational groups. Instruction within each would target a specific student need:
The next day, some writers worked together to research additional facts and design visual notes. Others began making some difficult decisions about the facts that they found and which ones were most important. One writer, Brianna, challenged us in a completely different way, though. Grappling with the questions she raised inspired some important considerations.
As writers continued completing or revising their story boards, Sheri Barsottelli and I noticed that Brianna scrapping nearly all of her visual notes and clearing her entire story board. As I wandered by, she was working up a new plan in pencil:
“I don’t want to write this way,” she told us. “I know a lot about chicks. I have a lot of facts. But I want to write a STORY. I want to write a story about finding eggs in my yard and watching them hatch.”
We intended for the writers to produce expository text, though.
“Can I write a story if I put all of my facts from my research in it? I think it would be more interesting. Don’t you want my writing to be interesting?” she grinned.
Sure we did, but our intention was to have each child produce expository text, even if it wasn’t an outcome for this unit.
“Can you make it interesting without turning it into a story?” I asked.
“I don’t want to,” she told me in a respectful but quite authoritative way. “I’m definitely writing my story instead.”
“Okay,” I told her, eager to respect her choices as a writer and reinforce her willingness to advocate for herself. I hoped that allowing her to deviate from my intended plan would keep her engaged and nurture her willingness to take risks as a learner in the future. The story that she produced was completely informed by her research. She identified more than three facts, organized them in a coherent fashion, and used her story board to plan her draft. She was performing well around all of our established learning targets. She chose to pursue a different form for her final product, that’s all. I had to remind myself that the outcomes did not require students to produce expository text. I just assumed they would. Brianna taught me otherwise, and this experience, more than any other during the unit, has given me a lot to ponder, particularly in relation to the Common Core Learning Standards and the expectations regarding the text types that writers are expected to consume and create. I’ll elaborate on all of that tomorrow.
Heather shared her completed story board with the class. Then, she began a revision mini-lesson intended to model a concrete strategy that would enable writers to revise with the purpose of adding detail, in response to what she noticed as a result of her earlier formative assessment. Adapted from Steve Peha’s Draw, Label, Caption method (located within The Writing Teacher’s Strategy Guide, which you may download for free on his fabulous site), Heather taught students to label each of the elements in their visual notes:
Then, she modeled how to revise each label in order to include greater detail:
As students practiced this strategy, I identified writers who demonstrated the ability to revise and add detail well and distributed them throughout the room, so they could write beside others. I also used their models to reinforce what quality revision could look like. Some writers struggled to determine potential points for revision, and when they did, I directed them to their classmates, who positioned themselves as readers and pointed to the facts that they were interested in receiving greater detail about:
Then, as writers continued working on their revisions, we distributed the iPads. Heather worked with small groups to demonstrate the way she turned her story board into a multi-media presentation using Story Kit:
I think it’s worth mentioning that she only needed to do this once. Every writer in the room was perfectly capable of accessing the app, importing their pictures from the album onto individual pages, and using their story boards and revisions to add appropriate text to each page. Our support was minimal and largely relevant to troubleshooting the few technology glitches that some kids experienced. Those who needed greater help were invited to meet together for short, targeted lessons while the rest continued writing independently.
The next day, Heather and I previewed their completed drafts, provided criteria-specific feedback to those whose work required additional revision, and coached kids to read aloud and record each page of their stories. As they did so, I learned a lot about each writer’s reading fluency.
I’m saving our final reflections on this unit for tomorrow’s post, but in the mean time, I’ve bookmarked the first drafts of these wonderful research-based writing tasks right here. Give them a read and while you do, consider what they reveal about:
- Each researcher’s strengths and needs
- Each writer’s strengths and needs
- Each artist’s strengths and needs
What are these learners demonstrating a readiness to do next?