One of my favourite resources this school year has been Newsela, a website that provides a variety of non-fiction articles and the ability to adapt them to various Lexile scores (reading levels). Through Newsela I have found a number of articles that have directed related to our units of inquiry, and provided natural connections to real world topics and events.
Currently, we are looking at informative writing and our sharing the planet unit of inquiry. Today, I selected a Newela article on starfish that were dying in the Pacific Ocean. As our focus has been on informative writing, the students were using their ‘informative writing checklist’ to analyze the article and identify the strategies the author had utilized. This is a fairly standard learning activity that we have done before but today I got an interesting response after the lesson.
One student noticed that through that activity we had utilized our reading strategies (while reading the article, making predictions, etc.), our writing strategies by identify strategies the author gad utilize, and our inquiry skills as they were thinking about how the unit connected to our unity of inquiry and concepts! For me, that the student was able to articulate the different learning skills they were using was evidence that they are developing as learners!
Today, we welcomed Mike Wade author of the “And Then It Happened” series of books to the Lower School. Every year around this time of year we try to have an author come to visit, and share their personal experience with the students. If you are looking for an author – Mike’s presentations are funny and inspiring to all students. He quickly relates to all students discussing his experience in school and shares some of his tricks of the trade with students.
There are many benefits of welcoming an author into your school, and each author has their own message or theme to their presentation. Today, the message was that anyone can be a writer – something that resonates with me as a teacher and inspires the students to keep writing. For some reason, it doesn’t take much before students believe that they are not a writer! I have to admit, I never considered myself much of a writer and it has taken a lot of work to develop a mindset that I can improve my writing skills.
Through bringing in an author, students are reminded of the writing process – and that every book on the shelf in the library represents the love, sweat, and tears of an author! This is something that is easy to forget when our libraries are filled with thousands of books by authors from around the world. Today, Mike mentioned that each of his books takes usually 7 complete rewrites! This fact really stuck with me because getting students to edit and revise their work is always a challenge. Having a real live author, who has had books published tell the students he actually does this seems to have a different impact on my students!
Authors also have a way of kick starting reading! Usually, authors will bring copies of their books for sale and many times students will purchase them and read them very quickly after the author has left. As they have a real person to associate with who has created this book, it seems to get them motivated in a different way! They also seem to want to check the authors other books out of the library!
For the past few weeks my class has been examining the writing genre of Pourqoui Tales. In case you aren’t familiar with Pourquoi Tales they are traditional stories that explain why a natural event occurs. For some great examples to get started check out the Scholastic Website “Teaching With Pourquoi Tales“. Although this was not the inspiration for my unit, the nice short examples were great shared reading examples for my class to examine. After examining a few different Pourquoi Tales, we decided that we should write our own! I was amazed with some of the ideas that the kids came up with including
– Why Dinosaurs Are Really Extinct
– Why Parrots Are Colourful
– Why Owl’s Hoot
– How the Bullfrog Got its Spots
– How the Sloth Got its smile
– How the Zebra Got its Stripes
– How the Cheetah Got its Spots
– Why Dolphins Jump Every Once and a while
– Why Turtles Have Shells
– Why Penguins Can Fly
– Why Dogs Bark
– Why Pugs have a Flat Snout
– …. and many more!
Writing has been a large focus in my own professional development this year and I am trying to increase students sharing their writing through blogging, and other events. For this unit, I decided to do a “Cafe” (to go with the French theme!). In order to convert the classroom into a cafe, I purchased a few table cloths at the Dollar Store to make the desks look like a restaurant, made a sign to put on the classroom door, and got a few peanut free snacks to share. I also place my large “blue” story chair at the front of the classroom for the readers to share their stories from.
Each student “published” their story and illustrated it. During the cafe, they sat in the large story chair and read their story to the class. It was amazing that some of my normally least interested students in sharing their writing were some of the first to volunteer to share! I think the change of atmosphere in the classroom made the students more comfortable and remind them that they are with friends.
I took lots of pictures to share in our classroom newsletter and it was a great experience. If you are looking for a way to motivate students to share their work in class, and mix up your school week I would highly encouraged you to host a Pourquoi Cafe!