Sunday, August 21, 2011

Did I Make the Grade?

I've just finished my first week of school with my new class of fifth graders. This week, we started out building a strong foundation for the rest of the year. We did many of the same activities that I discussed in Chapter One of Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?, but we also stretched and adapted those strategies as they best met the needs of my students. Much of what we do springs from conversations from reading Frindle by Andrew Clements. It serves as a great example of writing as he expertly weaves together the different modes of writing and the use of figurative language, with an entertaining story for middle aged readers. As we read it, I encourage my students to not only enjoy and discuss the humorous story, but also to begin looking at it through a writer's eyes.

As we are reading, my students begin to create a list of "Characteristics of Great Writing." My new students begin a bit hesitantly to add to the list as I've requested that they explain and justify their answers. I ask a lot of questions to guide them in this kind of thinking. They've been so trained to think that there is only one possible answer or conclusion to a question that when I told them that most questions have a multitude of possible answers, you could see a burden being lifted off of their shoulders. They were so eager to grasp this new kind of thinking. This discussion led students to making conclusions not only about the craft of writing, but also they purpose of composing using correct grammar and mechanics.

All of these fabulous conversations lead us into our blogging conversation. None of my students have ever blogged before and most of them were unclear about what a blog was. I used a variation on McTeach's blogging lesson, but the students naturally linked the importance of good writing from our Frindle discussions to our blogs. We also read and discussed parts of Net Cetera (I ordered copies for each family) to ensure that the students understood digital citizenship, Internet safety, and cyberbullying.

One strategy that I love is that I let my learners create their own criteria/rubrics for each of our activities. It puts the power of expectations into their own hands. After all, this is their blog, they should have a say over what should be included. (Note: I realize that many feel that blogs should not be evaluated. However, those that read my blog regularly know that this is not a luxury that I have in my classroom. See: Homework and Reading Logs)

Since this was the first criteria they were going to create, I led them through it as a class. Here is the list that they created of their Blogging Expectations:

  1. Use proper capitalization, organization, punctuation, and spelling. (As they explained, "If you don't edit, it doesn't matter what you've written; no one will understand you.")
  2. Be safe with all of your choices.
  3. Create posts that show what we've learned.
  4. Always use appropriate and kind words.
  5. Think about the audience.
  6. Explain and give great details in your posts. ( As one student said, "Who wants to read something that's boring?")
  7. Compose three or more blog posts a week. (They really wanted to have more in this number, but several students do not have access to a computer outside of school hours.This was a heated debate...pretty cool that most of the kids were fighting for MORE work instead of less, huh?)
  8. At least one of your blog posts will be about what you are reading. (The class actually cheered when they figured out this was going to replace the dreaded reading logs.)
  9. Create comments that are thoughtful, relevant, and continue the conversation.(One learner actually pointed out that by creating comments like this, they were also giving evidence that they were reading...score another point for getting rid of reading logs, but still meeting that independent reading standard on the report card. Yep, he got a high five...wish I had though of that.)
  10. Practice using characteristics of great writing in every post.
Is this the of expectations that I would have made for them? Absolutely not! It is infinitely better. This list demonstrated to me how well they had grasped all of the activities and discussions that we had done all week. They tied it all together and saw the relevance of how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together better than I did. What I didn't realize (until we were done) was that they were grading me on how well I had done this week. Did I make the grade? Did I grow as a teacher this week? I think so. This group of learners are going to keep me on my toes. The sky's the limit now. Who knows what tomorrow is going to bring?


  1. How lucky your students are to have a teacher who let them dive right in the first week. As I read your post I found myself wishing I could have been there, sitting in the back of your class learning from you and taking notes.

  2. Julie - Your enthusiasm and creative use of resources is so inspiring! Thank you for bringing such joy into your posts along with the professionalism I know you must provide to your students also.

    Starting off the year with the reminders of basics with safety, expectations and purpose is so important. We use Net Cetera also in our grant funded family literacy workshops because we know even if there is not a computer at home - any mobile technology has the same needs and guidelines. Also - we try to reinforce how so many access computers at resource centers and libraries in addition to school.

    Thanks again for your great book and your blog! Looking forward to your online discussions!

  3. You definitely made the grade! What a wonderful way to start the year off. It sounds like your students are excited about blogging and about writing! Makes me a little more excited to start teaching again as well.