Teacher-Student Conferencing: The Essential Component of English Learner Writing

susan

by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

Susan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. 

 

I love co-teaching with the Lucy Calkins program. I get to use my expertise as the purveyor of academic language. At the same time I’m  learning from my co-teacher, my mainstream students, and the Lucy Calkins writing guide.

Once or twice a week I plan and teach a whole-class lessons that ESOL-izes concepts that I know are mystifying my English learners, or it anticipates confusion in upcoming lessons girlswritingby providing background knowledge I know my students and other diverse learners will lack. As the self-appointed expert in academic language instruction, I’m always ready with daily language objectives, strategies, and activities to provide support that will extend my students’ language skills. I’m especially proud that, at the same time, I’m probably extending the academic language of 70% of the rest of my diverse classroom.

Arguably, however, the most valuable component of the Lucy Calkins approach to writing, and where I feel I make my most valuable contribution, comes from the frequent opportunities it provides for teacher-student conferencing.  In the traditional Writing Process approach, dedicated teacher-student conferencing doesn’t appear until quite far along the continuum, after students have brainstormed, created drafts, peer edited, and revised their work. English learners, though, as we know, need quite a bit of hand-holding and scaffolding to be successful writers, especially if we want them to advance in their proficiency by adding more academic-level vocabulary and complexity to their writing.

In our co-taught classrooms, daily, once a whole-class lesson is presented, students wrconferencereturn to their places, usually with a writing partner, to work on their current writing. In our class, we maximize teacher-student conferencing time by grouping students at two large tables, each with a teacher. This configuration that allows us either to review student work in progress and make suggestions or to troubleshoot individual student needs as they arise, especially to answer their plaintive, “How do you spell…?” even though we invariably respond for the 100th time, “Sound it out, ” or “Look on the word wall.”

Our groups are fluid. Some students just prefer to work on their own, and we have some highly productive student partners who produce inspiring writing conferencing only with each other. I often work with non-English learners, and my amazing co-teacher, Tara, is tchrgirlwritingso beloved by some of my English learner girls that they usually make a bee-line to her group.  The point is that there are two of us, and we are both committed to getting our kids the individualized help they need to succeed as writers.

Furthermore, and frankly, as a school with a highly diverse population,  some of our students come to us better prepared than others to work independently. As Tara commented, “Conferencing in a group limits unwanted behaviors that would distract others. In a group setting, sitting all together at the table, I can conference with one student, get him or her on the right track, and quickly move on.”

She continued, “I feel all of our students need support, and more than anything they need reassurance that they’re doing the right thing.” Referring to some of our students with behavior concerns, she added, “Sometimes kids who are the most reluctant writers act out because they don’t want to fail.  If I’m there with them, insisting they can do it, and helping them, I can show them that writing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and they CAN succeed.”

I know I’m not alone in feeling that the Lucy Calkins Writing program in particular, and tchrmodelingprobably teaching writing in general, is challenging when English learners comprise a large portion of our class.  I feel fortunate to be able to support my students, and my colleagues, by co-teaching writing. I can’t think of any other content area where my particular expertise in academic language has been more beneficial, not only to students, but also to my colleague.  

One of the most satisfying and unexpected outcomes of working with my co-teachers this year has been watching them evolve into educators who  have become sensitized to and skillful in structuring their classrooms to better support their English learners. More and more often I look around my co-taught classroom at my colleague as she’s presenting the whole-class lesson, smile, and think, “My work here is done. I don’t think she even needs me…”  For an EL educator, it’s the best feeling…ever!

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10 Ways to Get Started Using Thinking Verbs

beckyBecky Guzman is a full-time ESL teacher in Maryland.  She is also a professional development creator and facilitator with English Learner Portal.

“So, what is the big deal with these thinking verbs?!”  asked the newest ESL teacher on my team. I was getting ready to sit down and explain to her the importance of academic vocabulary, tier II vocabulary, how great the thinking verb icons were in providing a symbol to represent each verb, etc.  I then realized that before I started to coach her on what this great tool was, I may need to also provide her with some specific ideas for how to use this wonderful instructional tool.

My colleague was referring to the new thinking verb icons I was using in my lessons.  While I’ve used various icon ideas in the past, this new tool ThinkingVerbPlacematwas recently shared by English Learner Portal in the format of a “Thinking Verb Bilingual Placemat”.  (You can download a copy for free HERE.)

My colleague was called to a meeting, so we tabled the conversation about the thinking verbs until later that afternoon. This was great, now I would have some time to think about the many ways in which I use them, and how I have observed other ESL teachers and classroom teachers using them so that I would sound like a much more knowledgeable and wise coach during our afternoon chat.

beckyTVobjAs I sat at my desk thinking about this, I could easily verbalize the reasons why she should use the thinking verb icons, as I had lots of training on the importance of academic language and the difference between social and academic language. I had taken book studies on teaching content vocabulary and knew that students’ proficiency with academic language is critical for reading comprehension and overall academic success.

I thought about ways in which I used the thinking verbs and found myself limited to 1-2 “go to” ideas. I had gotten so used to using these specific ways that I had trouble quickly recalling other ways.  Challenging myself, I took the time to brainstorm some ideas for my colleague and for you!

Activities and strategies for using the Thinking Verb icons:

  1.  messyobjContent and Language Outcomes-Replacing the verb in your outcome with the thinking verb icon allows students to have a visual representation of what that verb means.  Students will visualize the actions they will take with the objective.
  2.  Making Outcomes “Messy”- This strategy is great for explicitly going over outcomes at the beginning of the lesson in order for students to understand exactly what they will be learning. I like to use the icons in place of the verbs (words) and ask students to tell me what they think the verb means. I usually write their ideas or draw pictures (primary grades) directly around the icon on the actual outcome. Once students have had a chance to discuss what they think it means, I read them the correct definition or tell them what it means. We may also come up with some other examples of when that verb is used.
  3. “Mirrors Up” Outcomes Strategy– When introducing your outcomes to students, it is always better to make it a kinesthetic activity. A great way to use the thinking verbs is to place the icons on your outcomes. You ask students to put their “mirrors up” and they hold their hands up. They copy you, repeating after you as you read the outcome. When you get to the thinking verb, have students help you come up with motions to match that verb. You will be surprised how much students love coming up with motions for each and how much more they will remember the words!
  4. Vocabulary Games: “Taboo”– Students love this game in which one student faces away from the displayed thinking verb icon. The rest of the students must give him/her clues to describe that verb without telling them the word. The student must guess the actual thinking verb. It’s a great way to review the meaning of a number of thinking verbs!
  5. Thinking Verb Bookmarks- The bookmarks help students see the thinking verbs in action! I create bookmarks with all of the thinking verb icons and labels only, no definitions. The bookmark is laminated. As students read and they come upon one of the thinking verbs in the text, they make a tally mark on their bookmark. Higher proficiency students can note how the word was used in the text.
  6. Lesson/Activity Closure– I like to show students a few thinking verb icons or have them use the bookmark at the conclusion of a lesson or activity. I ask students to reflect and evaluate which verb they think we used during the lesson and why they think that. This is also a great way to formatively assess if students know the meaning of the words.
  7. Activity: Thinking Verb Forms– createActivitiesWhen there is time, and especially if it is a newly introduced verb, I like to ask students to help me come up with a list of the other forms of the verb and we will list them near the icon on the actual outcome. (example: Identify-Identified, identifying).
  8. Bilingual Thinking Verbs– For my students who are already pretty literate in Spanish, I like to introduce them to the verb in English and see if they can come up with the Spanish word before I show it to them. We then brainstorm some ways in which that verb is used in Spanish and discuss any cognates.
  9. Thinking Verbs Memory Game– I have played this with students and it is a great vocabulary review. Students take turns flipping over cards and must find matches between the thinking verb icon/word and the definitions. Another variation of this game is to match the English and Spanish icons. They must read the words correctly in English and Spanish when they find the match. You could also have students give the definition when they find the match depending on the students’ language proficiency.
  10. Planning Differentiated Learning Outcomes– I have used the icons when planning my lesson outcomes. I know my students’ language proficiency and can TVidentifysee how some of the verbs may build on others. I especially use them when planning for my small group lessons. For example, in my three math groups, one group has an average language proficiency of 1.0-2.0 whereas the next group has a proficiency of 3.0 and the third group an average language proficiency of 4.0. My outcomes are related to being able to read decimal numbers to the thousandths. Because of language demand, I created different outcomes. My P:1.0-2.0 language group was focused on identifying the decimal numbers. My P:3.0 group had to read and compare the decimal numbers, and my P:4.0 group had to read and compare and contrast the decimal numbers. I knew that students would not be able to compare and/or contrast until they were able to first identify and so the thinking verbs helped me to plan my learning outcomes based on my students’ different language and content needs.  Remember, I was focused on language while my content co-teacher was focused on the grade level math outcomes for all students.

TVchemicalchangesAny list I come up with certainly won’t include all the potential ways that thinking verbs could be used to support instruction. I was happy that I at least had a few ideas and suggestions for my new coworker to get her started. I know that there are tons of vocabulary strategies and activities out there that would also be great for teaching our English learners (and ALL students) these thinking verbs and other tier II vocabulary which is so critical to accessing grade level standards. The most important thing is that the more we expose our English learners and involve them in playing with and using this academic language, the more successful they can be academically. It is not enough for them to be able to socially communicate in the English language, they must be explicitly taught academic language and critical thinking skills such as the thinking verbs.

How are you using the Thinking Verbs Bilingual Placemat or icons with your students?  We’d love to have you share ideas with us and perhaps even write a blog post!  Send your thoughts to info@englishlearnerportal.com and you could win a set of Thinking Verb Icon Magnets for your classroom.  Haven’t downloaded your Thinking Verb Bilingual Placemat yet?  You can find it HERE!

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logoevensmallerIf you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Making the Grade: Process, Product, or Language Proficiency in Evaluating Writing?

Making the Grade: Process, Product, or Language Proficiency in Evaluating Writing?

susan

by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

Susan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. 

 

By now most teachers across the nation have made it through the first marking period –Sw PD and with it, the first report card. As an ESL teacher in my district, my grading and reporting obligation has usually been met by submitting WIDA proficiency scores for the four skill areas on content we have studied and assessed throughout the marking period. USUALLY, that is, until this year when I became a co-teacher and BFF with the Lucy Calkins writing program.

rubricFor the first time in many years I feel like a content teacher, and I want my students to feel evaluated – by me –  not only on their English language proficiency, but also on their growing proficiency as writers. Ah, but whose criteria of their writing ability should I use? For example, the Lucy Calkins program provides checklists of skills students are acquiring throughout each unit.  These skills provide valuable information to English learners and their teachers, about what they are demonstrating, or still need to demonstrate, to be good writers.

The Common Core curriculum also provides standards-based criteria and indicators ccssfor measuring content mastery in writing. These give teachers the benchmarks for measuring mastery of student progress in grade-level writing ability.

Last but not least, our district provides five grading indicators on the report card, one for each writing focus topics (informative, narration, and opinion), one for process, and one for use of language, including spelling, cklistpunctuation, and sentence mechanics. This presumably lets parents and their children know if they are making acceptable progress in their studies.

If you could see my face right now, you would see something like this avatar.  And full dunnodisclosure, I truly did not even consider the implications of grading until it was already too late for this marking period. I had assumed that, per usual, I could rely on my WIDA proficiency levels to “grade” my English learners, and on my mainstream teachers for classroom grades in writing.

Since I am also bilingual in Spanish, I am also called upon to interpret for my classroom teachers for our end-of-first-marking-period parent-teacher IMG_0850conferences. Therefore, as I sat through one conference after another hearing some of my favorite teachers offer vague and somewhat superficial explanations for how our students were progressing and being graded in writing, I realized, “We have TOTALLY failed these students.” Not only have we not given them clear and quantitative criteria for measuring their progress towards mastering the content area, we have not formulated a clear and purposeful plan for building on what they already know and are able to do now in order to improve their writing in the future.

Now, I’m not saying their grades were bad.  In fact, they were lovely. But when a bright and fully-engaged native speaker and an ESOL WIDA proficiency level 2 student get exactly the same grade on their report cards, and you as the teacher are fully aware of the difference in their final product, we as educators have to ask ourselves, (a) what are we really communicating in terms of standards-based performance indicators and criteria for success to our students, and (b) how do we plan for future instruction, putting into place interventions, scaffolds, supports, and strategies that will actually support our English learners to make these grades anything more than a feel-good kinda-sorta representation of their effort?

In larger terms the question is, as we move into the next marking period: How will we clarify for ourselves as a school, a grade-level team, or as a co-teachers, the indicators questionand criteria for success that will not only inform students of our shared expectations for writing but which also will serve to better inform the rationale behind their report card grades.

And no, right now, I really do not have an answer to that dilemma. But I think it’s an important one to solve, because upon our response hinges the most important question of all: how do we as ESL teachers work with our classroom teachers to plan and instruct for student success in writing. Stay tuned, and as always please please please, let us know via the comments section below or email how you and your school are managing these issues.  

I hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our English learners – and all of our students.   But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!

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If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Switching Gears: What To Do When Nothing Works

by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

susanSusan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. 

The school year is rolling along as the temperatures drop and the hurricanes move out to sea. Back in the classroom, students of Lucy Calkins have stepped away from narrative writing and moved on to non-fiction or persuasive writing. Except, as it turns out, they haven’t. After two weeks of intense instruction and support, pre-writing planning conversations still went like this, “One day, my dad and I were in the car. Then we saw a dog.”  Not non-fiction, not an opinion…a story.

It all started off so promising. Two weeks ago in grade 1 and 2, we wrapped up our narratives with a publishing gallery and tea party. We celebrated!

Then Monday arrived. In Grade 1, with our Content and Language Objectives duly formulated, we prepared children for their adventures in non-fiction, Writing Teaching Books with Independence, with a read-aloud Sharks!  Then, we had them think of themselves “teaching” about a topic, and imagining things they were experts at.

octopusHowever,  tasking 6 year-olds to come up with something they know and could teach someone about proved to be challenging for some students and their first efforts tended to be whatever topic their teacher had chosen for the lesson objective. Or, for reasons still not understood, octopuses.

So, the next day we scaffolded strategies for coming up with many things first graders IMG_1224can be experts on. For example, even Mrs. Zimmerman’s grandson EJ, can be an expert!

Once we had topics, we practiced using our fingers to tell what we know.  Then we used our fingers to tell our partners all about it!

In Second grade we began our journey into non-fiction and opinion writing by reading The Great Kapock Tree by Lynn Cherry. We learned how good writers use reasons to persuade their readers. Then we explored our own opinions by tasting and choosing our favorite cookies.

We came up with reasons to persuade our partners why our favorite cookie was the best. We practiced talking about it! We even used graphic organizers to help us remember our reasons.

IMG_9923

Finally, we chose topics to write about and planned across our fingers.  Using our sentence frames and our fingers, we shared with our partners again!

At last, having anticipated our students’ misunderstandings, having formulated both Content and Language Objectives, and having scaffolded their intended language production, we were ready to write. And this is what we heard…

“My dad and I were in the car.  We saw a dog…”

And this is what we read…

“My mom said, “ We’re going to the store…”

So, now what?

IMG_9927We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and started all over again with a mini-review. And then…we LISTENED!  We hunkered down with each of our students (something a lot easier to do in a co-teaching situation) and listened to what students were saying and what they thought they were writing. We pointed out confusions, prompted for opinions, gave thumbs up, and moved on to the next child.

Maybe the most challenging aspect of the Lucy Calkins program is that we tend to forgetIMG_9924 how important student conferencing is.  Those of us in highly diverse schools are so caught up in the minutia of scaffolding what good writing should look and sound like that we forget the point of it… “[We] are teaching the writer and not the writing. Our decisions must be guided by ‘what might help this writer’ rather than ‘what might help this writing’” (Lucy Calkins, 1994)

IMG_9922Student conferencing – working one on one with students – is too often a catch-as-catch-can occurrence, when in fact it is one of the most important tools in the LC writer’s toolbox. It needs to be carried out regularly in an an intentional and purposeful  way. Good writers make connections with their readers – whether they are telling a story or writing an opinion. Good teachers make connections with their students. As you travel through the changing focus of your writing program throughout the school year, please don’t forget the reason we are teaching writing in the first place: to connect and build relationships with our most important audience, our students.

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If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Writing Language Objectives for Lucy Calkins, Step One: PANIC!

Writing Language Objectives for Lucy Calkins, Step One: PANIC!
by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

susanSusan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. Rebecca Guzman is also an elementary ESL teacher in a local school system and consultant with English Learner Portal.

I started this blog as a way to “think out loud” about the struggle I’ve been having since fall as an ESL teacher supporting the Lucy Calkins writing program in K-Gr 2.  I knew that my best bet was to develop academic language by creating language objectives and scaffolding instruction that explicitly tied student learning to the target writing output.  HOW this is actually getting done is still very much a work in progress. As you read this post, I hope that you will think about your own challenges and successes you have had adapting academic language strategies to the LC writing program, and give me some feedback, suggestions, and recommendations on what has worked – and not worked – for you.

Help me out here.  Last Monday, the Lucy Calkins’ teaching point in our second grade writing lesson, verbatim from the guide, was:

“Today I want to teach you that when writers do something new, they don’t just try it once and give up. Writers are bold too. You can try new things in your writing, even if they’re not perfect.  Then you can see what you think. You can ask yourself, ‘Did it work?’ or ‘Should I try it a new way?’”

So tell me, readers, what’s the Language Objective?

SIOP training had been a “thing” at my school a few years ago, and several team members had been sent to training. However, in subsequent years several of the trained teachers cycled out to new schools and each fall the district served up another round of “critical” achievement goals and performance measures that filled our teachers’ plates to overflowing.  The idea of creating and teaching language objectives faded away into “just another thing I don’t have time for.”

susansgrouoBut as I reminded myself and my team last week, in a diverse school like ours (70% FARMS, 40% Hispanic, 40% AA, 55% ELL) all content objectives truly need to have accompanying language objectives that “articulate for learners the academic language functions and skills they need to master to fully participate in the lesson and meet the grade-level content standards (Echevarria, Short, & Vogt, 2008).” Feeling empowered, I promised my team at our weekly planning meeting that I would provide a language objective for their daily writing content objectives and create scaffolded lesson plans to support them.

Up to now, while I was getting better acquainted with the the Lucy Calkins program, I’d been supporting students classes by following up on earlier lessons that hadn’t  “worked” for my English learners (ELs). Basically I re-packaged and scaffolded the same lesson classroom teachers had written in more visual and engaging ways, throwing in some appropriate academic language points, oral practice, sentence frames, and vocabulary along the way.  

But now that I had hastily offered to deliver daily and meaningful academic language instruction, I realized I might have gone way outside my comfort zone. I panicked: What IS the academic language required for students to “make a bold move” and try things in new ways? And, was I the only person to find Lucy’s teaching points difficult to break down into language objectives?

I sought out trusted colleagues, and was relieved to discover I was not alone. Rebecca Guzman, an experienced classroom, SIOP, bilingual and ESL teacher helped me beckynkidsunderstand the disconnect.

“Her (Lucy Calkins’) thinking is that we are constantly introducing students to a menu of strategies they can apply to create a variety of writing genres; in other words, we are teaching  them how to be writers not how to write. However, our English learners (ELs) need repetition and coaching to create productive written work, rather than a quick  “I teach you-now go practice” approach.“

“Our elementary school ELs frequently come with a lack of background knowledge and writing  experience in their own language, so it’s almost like we are rushing them through all of these strategies but not giving them enough time to practice and get good at one thing before moving on (quality vs. quantity). I worry that if they do not feel successful at something it will stop them from wanting to continue learning how to write much less how to be a writer. “

Knowing that I am not alone in my confusion about whether to address content or language was reassuring.  Guzman writes weekly, not daily, language objectives, and further explained how she and her co-teacher approach the task: “I mostly focus on the actual content lesson activity to figure out what kind of language students will be expected to produce. I start by focusing on a specific language domain. Then I pull a language feature to focus on (i.e. grammar, vocabulary, etc..) followed by the language function (verb: explain, retell etc..) and then pick language supports that match the activity and/or student proficiency levels in the class.”

Her explanation helped me re-frame my question, “What is the language objective that supports “Writers are bold too. You can try new things in your writing, even if they’re not perfect,” to “What are the language objectives that will support the overall objective of Unit One: Lessons from the Masters Improving Narrative Writing.” Often the guide will give us a clue: In Grade 2, Unit 1, Lesson 3,  for example, Stretching Out Small Moments, as Authors Do, it is clear we will need to focus on sequencing words.  

But sometimes it’s not so obvious, as in my case of  asking students to make “bold new moves?” In these cases we should go back to the unit objective: writing narratives, and review our students’ work to identify their academic language needs and, over the course of our unit planning, ensure that we have mini-lessons that will  address all three of the WIDA Features of Academic Language: Linguistic Complexity, Language Forms and Conventions, and Vocabulary Usage across all of our students’ proficiency levels.

Easy peasy, right?  I can’t say yet.  I only just puzzled this out a few days ago.  Stay tuned for my adventures in Lucy Calkins Language Objective Land, but more importantly, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, let me know what has worked for you. Or what hasn’t.

quotetogetherdosomuchLike most ESL educators, I’ve attended training, read the word of experts – even talked to them, taken online courses, and attended my district’s workshops. But nothing – NOTHING – helps teachers more than the experiences of other teachers. I’m all alone in my school as I struggle to work this out; I hope you will share what you’ve tried, what worked, and other strategies and ideas you have tried. “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”  My students need you, and there is so much left to do….

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If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

Reluctant Writers

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project in a Highly Diverse School – Entry #2 by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

October 14, 2018

Reluctant Writers

“So, Jessica,” I asked my ELL second grader, “Let’s talk about what you’re going to write.  I really liked your last story about the time you had to put your cat in the car and moved her to your new house.”

Three-fifteen in the afternoon, last period of the day, and all around us writing partners were sharing their work, and checking their Tiny Moments notebooks for adjectives and details. I was hunched uncomfortably into my tiny primary-grade-sized chair, vaguely wondering how I was going to be able to stand up later.  Jessica fiddled listlessly with the edges of a woefully empty-looking writer’s booklet, her long brown hair spilling sideways over the purple too-large glasses perched on the edge of her nose in an attempt to avoid my gaze.

IMG_0949I looked at her new story pages.  “Can you read me the first page?”

Jessica stared down at the haphazardly written words on the page and read. “We got a cat. My mom said lets get a cat.”

Another story about a cat, I thought. Hmmmm. “OK, writers sometimes like to make sketches, draw pictures of what they’re writing about. Did you draw pictures on your other pages?”  She turned to the next page, but it was empty.  “OK, so let’s talk about this.” I tried to sound enthusiastic. “Tell  me what happens next so we can draw it.”

Jessica looked at me blankly and replied, “We went to get the cat.”

“OK!,” I responded, feigning excitement, “That’s great!  Tell me about that moment. Were you really happy? Did something interesting happen?”

“No,” she said, dully. “We went to this man’s house and we got the cat.”

“Oh OK, well remember that good writers like to talk about special moments in their stories, like when something interesting happened, or maybe you had a strong feeling about it.”

She glared at me, clearly bemused by my sudden fascination with her cat. I soldiered on, “Remember, in your LAST story it was funny when the cat started running around your car meowing really loudly. Did something like THAT happen?”

“No.”

For most students, taking time to plan what they’re going to write about before they start girl_teachercomposing is an integral step in the writing process. Nonetheless, I could tell that Jessica was getting annoyed with my constant insistence that she have a plan. Nevertheless,  I was determined, ‘So, maybe the interesting part of your story is later? What happened in the end? Were you really happy? Did the cat do something funny?”

“No,” she said, “I don’t  like cats.”

By now Jessica was totally disgusted with my interrogation about a cat she didn’t even like, and I had become a bulldog worrying a bone as I watched our precious conferencing time ticking down to dismissal.

In her supplementary text, Supports for English Language Learners in Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, Lucy Calkins and her colleagues reinforce the importance of oral practice for English Language Learners and on giving students multiple opportunities to plan and rehearse their stories out loud before they write. I knew that if I couldn’t get Jessica to talk about and plan out her story,  it might take too much work to revise it later. I didn’t want her to get discouraged about the whole writing process.

However it was 3:30 at the close of a long rainy day -with no outdoor recess.  Only 10 minutes of class remained, and Jessica’s stubborn and seemingly willful refusal to even try to make her story interesting, meaningful, or purposeful had me ready to pull out my hair. I scratched my head, gave her a beseeching look and blurted, “But Jessica, this story isn’t even  interesting. And you don’t even like cats! So why do you want to write about it?”

Startled, she stared at me. “Because I wrote about my cat the last time and you liked it.”

This was what I call a “face palm “ moment. I wanted to sink my head into my hands andsusan_facepalm rock back and forth on my tiny chair in despair. I looked deeply into her little 7-year old’s eyes, which clearly were not seeing what the big deal was all about,  and pleaded with her, “Come on, Jessica, isn’t there ANYTHING interesting in your life you could write about?”

“No,” she insisted.

“Really?” I begged. “You can’t think of ANY ONE THING you have done lately that you liked to do, made you happy, or something happened that was different than any other day?” By now I was nearly shrieking in frustration.

“No,” she shrugged, and continued nonchalantly “Unless like, when we went to Creepy Six Flags (a Halloween-themed event at the local amusement park) and these scary clowns came out and we screamed.”  Her face lit up as she remembered and the words came gushing out. “And when you go on the merry ground all this smoke comes out and then scary monsters chased us around. It was so much fun!”

Now it was my turn to gush! I almost grabbed and hugged her until she burst. “Oh my GOSH, Jessica!  THAT is the best story EVER! And you already told me all these really neat details about what you did, and the scary clowns, and the monsters….and how you felt, and you can write for pages and pages! You are AMAZING!” I practically jumped up and down in my seat, grabbed a pencil and stuck it in her hand. “Start drawing! You have ten minutes!”

Jessica looked at me like I had lost my mind, but she grinned from ear to ear – clearly proud to have come up with such a brilliant narrative – and quickly filled four pages with sketches. With moments to spare before dismissal, I sent her to share her work to the approving “Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” of her classroom teacher. Another successful writer is born!

Yesterday I checked in with Jessica. She eagerly read me her narrative – all about the monsters, the scary clowns and the rides that disappeared into clouds of smoke (or as we decided – fog.)

“You’re becoming such a good writer,” I told her, reinforcing the message of Lesson 8: Revising with Intent, “because good writers include a lot of specific details and feelings like yours that let the readers know why you wanted to write about it, let them know your intent.”


She nodded
 and looked up at me, “Do you remember how happy you got when I told you my story that day?” She smiled shyly. “That made me really happy, too.”

And just like that, Jessica taught me the REAL message of that lesson, of all of the lessons, actually: the importance of connecting with your audience. Because as a teacher, my students ARE my audience. Maybe I don’t always connect with Jessica with written words and pictures, and maybe the daily mini-lessons carefully scaffolded for language and content are less than memorable to her 7-year old’s list of daily priorities. However, by badgering, cajoling, joking, and sticking with her until her creative light bulb lit up, I did manage to show her the one essential thing that all good writers do: I created a small, precise moment of emotion between us that made us both smile inside and say, “Aha! This is why we do this.”

boyswritingI hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our ELLs – and all of our students.  But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!

 

 

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logoevensmallerIf you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project in a Highly Diverse School by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

October 2018

Full disclosure: I LOVE teaching writing.  I used to brag that I could teach a dog to write (actually, I still stand by that boast…) so when our school decided to implement the Lucy Calkins Writing Project last year I was curious.  After thirty years teaching English-language learners, I still get a thrill from showing students how they can express themselves with words.

writingStill, we are an elementary school highly impacted by diversity, poverty and second-language learners. Our WIDA language assessment scores district-wide are low.  Would the Lucy Calkins program, with its rigorous academic foundation and demanding methodology, work with our students?

Frankly, last year  we struggled. It was clear from the start that our population lacks the academic language to fully access the curriculum.  For example, much of Unit One: Lessons from the Masters: Improving Narrative Writing in second grade relies on students’ understanding of the complex language and narrative tone of Owl Moon, a lyrical portrayal of a father and daughter who set off to look for owls and the magic of the moon-lit moment when, at last, they sight the mystical bird and he flies off. Even during repeated readings of the text, our ELLs sat on the rug staring blankly, reluctant to participate or share their writing.

We felt that many of our kids were being left behind as we pushed relentlessly through headsondeskeach unit, trying to cover a lesson a day.  A half-time ESOL teacher, I spent most of my time with students playing catch up. I pulled small groups, tried to revise their ragged pages of haphazard sentences, and badgered my colleagues.  What am I actually supposed to do with Lucy as an ESOL teacher: teach them the writing process a la Lucy Calkins, or teach them how to fix what they’ve already written?

Long story short, we ALL muddled through our first year and this is what I discovered in writingonrugJune…my ESOL kids could write!  Lots and lots of writing! Was it anywhere close to perfect..nah. We are, after all, a work in progress, but I don’t remember ever before seeing so much actual writing from second grade English language learners at the end of the school year. Wow! Then this fall, another epiphany: our new second graders, who already had a year of Lucy Calkins under their belt…they started off the new year actually…writing! Lots and lots of writing!

This is a blog about our continuing journey- mine, my co-teachers, and our school staff – to adapt and improve the way we implement the program.  Given the student load for susansgrouo.JPGESOL teachers in our district, I decided that the best way to address the needs of my ELLs, regardless of their level, was to collaborate and co-teach with their classroom writing teacher.  In this manner, we could hopefully anticipate academic language needs before they have steamrolled into an insurmountable barrier to learning.

I am lucky this year to be working –co-teaching– in writing classrooms at three grade levels – kindergarten, first grade, and second –  with classroom teachers who are as different from one another as each of our students are. I already know that what will work for one classroom will possibly NOT work at all in another.  So, to summarize, it will be FUN!

I hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our ELLs – and all of our students.   But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!

Stay tuned!

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If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.