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.

Welcome to the 5/6 classroom!

Wendy and Lisa are really excited to start the year. Before we do, indulge us in an exercise we will soon do with our students: look outside your window. If you’re already outside, look up. Find a tree.

Got it? Good.

Now, choose a profession. Are you a poet? A painter? A paleontologist? Pick one.

How would someone from your profession look at that tree? What kinds of questions would they ask? A painter might want to know the pigments he needs to make a certain shade of green. A scientist might want to know how long the tree has been there, or what kind of life the tree supports. A gardener might want to know how much water it needs. A poet might ask herself which words best described that craggy bark or the silky leaves. They are all looking at the same tree but they are looking at it for different reasons and throught different lenses. They are all likely to ask themselves very different questions and arrive at very different conclusions.

So why is that important? Because that’s one of the themes we will keep coming back to this year…how the different subjects you learn in school are really just different ways to study and learn about the world. Each discipline has its own toolbox and these are toolboxes we hope to help you fill up.

Why learn history? Because an historical viewpoint is a really interesting way to see the world and it teaches you things mathematics cannot. Why study math? Because a mathematical viewpoint is a really interesting way to see the world and it teaches you things poetry cannot. An historian might tell us what makes democracy strong or fragile. A poet might communicate that in a way that touches people’s hearts. A mathematician might give us a statistical story about voters.

There’s another way we are going to look at different viewpoints, though, and that’s by studying point of view. Why do the writers of the books we read choose a certain point of view from which to tell the story? What is gained or lost by choosing that lens?

How does history change when it’s told through a different point of view? It can be easy to read a textbook or newspaper account of an event and believe that’s the only truth. We often miss that there was a completely different way to look at something. Studying early American history through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson is much different than studying it through the eyes of his slaves. We will strive to find these different viewpoints in all of our studies, and even more importantly, to understand that we are never likely to find and examine all of them. Knowing what we don’t know, or even just that we don’t know, is a major step in become mature learners.

When your kids come home from class and tell you about something they learned, feel free to ask them whose point of view they are talking about at the time and if there’s another one they considered or think they should consider. We will begin our explorations in science looking at the diversity of life, he ways scientists classify life, and taking a close-up look at a local bass. (A very local bass–he lives at the school.) When we study him, are we looking from the perspective of a biologist interested in preserving native species? An economist interested in promoting Michigan fishing? A politician interested in improving water quality? What about the fish? Does he get a perspective?

We are going to have fun this year. Please never hesitate to ask any questions. Wendy and Lisa are available on email (wlawrence at summers-knoll dot org) or (ljohnson at summers-Knoll dot org) or set a time to catch up at the school.

Feel free to drop us a line on this blog’s contact page.