Friday, March 29, 2013

Now I Get It


Meet Roy, a charming young man from Costa Rica. When Roy was younger, his mom said, "Why don't you study the violin?" He tried it, but he didn't like it. He said it was boring.
About four years ago, Roy's mom dragged him to a concert featuring Midori. If you've ever heard beautiful music and felt a stirring in your soul, you'll understand what happened to Roy when he heard the extraordinary performer play. As they left, Roy said, "Now I get it. Mom, I want to study the violin."

Are there reluctant readers in your school, classroom, or home who don't yet understand how wonderful reading is? Maybe they, like Roy, would say, "I don't want to. It's boring."
We have the power to be like Midori for them. Our read-alouds can be the concerts that change how they feel about our instrument: books. When we choose delightful, powerful, suspenseful, hysterically funny, or heartbreakingly moving books, we increase the chances that those reluctant readers will finally say, "Oh, now I get it! I want to be a reader."

It doesn't matter if we teach first graders or twelfth, reading aloud can pull them in and capture them for life.

Back to Roy: He taught himself to play the violin using YouTube videos and won a scholarship to a violin camp in Alabama. While there he went to an orchestra concert and when it was over, he begged the musicians to teach him. They were so impressed with his passion and drive that one of the members, a violin teacher, invited him to live with her family. He is working to get into a performing arts school and hopes to audition for a symphony.

Like Roy, if we can capture a reader, they won't mind the work and drive it takes to become one. In fact, they won't let anything stop them.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Three Tips for Raising Writers


I hunkered next to five-year-old Eric to learn about his writing and immediately noticed the illustration of a woman with a large stomach.  I was joking around when I said, "Wow. I hope that's not my tummy."  Without missing a beat he replied, "Oh, it is, but don't worry.  I gave you a big shirt so it won't show."

This led to my most recent diet motto, "I can have any treat if I can see my feet," but that's getting off the subject.

How do we go about raising writers?

Common Core standards for Eric and other kindergartners say that they should use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose an opinion piece, an informational piece, and a narrative piece.  This is ambitious, but for years the kindergarten teachers at my very diverse school have managed to develop writers who are able to do just that.  How do they do it?  By doing three things well.

First, they operate under the belief that their students, though young, are indeed writers and have something worth saying.  It's because of this conviction that their students buy into the idea.  I've never heard one of their students lament, "I don't know how to write."

Second, they provide focused, intentional lessons that raise the level of writing in the room.  Each lesson is drawn from looking at what the children are doing now and leads them to their next steps.  Picture books and poems frequently become mentor texts.  As attention is paid to author's craft, they discover things they might like to try in their own pieces.

Finally, they provide daily practice time and confer while students are writing.  It is during the individual conferences that differentiated instruction takes place, raising the writing level of struggling writers, prolific authors, and everyone in between.

No matter what the age of our students, if we believe, teach, and confer, we can do our part to raise writers, too.