We’ve been exploring the ways in which writers draw upon the Dispositions of Practice to improve their process and their craft in Studio this week. This morning’s crew participated in a collaborative writing activity that led to some meaningful discoveries about what can happen when we step back and let kids think, write, and problem solve together rather than taking over this work ourselves. So often, students enter classrooms and position themselves as empty pitchers in need of a fill. Studio teachers believe that addressing this problem requires shifting their own practice. They long to serve as facilitators rather than directors of learning, which sounds wonderful. Realistically, we’ve learned it’s a bit uncomfortable.
Today, each fellow began by free-writing around one of the Dispositions that they feel they’ve attended to most this week. Many used their five senses as a lens through which they could define their chosen Disposition with greater and more vivid detail. We stopped for a moment to reflect on word choice and the importance of precision in language use, and then we began writing short descriptive paragraphs about the Dispositions using the ideas captured during free-writing. I had some great things to share about this, and I know that Carol and Kristin, two other teacher-fellows in Session A, did as well. It was hard not to share them.
Each writer then underlined two or three of their most powerful sentences and met with others who focused on the same Disposition to discuss their work. While they chatted, I handed each writer a brightly colored pack of Post-It Notes and asked them to transfer the sentences they underlined to the Notes by placing only ONE WORD from each sentence on each note:
Writers remained in groups with those who wrote around the same Disposition. They moved to floor and mixed their Post Its together, creating a collection of words with which they could begin crafting collaborative poems about the Dispositions. The teachers simply observed the unique process of each group. We didn’t advise. We didn’t interject. We didn’t make it easier (or harder) for them. We simply watched. This was difficult.
At first, one group’s poem was more like a paragraph, while another group struggled to put words together fluently. Another group finished their draft with ease and returned to their tables to begin articulating the collaborative process that they used in their journals. As each group finished, they did the same.
All fellows took some time to look at the different Post It Poems that lined the floors of our classroom. They described the unique process that each group used to create their poems, their challenges, and what they hoped to improve. Group members returned to their drafts with ideas about process and product gleaned from the work of other writers. They worked together to revise. Teachers said nothing, and they didn’t touch the Post Its or the Sharpie markers…even though they were very pretty and seemed to be calling our names. You will note in the photo below that one student chose to use the letter “R” instead of the word “are”…this made me itch, quite honestly. But I didn’t say or do anything.
Several writers requested a strategy for transforming paragraphs and sentences into poems. We discussed fluency and word economy and the fact that great poets are able to say a great deal with very few words. Writers revisited their Post It drafts and removed words that didn’t seem necessary. They shifted words around to create new and better meaning. They identified weak verbs and adjectives, placing more powerful words on Post It Notes and attaching them to the tops of their earlier choices:
One group truly struggled with this task. They were uncertain how to describe the Dispositions in creative ways. Early in the process, they were at a loss for words. Later, they realized they included too many, and few of them really conveyed what they wanted them to. It was hard not to jump in and direct them toward the solutions we envisioned, but as teachers, we carefully hung around the periphery, quietly observing and facilitating the connection between those who had questions or problems and others who were able to help.
Their last drafts were substantially different from their earlier versions, and this surprised many of them. Watching this group of very diverse learners and writers connect and collaborate and problem solve as they created and revised these pieces was inspiring. Even though they are still in draft form, they couldn’t wait to add them to the Studio blog. Take a peek and provide some feedback if you are inclined!
What a great collaborative writing idea Angela. I love the idea that the writing became poetry and the changes that writing in that form demanded of them. This is definitely an idea that I am going to share with teachers. Many thanks.
Thanks Joy! It was definitely challenging work for them from start to finish, but we were impressed by their willingness to think and rethink and learn from one another. I’ve honestly never seen such substantial revision, and I think that asking them to talk with other groups about their process facilitated this well.
Angela, you are right – It was so difficult to stand back and let the kids discover on their own … but they came up with incredibly creative ideas … many different and uniquely wonderful ideas.
This Post-It idea can also be used in a lot of different ways in the classroom …. vocabulary review with “cool” and “warm” words and to brainstorm synonyms/antonyms to build increasingly specific and detailed vocabulary with kids …..
I can’t wait to try it in my own classroom … besides we get to play with fun tools like Post-Its and Sharpies!
Angela! Have you shared this with GMK? I would love for you to lead this with us at one of our C4L meetings!
Connectionst to C4L aside – I love how you share what the teachers are doing (or not doing) during Studio! A great model to show how we can let students write and not get in their way!
I will be sharing this post!
Hi Theresa–haven’t shared, no…but it would be fun to do at a session. There are some different ways to mix it up too. Started as an Etherpad collaborative writing thing, but kids and teachers like being able to move the post-it’s around and categorize. They also like being able to side-line some of them without deleting altogether. Kids like being on the floor and moving around.
One of the neatest reflections from teachers this week when I asked them to share the challenges of this pd model: they wanted to be able to do “everything.” They want to observe lessons, participate as writers, listen as I conference with kids, and have time to meet with me as well as colleagues and kids. I thought to myself….that is EXACTLY how I feel at CFL! There are so many ways to participate! It’s hard to have to make choices.