Here’s where we left off (way back in March) at the end of Down the Rabbit Hole—Part I: Now, I’ve also heard teachers tell me this (“…to help students conceptualize the trait of ideas is to think of ideas as memories.”) is all great for students whose lives outside of school are filled with activities, friends, and meaningful interactions with parents. What about the students whose lives, at least in terms of experiences, happen mainly while they are at school?
These comments from teachers refer to those students who, no matter the amount or type of nurturing or stirring of, “the people, places, events, experiences, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that we hold in our memories…” just don’t seem to have, be able to access, or even value any personal memories—“I don’t have anything to write about.” We’ve all heard this from students. Well, of course they have memories, but they may think theirs aren’t good enough for writing topics or for other students to care about. These students may think their ideas/memories have to be “front page news,” and they don’t view their experiences and thoughts as newsworthy to anyone, even to themselves. When writers are able to choose their own topics, based on personal experiences or memories, it is such an opportunity for them to discover and develop their own, individual writer’s voice. Why? Because what they are writing about, they have lived through first hand. I think it’s important then, to provide all students with a safety net of memories, an alternate history, a rabbit hole of shared events, literary experiences, people, stories, and conversations, that were/are a part of each student’s daily life, each day at school. As long as you have a captive audience, why not help them create and capture a rabbit hole of potential writing topics, accessible any time. Let me describe a bit about how I tried to build this class history and culture of memories in my own classrooms.
When I first started teaching, I realized that one of the toughest obstacles for me wasn’t mastering classroom management or planning focused, interesting lessons. Those didn’t come easily, but I had to deal with a bigger problem first. Clipboards. I didn’t have enough clipboards! My mentor teacher had loads of them, and I wanted to imitate her system. I needed clipboards for managing Writer’s Workshop, for individual students to be able to work on the go—standing up, exploring outside, moving to a classroom down the hall—and I needed some for my daily opening routine, something else I had learned from my mentor. Each day I tried to open with a routine designed to help students focus on the day at hand, to preview and set the tone for upcoming topics/events, and to honor and nurture our yesterdays. Each day of school, including the first day, I kept my clipboard (thanks to wonderful parent volunteers for providing me with a supply) with me and jotted notes down throughout the current day, to be used the next morning.
The column headings of my note page, seen on the (crudely crafted) sample, are just a few of the ideas you could use. The “Planting Seeds” column is where I would write down anything, from learning targets to television programs or book titles, that I wanted to preview/tease/tip/anticipate for my students. “SORAs” are pretty self-explanatory. This was a place to record specific moments/achievements that I wanted to give students a positive stroke for—academic, behavioral, interpersonal, motivational, etc. In the middle column headed, “Let’s Remember,” went everything I wanted students to hear about a second time (or a third…). I could have called this one “Hey! Don’t Forget/Nag, Nag, Nag/You Really Need to Know This!” I remember writing down reminders about bringing lunches for field trips, walking in the halls, and even something about mathematical order of operations. The notes in the “From the Book” column were all about the reading we were doing in class. It could be based on a read-aloud—picture book, novel, article—or something students were reading for instruction. A note here might be about an author, illustrator, character, informational detail, comprehension focus, a connection to one or more of the 6-traits, or emphasizing the importance of reading like a writer. The last column, “Quotes/Words,” was the place I would write down interesting things I heard students say, a kind of quotable quotes section, along with new/interesting/important words that came up during the course of the day. Three of the five columns were connected to bulletin boards around the room. We kept a detailed calendar of birthdays, school events, due dates, etc. Many “Planting Seeds” items would then be recorded on the calendar. The “From the Book” column was connected to another bulletin board where key information about any book read aloud in class would be recorded. For picture books, we kept track of titles, authors, and illustrators. For novels (chapter books), we extended that to also include the names of main characters and a brief genre description. I also had a “Quotes/Words,” bulletin board to capture and display the spoken thoughts of students and a mini word wall for all the great words we had discovered.
I need to mention something that happened the first time I implemented this with my own group of students. Within a couple days, students began approaching me during the day to suggest things to include on my clipboard. In my first year of doing this, based on a student suggestion, I added another clipboard to the mix—a student clipboard, with the same headings. The suggestion was to rotate the clipboard to a different student each day, to make sure we were capturing all that was important and worthy of mentioning the next day, especially from the students’ point of view. This actually became one of my students’ favorite classroom “jobs.” We even coined a new phrase students would use to be sure an item was recorded. A student would just say, “Clipboard it!”
So let’s return to the original question– Now, I’ve also heard teachers tell me this (“…to help students conceptualize the trait of ideas is to think of ideas as memories.”) is all great for students whose lives outside of school are filled with activities, friends, and meaningful interactions with parents. What about the students whose lives, at least in terms of experiences, happen mainly while they are at school? All of this—the clipboards, bulletin boards, and daily routine—are about building a class history by honoring the learning, events, people, and stories of daily classroom life through conversations and displays that serve as review, reminder, and even rehearsal for writing. By keeping the day to day of classroom life alive, even the smallest things become shared memories and possible writing topics, with a built in support system. “Remember that day when Gino threw up on Mr. Hicks’ new brown shoes?” or “Remember when Alter Weiner, a Holocaust survivor, came to our school to talk with us about his life during World War II?” are stories that each student could tell from our shared experiences, and write about from an individual perspective. Our daily history became a wealth of possible writing topics—a resource for and a response to the student who says, “I don’t have anything to write about.”
The books you choose to share with your students are important for many reasons, so choose purposefully. As I suggested above, keeping a literary history—titles, authors, illustrators, characters, topics, etc.—will help your students not only remember what they have heard or read, but also help them make connections between the books and their own lives, in and outside of school. There are many books that encourage readers, in both subtle and obvious ways, to notice the world around them, to look and interact closely, to appreciate and remember what they have experienced. Here are just a few titles to share with students to urge them to make memories and remind them that they do have many things to write about.
Zoom by Istvan Banyai
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas
Snail Trail by Ruth Brown
Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet
Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall
If You Find A Rock by Peggy Christian, photographs by Barbara Hirsch Lember
If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet by Leslie McGuirk
The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney, illustrated by Matt Phelan
The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz
(How about sharing some of the books you like to use in your classroom?)
Coming up on Gurus . . .
Within the next few weeks, we’ll be reviewing Bill Bryson’s A Really Short History of Nearly Everything—sounds pretty comprehensive, so you don’t want to miss it. And save some room for a sliver of Susanna Reich’s Minette’s Feast: the Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat. Thanks for visiting. Come often—and bring friends. Remember, for the BEST workshops blending traits, common core, workshop, and writing process, please call 503-579-3034. Give every child a voice.