Friday, August 16, 2013

How We Survived a Narrative Writing Prompt

I mentioned in an earlier post that my school is focusing on our students' writing process this year.  We are using Lucy Calkins latest writing curriculum Units of Study which is aligned with the CCSS.  I love the lessons that are laid out in this curriculum!

However, there was one section I was hoping maybe the kindergarten teachers could just skip due to our young ones not knowing enough to write.  They are just beginning their journey to become writers.  How could I ever ask them "to write" a narrative on the THIRD day of school?  Ask them to spend 45 minutes "writing"?  Not only am I asking them "to write" but I am using vocabulary they have never heard of in the prompt.

And then there is the task of taking down dictation for each and every student so I can see their thought process.  I have 22 new kindergarteners who don't know how to raise their hand to speak yet.  As soon as I ask the first one about their work, the other 21 will be surrounding me calling out, "Mrs. Wolf!  Mrs. Wolf, look at mine next!"

Off to our planning meeting before the second day of school I went with all these thoughts and concerns.  The topic of the meeting was the narrative writing prompt.  I was a brave teacher who raised her hand in a planning meeting.  I spoke of my biggest concern--taking down the dictation for each of my 22 students.  The other two kindergarten teachers agreed that dictation was our biggest challenge. As a staff we had a short discussion if dictation was necessary.  We decided it was definitely necessary based on the rubrics that are provided in Lucy Calkins' materials.  We needed to see each student's thought process.  Did the words they wanted to write match their pictures?  Did they attempt a first sound by writing some letters under the picture?  Did they have a beginning, middle and end when they spoke of their narrative?  So much information can be gathered from dictation.

So our staff came up with a solution to have our Title I aides assist with the dictation.  Our school is blessed with amazing aides who support our classrooms in so many ways.  Since our school is just beginning, the aides could adjust their schedule in the morning to be in our three classrooms to help.

Third Day of School--Writing Prompt Day

When two aides and our instructional coach arrived in my classroom this morning, I was still instructing some basic procedures for our classroom restroom.  I hope they loved my chant, "Potty, Potty. Flush, Flush.  Wash, Wash.  Hush, Hush."  Oh well, it is the things we have to do when teaching kindergarten.  But back to the writing prompt...

Once I finished our restroom procedures, I had the students meet me on our carpet.  I used the writing prompt from Lucy's book.  The questions were excellent from my students.  They wanted to know what "details" were and what is a "narrative".  They were ready to try.  After short explanations, I handed out the paper to write their narrative writing piece.  I praised those who got to work right away, just like Lucy said to do in her lessons.  One by one, each student got busy.  They got busy doing the "best" writing they could do!  It was a beautiful thing to see and experience.

The two aides, instructional coach and I each took a table group of students.  We had sticky notes on clip boards and pen in hand.  We asked child to tell us about their paper.  WoW!  The dictation results were amazing!  So much information that I can now use to know exactly where each child is starting their writing journey in kindergarten.

I have the full spectrum of "writers" in my room too.  Everything from the scribble to a full sentence with finger spaces.  Some students drew pictures that look like scribble to the untrained eye.  Others drew familiar things like houses.  Some added details like stairs and light switches to their house.  Two told about a small moment in their dictations with a beginning, middle and end.

The writing prompt was not only the highlight of my day, but my week!  I can not wait to see the growth these children will make as writers this year.

Does your school have a writing curriculum?  Do you do writing prompts?  Share your experiences with writing prompts in the comments below.

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