Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Memories

Over the summer I had the opportunity to have lunch with a couple of former students and their families.  We had an enjoyable time thinking about when they were in first grade and what they remembered about that year.  Then one of the moms shared this with me: "It was in your class that 'my daughter' learned to love writing."  Now that made my day and I continued to ask what she has been doing in regards to writing since first grade (she'll be in third grade this fall).  She proceeded to tell me that she writes everyday and is starting to put her writing collections together.  I invited her to share anything and everything with me throughout the following year.
Then as I was leaving the best part of the afternoon happened.  My former student came up to me and said "Wait, Mrs. Garnica!  I have something for you and I almost forgot!"  I waited by the door and then she came running around the corner with something behind her back.  "This is for you," she said as she handed me a book with her picture on the cover.  Stunned, I asked her what it included, even though I had a feeling I knew.  "It's everything I've written over the past few months and I put it in a book (Shutterfly) and I want you to have it."  Holding tears back I hugged her and thanked her over and over again.  I told her to keep writing and I couldn't wait to see her next book!
These are the moments we teach for.  You never know who you will inspire to go beyond their highest potential.  This little girl could be the next best selling author and it all started in her foundation years in elementary school!  

Monday, March 21, 2011

....& Beyond!

I started working with the Six Traits of writing in the winter of 2006 and since then have fallen in love with the world of writing.  I have felt, at times, that everything I do revolves around writing, but then I remember that I have to teach math at 2:00 everyday to 6 year olds.  LOL.  I suppose if we write story problems---we'll get some writing in math too.  ;)

Anyway, as I was saying, after I started working with the traits by dabbling for a year, and then launching the language into full swing in my classroom, I wanted to open the door to more teachers.  I felt like the traits were lost in translation---literally because so many thought it was another program.  Wrong-O friends!  It's a language, or rather, a common vocabulary.  

I became a trainer and co-taught a class with two other phenomenal teachers.  I wanted to keep going and teach the course again, but we were unable to get enough teachers who had not already taken the introductory class or who were able to match their schedules to the class schedule.  After listening for a year to what teachers were still needing, attending a fabulous seminar in Indianapolis with the amazing Kristina Smekens of Smekens Education, and proposing a level II class, I am pleased to announce that class starts on Thursday this week!  We have found 12 awesome, dedicated to learning, teachers in our district who are wanting more in the area of writing for their students.  They'll get to walk away from the course ready to launch the traits in 6 days at the beginning of their year in the fall of 2011!

I am thrilled to be able to work with these teachers and should be preparing for Thursday......but I just had to get all my excitement down first!!  ;)  Onward!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reluctant Writers

I've read quite a bit of research over the past few years about reluctant writers, especially with boys.  In his book Boy Writers, Ralph Fletcher talks about creating environments in which boys are more apt to take part in the writing process.  This has weighed on my mind for years (and even more so after giving birth to a baby boy) and as each year has come to a close I look at the boys in my room and ask myself, "Did I get them excited about writing this year?"  "Are they going to second grade with tools they need in order to be able to write creatively with and without a prompt?"  "Would that young man choose to sit down and write over playing with his toys, watching a movie or playing the latest video game?"
So, I asked my boys in my classroom.  There are 10 little guys and here's what a few of them said: "Well, Mrs. G., is blogging a choice?  'Cause if it is, can I do that?"  Another little guy said, "Sure!  Only if I can write about how my star wars guys attack Phineas and Ferb."  And one of my favorites, "Are you talking about writing at home when my sister is bugging me, or here at school?  Mrs. G., if you're talking about home---that will get me away from my sister!"  Yes, yes that might solve the war with your little sister--and would make a fabulous story! ;)
I sat and pondered their responses, and though there might only be 10 in my room, there are just as many in Writing Club as well.  That tells me that there is some interest among the boys in the entire grade level.  The next question is, why did 8 out of 10 students say, yes they would choose to write over playing video games?  The most common factor with them was blogging.  They are writing and learning about what makes great writing, by putting a toy (technology) in their little 7 year old hands.
I was working with a small group of students and kept an eye on three of my boys at computers with their blogs this past Friday.  To my amazement I started overhearing statements such as, "Hey, look at what I just did!  How did you get those letters that big?  Where is the color button?  Read what I just wrote about!  Will you show me how to add a picture to mine like you did in yours?"  As tears started welling up in my eyes I approached the boys and said, "You got it!  I am SO proud of the three of you helping each other learn and am impressed that you are taking charge of your own learning."  That was the best teacher feeling---especially on a Friday.
Is blogging a way to hook our boy writers?  In my opinion----you got it!  Will it work for every little guy?  Probably not, but if they are given the tools and the opportunity to grow, you never know what they'll be capable of.  As I've talked with other teachers I've heard the common statements such as, "I don't have time.  When would I fit that in?  I can't take on one more thing right now."  My response has been, "Let' look at your schedule together and what your latest writing lesson looked like."
We'll get there---one reluctant writer at a time, and I'm starting with the 2 in my room that still aren't ready to write over playing video games.  :)  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Writing Club: Maintain or Move Forward?

Three years ago I started an after school club for first graders and simply titled it Writing Club.  Year one and two it was held twice a month after school during second semester and this past year I decided I wanted to be able to offer the club starting in September.  This program took off more than I could have ever expected and I had to put a cap on enrollment this year!  Club time starts with a 15 minute focus lesson based around one of the Six Traits of writing.  Students learn songs that help them remember the traits, they work together in small groups, and also have individual time to write.  I've had the support of 6th grade student volunteers and many parents and teachers.  This past year, if I was unable to be at a session, I had three teachers I knew I could count on to step up to the plate and help the young writers.  (To you, @amymillerpv and @jlbuz, I will be ever grateful!)  The PTA at my building generously provided journals, word books, trait bookmarks for students, as well as mentor texts and other various supplies to teach focus lessons.  This year has been one to remember and I'm looking forward to our end of the year presentation to parents where students will read their stories and poems to their parents and friends.
With that said, I have this yearning inside of me to take this after school opportunity to the next level.  I want to  be able to help more students, but how far do I want to expand and who is going to help me accomplish that goal?  It's a first grade club right now, but I want to see other grade levels involved---all the way through 12th grade!  Will I be able to "recruit" teachers to volunteer their time to provide a writing environment for students to be creative and learn about Six Traits?  With everything that teachers have going on in their professional lives as well as their personal lives, is this really a reality?  What about other buildings in our district?  There are four elementary buildings with a fifth opening up next year, a Jr. High and a High School.  Are there enough "lone nuts" out there that view writing as a priority that would want to get this started in their buildings?
This weighs heavily on my heart because I know that with the support, kids will fall in love with writing in ways they never imagined.  However, it can't be a one-person job anymore.  I'd even be willing to sit down with as many teachers as I could to write the curriculum for the club and would support them all the way.  Time will tell if this idea will stay in first grade at one building, or if it's time for some forward movement.  My vote: move forward!