Weekly Update

The 5-6 group had a great week. It was fun to see a lot of the parents at curriculum night and if you couldn’t make it, no worries–you can get all the information in our blog posts.
In writing workshop, we tackled some fun prompts involving alligators in port-a-potties and a school full of lizards. We’ve continuously reminded the kids that their writing in their writing journal is informal, pre-first-draft, idea-generating stuff. We want them to feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. As a result, some of your children chose not to let you read their journals on curriculum night, or maybe selected a few pages not to have you read. Please don’t take that personally! I’m excited that they are taking ownership over their writing and considering their audiences. There will be plenty of time this year to read what they’ve written.
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The students were so excited and proud to share their writing journals!
I really can’t believe how successful we’ve been with writing workshop in this group! On Thursday of this week, we had a “free night” with no specific prompt. I told them that I had originally not been planning to do this until much later in the fall, but they were all so into their journals, I decided to try it earlier. They loved it. A few asked for a prompt, so I gave them this: “You are sitting in a tree. An owl lands next to you on a branch and says ‘I need your help.'” I was expecting some protests–that’s a pretty unstructured prompt–but all of them who had asked for a prompt said “okay” and went straight to writing a story about this owl. I couldn’t be more excited for this group and to see where their writing will go next!
We also played with point of view in our writing, trying the same story in the 1st and 3rd person. We sampled several books with different POVs and talked about why the author might make that decision. For example, we read the first few pages of HOLD TIGHT, DON’T LET GO about a character experiencing the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that was written in the first person and then the first few pages of STELLA BY STARLIGHT about a character seeing the KKK burn a cross in her town that was written in the 3rd person. Both are historical fiction with young female main characters and both start with a scary scene, so it was interesting to see how the POV affected the tone of the stories. We are also continuing to read HOOT and are getting closer to understanding some of the plot’s mysteries. We’ve settled into a really nice afternoon routine of quiet writing, outside break, and grabbing snacks to eat during reading time. It’s quite awesome.
In science, we continued our pill bug experiment and presented the scientific method to the rest of the school. The students worked hard on their presentations, revising their posters multiple times and not only explaining their step of the scientific method, but explaining how it relates to pill bugs. We were the first morning meeting presentation of the year and the kids set a good example!
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Drafts of our scientific method posters
In our 4A/4B math group, we did some whole-group lessons on factors and multiplies, place value, and manipulating fractions and decimals, worked independently in our workbooks, and tried our hands at one-minute Singapore sprints.

Writing Workshop

Hi all! I’m going to spend some Tuesdays focusing on a different subject and we will start with writing.

Writing workshop is an important part of the 5/6 classroom. The major of writing workshop is spent (wait for it) … writing. Students each have a writing journal they use for this time. Students spent a little bit of time during our first week decorating the covers. On the inside of the front cover of their writing journals is a rubric. The rubric is meant to be a helpful reminder of what they should be doing. For example, each day you write the date and the prompt or a title and then start writing. That sounds trivial, but taking pride in organizing our work is an important step. Sometimes the smallest of details determine our success. Also, it’s just helpful for the teachers and trust me, we need all the help we can get.


Every so often throughout the year, Lisa and Wendy will paste a copy of those rubrics into the writing journals to allow students and teachers to reflect on their progress so far. We’ve done this once already but skipped the student assessment at this point because they are still getting used to it. Using the same rubric for assessment that we used for the assignment means there are no surprises–it’s already in the front cover–students know what the expectations are! These assessments are meant to help students take their writing further and further throughout the year and, if necessary, identify areas they will want to work further on. If students ever have questions about notes on their assessments, please encourage them to come talk to us!


One of the most important expectations of writing working is that students are always writing or drawing. That’s right, drawing is also an important way to get our ideas out on paper and we don’t want to discount it. Of course, if it becomes an art journal only, we will try to redirect back towards writing, but drawing is absolutely a legitimate way to start the writing process, to brainstorm and express ideas. During writing time, we play quiet music–this is our signal that all talking stops and pencils are moving. So far, the kids have adapted really well to this and a lot of great writing has taken place!

There’s time for thinking, of course, but over time, we want to teach students to think on the page–they can make as many mistakes as they like–there’s no such thing as bad writing in a first draft!

But wait–a pencil? Don’t we have computers? Yes, yes we do. I’m a big fan of computers and we will use them a lot, but for the first part of the year, our writing notebooks will be actual paper and pen. Having a concrete item that students can see filling up with work is a tremendous incentive as well as a well-deserved source of pride. If you just open a doc on the computer, there’s no tangible reward when you are done. Also, if you leave it blank, there’s no open page staring back at you, reminding you that you really should have put something on it. Of course, we know that a lot of our students will struggle with the pencil and will need to use the laptop. This is not a problem. We will work with each student individually to make sure they have what they need.


Writing workshop period starts out with a mini-lesson. Sometimes this might be on a piece of writing mechanics, like punctuation or grammar. Sometimes this might be more about the craft of writing, like choosing a point of view or good hook for a story. Sometimes this might be about the writing workshop itself–how to create multiple drafts, turn in things that are ready, and request editing conferences with teachers and peers and final draft conferences with teachers. We are starting the year with lessons on point of view and genre.

Some of our prompts so far have been:

– describe your favorite dessert

– tell someone how to make a peanut butter sandwich

– tell a story about the first day at school for one of our class dogs or stuffed animals

Throughout the year, we will be mining our journals for pieces to turn into published drafts. Stay tuned for an invite to a publishing party!

First week round-up

It has been absolute awesomeness to work with this group of 5th and 6th graders. We have 19 kids, 2 dogs, and 2 teachers and we are already off to a great start for the year. Here’s a little summary of what we’ve done so far, although there’s no way for me to capture the enthusiasm, energy, and synergy of this group of kids, so you’ll have to read all this while imagining that part.

In language arts, we started a class read-aloud of Hoot. The students have easily adapted to an easy style of sitting in a circle, often while eating a snack, and actively listening to the story. We stop often to chat. For example, we might discuss the various characters, what we know about them, and how the author is introducing them to us.

After reading chapter 3 on Thursday, we divided into small groups to illustrate different parts of the book. The results of that were the following:

(1) the pick-up truck with the port-a-potties, (2) another rendering of the same but with the alligator chasing the policeman out, (3) 4 different versions of the mysterious running boy jumping over the dog, (4) a student modeling for his group doing drawing #5, (5) which is the bully pushing the main character’s face against the bus window, and (6) the bully choking the main character over the back seat of the bus.

We are also three days into writing workshop, where our mini-lessons have mostly focused on what writing workshop actually is (spoiler alert: it’s a time to write!) Then we turn on the music and have quiet writing time, which the students have also eagerly embraced. Is it because they get to go to recess afterwards if everyone is focused? Perhaps. Or maybe we just have a class of future authors and communicators. Either way, writing time is a magical time. Our final workshop of the week ended in sharing time where a few students shared a page of their work out loud.

 

We’ve also been busy scientists. After learning about what science is and what it means to be a scientist, they collected pill bus for further study. We’ve also started to learn about classification so that they have a sense of how all the animals they are about to observe and study are related.

Here are a few photos of the pill bug collection:

Here are a few about learning about science and practicing classification:

And if that doesn’t seem like enough, we also (collectively) lost two teeth! Hopefully our second week will be just as awesome. I’m restocking the lost-tooth necklaces just in case.