Slice of Life Story Challenge March 16 -The Most Dangerous Part of The Lesson

The Most Dangerous Part of The Lesson


‘We have reached the most dangerous part of our lesson young writers’ I announce to the group of students seated before me. I lower my voice and lean towards them. ‘We must be careful going back to our seats to start our writing. There is a danger of being ambushed and taken away from your mission. Do not let anyone distract you from commencing the writing mission you have just discussed with your writing buddy. Someone may try to strike up a conversation that may lead you off course. Who can make it back to their writer’s notebook safely without being drawn away from their mission? Stay alert to the danger. It's all around you.' They all smile knowingly.

It’s all a bit of a game, but the truth is I am aiming to narrow the distance between the young writer’s (Grade 3 and 4 students) intentions and actions. I want every writer in the room to have the best possible chance to fill the blank page with their amazing words. So, I want them to be aware of the possibility of being distracted from the task they have identified during the pre-writing stage of our workshop. It is just another way to increase the time they spend actually writing.

Observation had informed us that many of the students continued to socialize during the independent writing phase of the lesson and this distraction inhibited the flow of words onto the page.

Following some debriefs with the teachers of these students we identified the need to build writing stamina in the same way we build reading stamina. For this to occur, talk and other distractions have been identified as real impediments to composing during independent writing. We have been directly teaching into this in an effort to alert students to the potential problem distractions carry for their writing outcomes.

For this reason we have quarantined talk to those parts of the workshop before and after the writing phase. Unless of course teacher and students are involved in writing conferences or strategy groups. In these classes talk is being used in a mindful and targeted manner.

As developing writers these students need assistance and guidance in learning to shut out the distractions. They are beginning to reap the benefits. They are generally writing more. The writing is more cohesive and their ability to concentrate is improving. They are returning to share time and making statements like:
‘I am able to focus on my writing.’
‘I am writing more in one lesson than I used to write in a week.’
‘I like it when everyone at my table is writing quietly, it helps me concentrate.’

Talk is essential for writers, but it must be harnessed to ensure it benefits the writing as much as possible. Classrooms can be difficult places in which to write. We continue to refine our practice in order to let the best words emerge. 







Comments

  1. This post is so timely for me! I've been struggling to support a few students who are easily distracted from their writing. I love your humorous approach to the danger zone of writing! "Stay alert to the danger! It's all around you!" I just reinstituted "Quiet 10" when students begin their independent writing time in total silence. My kids actually like it and when I forgot to set the visual timer yesterday, they reminded me. Of course, the visual timer is now a distraction for some of them. It is such a challenge to balance writing and talking during Writers' Workshop. Thanks so much for sharing a great slice, your reflections and a fun approach to this dilemma.

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    1. Pleased to add another perspective to the issue of writing distractions Molly. It is, as you state a challenge to balance writing and talk. This is why we continue to grapple with this matter. It is in the interest of our developing writers that we do.

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  2. I always struggle with how much talk is necessary. I've been watching myself to see how much talk I need vs how much silence in order to write well. the silence is definitely a bigger need.

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    1. The fact that you remain aware of this issue is serving you well Kimberley. You and your students will find a balance, I'm sure.

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  3. Yesterday, one of my 4th graders told the kids sitting around her to "Keep it down. I can't focus on my writing." I like your idea of containing talk to the before and after.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer. We are striving to respect the actual writing time. We should never undervalue the role of talk, but we do need to harness it, so the writing can emerge. That way there is something significant to actually talk about afterwards.

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  4. Love the idea of the writing being a mission and not allowing any distractions. Always great support for writing found here.

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    1. Thank you Elsie. I'm always looking for little catchphrases to spark student interest. They seem to like the term 'mission.' It's a term many are familiar with from their reading of spy and adventure stories.

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  5. A great way to keep students focused and writing during writing workshop. Thanks for sharing your strategy!

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    1. you are more than welcome Noel. Thank you for stopping by and responding. Focused is an apt word in this context. If we can keep them focused, the quality of the writing that emerges on the page is more likely to engage a reader.

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  6. Love this.. making focus, fun and purposeful. What a blessing!
    Bonnie K

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    1. Thank you again Bonnie. Because I find my time in schools fun, and writing brings me joy, it is great to be able to share that in ways that are purposeful. Writers share their secrets. I have learnt I am more productive as a writer when there are fewer distractions. I want the young writers (and their teachers) to know this important information.

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  7. James Britton said, "writing floats on a sea of talk" but I am sure that he meant writing is supported by talk because you are right. In the writing moment writing ideas can be sunk (or float away entirely) by too much talk especial if it wanders off topic as much group maintenance talk does. Great post and good reminder for me to teach students to stay true to their writing missions.

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    1. Thank you Lee Ann. Your sea analogies and those of James Britton are apt here. It is just a matter of harnessing talk to make it more effectively support the writing,

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  8. Great strategy, but more importantly, great example of what collaboration and reflection can do in a classroom.

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    1. the critical nature of reflection is exemplified when one considers the action that was taken here grew from debriefing sessions where in conjunction with a group of teacher we were able to identify the need for greater volume and writing stamina and then decide upon a strategy to enable the goals identified to become a reality for these young writers. The instruction was informed by the assessment.Thank you Ashley for your kind response.

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  9. I love how you approached this with the kids. You've made this very important message still sound fun and the kids are getting some valuable writing time in.

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    1. Thank you Julie. It was indeed a thing of joy to witness how the volume of writing and student writing stamina have benefited from the implementation of this strategy. Teaching writing in this way is fun indeed, - as well as rewarding.

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