I was given what felt like an impossible task of working with a few high poverty classes on writing with just 2 hours to cover the material. Now that task is not really impossible when routines are in place.
Here is what I was doing –
- working on main idea in reading non fiction
- building poems from non fiction content ( a science unit they were working on)
- two of the three classes had just receive writing notebooks as I entered the room (read no writing workshop routines in place)
- for 2 classrooms daily classroom routines and structures were also not in place yet (read behavior was not in control)
- one class had writing routines plus classroom routines and structures for working and listening
- I was given 2 hours work with them (1 hour – two Fridays in a row)
In this situation I just wanted to walk out the door. I knew that there was no way we were going to get very far. There was so much to introduce and so much structure to put in place. I quickly thought of all the times I worried about spending to much time at the beginning of the year setting up routines and structures for my students to work in. I now watched with my own eyes the value of taking that time. Holy Smokes!
Our classroom with routines and structures in place made it through my lesson on Found Poetry. We reviewed
- what poets do
- what is poetry
- explained and modeled a “found poem” about the water cycle
- discussed the need to find the main idea of our writing so we can find the right information/words to share in our poem
- students listened while I read the non fiction text and let me know where I found my poem
- they then worked in small groups to read a non fiction piece (that was a bit to hard for them) and begin to work on developing their own found poem.
The other two classrooms were spent trying to do this – working to get class participation but so much was lost to behavior or my starting over to develop a routine that I expected they would have in place. I stumbled through the lesson, missing the student conversation and reflection where I feel the learning usually takes place.
I left feeling lost and confused as to how to move forward with these two classes. We did the lesson kind of. I expect the students also walked away not really know what they were suppose to learn. I spend the weekend frustrated, upset and ready to quit!
I then regrouped, calmed down and decided to return this week. I will work with one class to complete the lesson and build on what they now remember about found poems. They will continue the work and create a series of found poems about water to put in a small book connected to their science unit.
The other two classes – well I am stepping back and will pull a small group of students to work with for the remaining hour. I will focus my short time with these students to help them understand the strategy of creating a found poem, and to help them find the main idea of a non fiction piece of writing.
I hope a few students will have learned a new way to write poetry and a new way to check for comprehension.
I learned again that spending time on classroom routines and structures is extremely important. It makes a big difference for students. It is so worth the time we spend on it.
Children need to be shown and continue to review what it means to work well in a classroom. They need to practice what it means to be a learner and a writer. These routines need to be visible all year.
I often think of my early learning from Maria Montessori. She was a bit crazy about routines and structures. She also worked with students in high poverty where organization just did not exist in their home life. She knew that once students were comfortable with a basic structure at a young age they were then able to expand and explore their learning and thinking. They were encourage to go deep into a topic and they could because they had a basic structure to stand on.
The task of learning and writing was not/ is not impossible but we all need a sense of order to know what is expected and how to work. Hang on to those routines – it is time well spent.
( I also realized when I feel I am in free fall with my own writing it is often when I have abandoned my own writing routines. Structure is a good thing. We just need to use it.)
- What routines do you find are most helpful for your students?
- What routines are hardest to keep going?