celebrating reading with character posters

this post will focus on creating character posters to share during a reading celebration. we have used this celebration method at the end of a unit of study that focuses on character, which is often a unit during which students plan and read at least one book with a partner.

when planning for a celebration using character posters, we think about the focus of our unit and what our expectations should be so that students can show their work toward these focuses. because we devote a day of reading workshop to creating the posters, we want to make sure that they are valuable, and so we have them double as a way to celebrate and share each reader’s work during the unit and a summative assessment for us of their work during the unit.

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using oral storytelling to support small moment writing

our year begins, like many others’, with a focus on narrative writing. our students are asked to write small moment personal narratives – that is, a true story from their life that happened in 20 minutes or less.

every year, our on demands (the pre-assessment writing piece) confirm that our two biggest goals for our first unit of study are to make sure that everyone is able to zoom in and write smaller than they were able to at the beginning of the year, and also that they write in the moment, like the story is happening now. this is the second post in a series that addresses how we support our students in this small moment writing.

teaching students to tell stories orally using the types of details that we expect in their written stories supports their writing because it helps them begin to think with a storytelling voice and gives them a chance to rehearse how their stories might go before writing them.

we launch storytelling a few weeks into the year with monday headlines, something that we’ll do every monday morning for the rest of the year, usually as our morning meeting on mondays (when our schedule allows for that). we also teach our students that oral storytelling is a way to rehearse their writing before drafting, and give students chances and space to do that with partners in class.

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supporting small moment writing

our year begins, like many others’, with a focus on narrative writing. our students are asked to write small moment personal narratives – that is, a true story from their life that happened in 20 minutes or less.

many of our writers struggle with writing small. their tendency is to tell about an entire day or an entire trip. our guess is that this happens because they feel like they’ll be able to write more (and, they think that more, longer writing means better writing) when it’s about a longer period of time and also because they’re unsure of how to zoom into what’s most important (or maybe even not sure of how to determine what’s most important).

we call our students’ writing that focuses on an entire day or an entire trip or an entire game “bed to bed” stories because these pieces include everything from the start to finish of the day or trip (or game – you get the idea). these pieces are usually summaries; they don’t feel like they’re written in the moment, like the story is happening now, but, instead, summarize what happened (because, when you’re telling about all of it, it’s hard to write all of the little details!).

after reading our on-demands, our two biggest goals for our first unit of study are  almost always to make sure that everyone is able to zoom in and write smaller than they were able to at the beginning of the year, and also that they write in the moment, like the story is happening now.

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raise it up: lifting the level of discourse

the CCSS speaking and listening standards and, for many teachers, danielson domains 3b (using questioning and discussion techniques) and 3c (engaging students in learning), have pushed collaborative discussion to become a much talked about topic in our field and we wholeheartedly agree that the voices heard the most in our classroom should be those of our students; not us. being able to thoughtfully discuss our ideas and opinions with others is a crucial life skill.

when we think back to our own schooling, we  remember more times when we were asked questions designed to check our comprehension of texts we had read than times we were  asked to engage in discussion around a text or issue. it was definitely more inquisition than conversation.

now, it’s common practice to have students turn and talk to each other. “accountable talk stems” seen in classrooms are meant to give students the language they need to engage in discussion with each other. but all too often, we talk to teachers who are disheartened with the level of discourse in their classrooms.

sure, kids are saying “i agree ” or “i disagree” and giving reasons, but conversations often stay at a surface level. more importantly, kids seem to be using those phrases because they think that’s what they’re expected to do rather than because they are genuinely interested in discussing their ideas.

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differentiation in writing workshop through partners

partnerships can be so powerful in writing workshop – or, really, in anything – and we’re advocates of long-term writing partners. most years, most of our fourth graders have partnerships that last the year in writing, with lots of coaching and support to help navigate the inevitable problems that pop up in any meaningful relationship.

when making the partnerships, and then creating opportunities for those partnerships to support one another in their writing, there are many chances for differentiation.

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