In my blog post, Writer’s Block, I voiced my concerns about not having a formal writing block this year. In my past two blogs, I have discussed how I am integrating writing and math. I am also still working on more science journaling.
We have spelling groups for 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I typically have used the time for Pat Cunningham’s phonics program. I really like the program because it is a great, quick way to review phonics and give students high frequency words on our word wall that they can use in their own writing. I have also found that the “guess the covered word” activity helps with context clues and the mCLASS Daze assessment. Our county has daily activities for students to practice the word wall words for the week. In third grade the weekly schedule is the following:
Monday- introduce the words
Wednesday- building words with endings
Thursday- guess the covered word
Friday- making words with letters
I spend about 10 minutes doing this program on Tuesday and Thursday and have been using the other 20 minutes for writing. I know it’s not much, but it’s something. I am in a writing course this semester that has really made me stretch my thinking about how I teach writing. In the past, I have taught writing through different genres and rarely given students the opportunity to free write. I have been using the 20 minutes to give my students a journal prompt or respond to our pen pals. This time as allowed me to conference with students and provide personalized feedback. I haven’t been using Lucy Calkins like I have in the past, but I have still been able to help writers set individual goals while they are journaling or writing letters.
Our pen pals are students in my friend’s 5th grade classroom in Washington, D.C. Our pen pals attend a private catholic school in Georgetown. Last year, it was a great learning experience for both classes to discuss differences. Our pen pals walk to school; we ride buses. Our pen pals wear uniforms; we wear want we want. Last year, some more difficult observations were made- the difference in our homes and in the diversity of our classrooms. I loved these conversations because we had them in a very authentic way, and my students loved building relationships with their pen pals and learning about their different lifestyles through writing.
We wrote our first letter introducing ourselves and included a picture with our letter. We just got our first responses back last week, and our pen pals also included a picture of themselves with their first letter. Last week in my writing course, we discussed letting students write about difficult issues. I am so glad we had this discussion right before we responded to our pen pals this week. While I was conferencing with a student and proofreading her letter, my heart stopped when I read the question, “Do you still like me if I’m black?” This was my student’s response to finding out her pen pal was white. I immediately asked her why she wrote that, did something happen, etc. She shook her head and tears started rolling down her face. I couldn’t get her to explain why she wrote it, but I assured her that her pen pal liked her. For a moment, I didn’t want her to include the question in her letter, but I decided it was best to let her ask the question as it will be more powerful to hear it from her pen pal than me. I look forward to the thoughtful response from her pen pal.