As National Poetry Month continues, so does our classroom work around it. Kristine’s kindergarten is hard at work creating original works of staggering genius ie, poetry. Poetry can be tricky work for children when too many rules are placed around it, so with inspiration from published poets like Zoe Ryder White (find more about her here) and Valerie Worth (All the Small Poems and Fourteen More), this class decided to go with free verse around topics that were important to them, and ultimately important to all young children.
As with any unit, the study began with understanding the genre, in this case what IS a poem and what ISN’T, which also helps to define expectations for children. Given the amount and variety of poetry that children have been exposed to, it was difficult to nail down specifically what separates poetry from not poetry. In the end the class decided it was really just that stories have words that go all the way across the page, and poems don’t.
After this introductory lesson, the children went off to write so Kristine could get a baseline assessment of what students needed to work on in this unit. Kindergarten writing can sometimes feel like every unit has the same goal: write and draw with meaning and more readability, however, poetry has something special to add – creating lasting images and seeing the world in new ways. We were fortunate to have Zoe Ryder White come into our school early in our unit to talk with children about seeing with “poet’s eyes.”
Zoe first read a poem she had written that looked at the moon in a new way. Then she brought out a bag of ordinary objects and the class co-constructed a list poem (a poem where all the lines relate back to one idea- usually the title) about one object: a pine cone. Zoe asked the students again and again to look past the obvious and imagine more about the simple object. When Zoe and Kristine spoke afterwards, Zoe pointed out this imagining is no different than the imaginary play we value so much in the primary grades. The ability to look at a block of wood and use it as a telephone accesses the same skill set as seeing with poet’s eyes. It struck Kristi that the lessons she was doing around this for poetry would be a perfect cross over for choice time and vice versa.
After the students had been writing and reading (in shared reading and read aloud poems) Kristi kept an eye out for children trying things out that they had seen in these mentor texts. She used these in her shares and minilessons to create a strategy chart of poetic devices.
Whenever crafting charts, it is helpful to find student examples since the children are all within a similar zone of proximal development. Mentor texts do not just need to be in the poetry anthologies you find in a library – they can be in the incidental and accidental work your children create. One child did not realize he had repeated his words, but as he went to cross them out Kristi pointed out that some writers do that on purpose. Another child tried talking to the object in her poem, after the class sang, “You Are My Sunshine.” Both of these were cemented and celebrated in the week’s teaching. Rather than introduce a million different “tricks” the class is now trying these three, or selecting among these options to make a poem more powerful. It is not always the next thing that children need, sometimes it is just this thing – but better.
Finally, a few children carried over construction (as in book construction) work from previous units. The tape, staplers, and post-its all made a reappearance. Kristi constructed a chart to show children when they might choose one option over another. When you have one poem that is very long – you might tape it together. When you have a group of poems that go together (the example has one poem about each family member) you might staple them into a book. This work may seem obvious, but it is not. It asks children to consider: What goes together? What am I creating? These are big questions for little writers.
Let us know some ways you are using charts to support your young poets.
Until next time, happy Poetry Month and happy charting!
Kristi and Marjorie
As you sat back and enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend, you probably could not help thinking about all that is left to do as the current school year begins to draw to a close. Relax. The most important thing you can do now is to help your students review all they have learned, strengthen what is needed, and celebrate how they have grown. Charts can help you do each and all of these things. Charts are like a scrapbook of the journey you and your students have traveled since the beginning of the school year. Like a scrapbook, there is much joy in revisiting each and every page. In this week’s post we revisit the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words and that charts can act as models and mentors.Back in the Fall we talked about teaching by example and using charts to create visions for what is possible, followed by models kids can strive towards and mentor themselves to while working in the writing workshop. Teaching by example helps review, reinforce, and highlight what is important to learn and know in each and every genre.
In many schools and throughout many grades, the spring season brought about science based studies and inquiries that inspired children to become curious scientists actively exploring their world. These “inquiring minds” questioned, wondered, experimented, explored, manipulated, and maneuvered in an attempt to find answers and open up further questions. As scientists they needed to record their questions, their findings and then write about their discoveries, so as to present to other scientists in the community. Writing well becomes very important in reaching this goal. In addition to pulling out craft charts from previous units of study and showing how these moves can be just as useful when writing about science topics, there are a few charts that can be created that show specific examples of how science writers teach about their topic in clear and concrete ways.
One question that came up as we visited school after school was the issue of children writing less as scientists than as narrative writers. This worry was exemplified by the fact that it was one of the last units of study and was to measure all the kids had learned. The following charts were created in response to this concern, revisiting the idea that charting can create visions for what is possible.
Elaboration continues to be a concern, no matter the genre, no matter the grade. Charts such as this give concrete examples of how writers can elaborate on ideas and knowledge by explicitly annotating the questions and providing examples from a published text. Keeping the five W’s, plus the How, in mind makes it much easier to elaborate because it gives kids possibly six ways to elaborate each and every time.
Another goal for this unit was to teach children how to write well about their science topics. Writing was not just to record the results of experiments, but to turn this newly found knowledge into writing that would encapsulate all that was learned and could teach lots of folks about the topic. Once again, turning to mentor authors helps insure there is a clear vision of what is possible and how one might go about getting there. Yes, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
The purpose of this chart is to provide clear examples, while also setting clear expectations of what science writers should include when writing texts designed to teach. The next step will be to have kids use this chart as a way of comparing their own writing to the writing on the chart. They can write their names on post-its and put them next to the types of craft moves they have tried. Teachers can also photocopy student examples and hang these next to the published authors, which furthers children’s sense of competency and accomplishment.
This is an example of a chart that was created with students based on what they had noticed as they studied mentor texts. It also specifically highlights craft moves that have been taught and makes clear expectations for what writers should include in their own writing. It also provides multiple entry points for crafting writing. In other words, there is something for everyone. When asked to place their name next to strategies tried, everyone will be able to feel successful.
These types of charts can be used for any genre, any subject. If you are planning to end the school year with a unit on poetry, for example, you can imagine some poems you might annotate with the kids. You might highlight topic, title, line breaks, repetition, word choice, punctuation, last lines, and so on. This type of chart has endless possibilities, as do teachers!
Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz
In the Italian preprimary schools in the Reggio Emilia district of Italy, the environment is considered the third educator, alongside the teachers and the parents. They have successfully shown that what surrounds our children becomes influential models, whether they are the teachers, the parents, or the environment. The charts that are hanging in each of our classrooms are an integral part of this environment, which can have a powerful effect on children. Charts not only record our teaching, but they are powerful models for children to look towards and mentor themselves to in order to do what they are trying to do even better.
Models and mentors are a valuable asset when it comes to learning something new. They become even more valuable when it comes to learning how to do something even better. We often think about “mentor authors” when teaching revision and craft in writing on the way towards publishing and reaching a targeted audience. But mentors and models are useful no matter what it is you are trying to make better, whether improving one’s writing or learning how to improve one’s home decorating skills. Donald Crews and HGTV have one thing in common – they both provide models that not only inspire, but seem accessible and do-able.
But models and mentors can provide a vision and a pathway no matter the subject. Today’s post focuses on a small, but often annoying tool children are often asked to use to hold onto their thinking while reading: the post-it note. We have heard many a teacher lament that these small tools are being poorly used and not very helpful as a result. They find more post-its on the floor than in the children’s books. Rather than encourage intricate, thoughtful thinking, they are often used to demonstrate intricate origami folding patterns that have nothing to do with reading.
One resourceful and thoughtful teacher in the Bronx, Kathleen Snyder at PS 157, decided to explore this universal dilemma by thinking about why her kids had random post-its scattered everywhere, throughout their books and everywhere else. She started by asking, “Why do you use post-it notes?” and “How did you decide what to write on the post-it note?” What she discovered was that many children understood the post-its were to be used to record important places in their books, but they were less sure about what to actually write on the post-it. Together we decided to come up with some model post-its that would act as mentors that would support the children by showing them examples of what to write and to encourage them to write even better notes about their reading by providing a continuum of possible notes.
If we consider a possible progression, the first might be using symbols to mark thinking without any writing. You might ask, What can you draw to show how the character is feeling? Then, you can move towards the use of general words to describe feelings or facts. For example, you might ask, What is a word for that feeling? Have you ever felt that way?
The next step is to elaborate on this basic thinking by using more specific words along with examples or reasons. At this stage we want to encourage children to ask lots of why and how questions.
The next stage is to expand on the literal explanation for how a character might feel to adding in not only the why, but what else might happen, support this thinking with examples from the text, and talk about what has changed.
Ultimately we want to show children how they can use all they have learned and accumulated as they read forward in a book to make better predictions and even more interesting interpretations. Synthesizing and summarizing helps children realize there is more to reading than just figuring out random words.
Post-its are only a tool. They are not the end all reason for using them. They are actually a very concrete way to introduce young children to the concept of note taking and keeping track of thinking. The thinking is key. What makes the last post-it more powerful than the first one is it begins to answer some open-ended questions that encourage thinking. What, why, and how are great question starters that can launch further investigations. But how exactly to capture the thinking and ideas in a way that is efficient and helpful requires models children can mentor themselves to in order to make sure they have have a structure to follow and, ultimately, to move beyond.
A first step is providing models and mentors for the basic tools that will later become critical as children begin to internalize the external models they have been immersed in and influenced by the third teacher – the environment. Even something as simple as a jot on a post-it note needs to be modeled and the model displayed for children to refer to just like they refer to a mentor text to craft their writing. The charts we create have a definite influence on what we teach, but even more importantly, on the children sitting before us each and every day.
We will be taking a short break from the blog in order to finish our book (Smarter Charts-Heinemann) and other fun stuff, but we plan to launch a new blog post by the end of February.
Until then, Happy Charting!
Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz