Real Language at Work

Writers' Workshop
Lori Jackson

Early in the year I was able to observe students who were sentencing independently, some who were labeling pictures and several who did not, for two days, do amything with a pencil or crayon at all. I noted use of punctuation, variation in sentencing (statements, questions, etc.) and even some dialogue! I noted children who were risk takers with spelling and among those, children who were able to use sounds to communicate clearly. This is not unimportant stuff.

Then in October we introduced our writers' folders, modeled on another book I read this summer. Don Graves suggested some general catagories for children as they save their work and I modified these to:

In Progress
Stuff I'm Proud Of
Something New
Important Stuff

As we prepared to end our quarter, I asked the kids to look through their notebooks and collections for a few pieces that they were really proud of. For the most part, these were were stories that had been published with adult help. They filed both the finished work and their drafts into the folder. Something new, I explained, didn't have to be your best work but would show that you were trying something new and taking risks as a writer. We are just going through this process again and some of the pieces children saved in this section included nonfiction, poetry, a copy of the first letter they wrote, examples of using craft and so on. One child included a piece he had used chalk to illustrate--the medium was new. I am pretty happy with how this is going. The last place is for the stuff that grabs your heart. Travis has poetry from Love That Dog in the folder as he really got turned on to poetry with that book. Lots of kids save the letters I send them or letters their parents sent them. A few copied poetry from the walls, that sort of thing.

I have been working with non-fiction since we came back after Christmas. Reading really great books, focusing on craft and convention. I think this has been going very well. This week , and probably for a few weeks, we are working on determining importance. After reading The Important Book several times, and reading lots about the Saguaro Cactus (and the Sonoran Desert in general), today we began our book about what is imporant in the desert. We started with Saguaro, as this has just fascinated us all. We were able to come up with quite a list of information and working from memory, it went something like:

grow in the Sonoran desert (+)
found in Arizona
live over 200 years (+)
arms grow when they are 70 years old (+)
get flower on the top
bloom in the spring
jelly made from fruit
the biggest cactus in the world (+)
get really tall--fifty feet or more! (+)
can be struck by lightening
provide homes to lots of animals

Then we decided to classify our information as interesting and important. The (+) are those the children felt were most important and then we voted, with a majority feeling it is most important that they are the biggest. We then used interactive writing to write an informational page about the Saguaro. All the kids then got one fourth of a drawing sheet to help illustrate and after school I sorted through these drawings, trimming them and collaging all of them around our writing. I was really impressed by the extent of detail I saw in these

Another thing we have been doing is making Nonfiction Convention Books (see Steph Harvey's book). So far, we numbered the pages and left page one for our table of contents. We did one page during a writer's workshop not-so-mini lesson on comparisons. We had estimated that a fully grown Saguaro Cactus would be taller than 6 adults on top of each other (idea came from a kid reading a dinosaur book) and so used this to illustrate comparisons. Today I had downloaded a page with three different close up photos of the Saguaro and we discussed captions. Then I invited each child to pick one of the pictures and write a caption. One of my significantly delayed children, a girl who struggled with simply speaking in sentences and still has tremendous difficulty maintaining responsive conversations, came to me with a marker board so I could write her sentence for her. She was visably excited and could hardly wait--and she had to, as I was conferencing with another child-- to tell me what she wanted to say, "This Saguaro Cactus is pokey!" And when I had written it, and she had painstakingly copied it under the photo she had glued down, she was able to 'read' it back, maintaining 1:1 correspondence and even noticing that she has written 'in' instead of 'is'. She stopped and changed it before reading it again. This was a real breakthrough day for her, but this cactus thing has really turned her on to writing. So cool..

Last year started me on the path of no return with writer's workshop. I have Ruby to thank for starting me, so many great books and still I am reaching, reaching everyday, trying to do more.

Lori Jackson has been teaching for nine years in Todd County, South Dakota. She is currently teaching as part of a 1-2 looping partnership. Her undergraduate work was complete at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, having accumulated too many credits not to, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in reading at Sinte Gleske University in South Dakota. She is a CGI trainer/mentor teacher and uses the philosophy of Whole Language to guide her classroom practice.


Thanks for visiting Share2Learn!
return to Whole Language Classrooms contents page
return to main page