Is that how our students view writing? Are they writing because they are inspired and excited to express their thoughts? Or are they writing only because they are forced to do so?
We want our students to be excellent writers. We want them to be capable of communicating their unique thoughts and perspective to others. We want them to be so excited about what they are learning that they cannot help writing to remember what they've learned, and to share it with others.
Do our students know that this is what we want? Or do they think we want only words written with perfect punctuation? A final draft with no grammar mistakes? Precisely spaced letters? These things are important, but only because they assist in better communicating our ideas. It is essential that our students have the big picture.
How do we communicate the big picture to our students? Sometimes we get so focused on math and literacy that both we and our students begin to view them as the two most important subjects, and as ends in themselves. They are not. They are TOOLS. When we can present new literacy concepts as tools to help us explore the world and the universe, then grammar exercises begin to have a purpose. The writing process ceases to be tedious, and becomes a way to more precisely communicate what we have learned from others, and our own ideas.
When students are learning more than one language at a time, and double the number of rules for writing conventions, it is especially important that we constantly refer to the big picture: communicating with as many people as possible. Our bilingual (and trilingual, and multilingual) students should understand this better than any other group of students: the better their grasp of mechanics, the better their ability to communicate across languages and cultures, and the more opportunity they have to make a difference with their words.
Here are three practical ways you can implement these ideas in your classroom:
1. Consistently provide material for students to look at and read that fires their imaginations. These could be books, sculptures, artifacts from other countries, prints of important artwork, live tadpoles or chicken eggs, models of the human heart or brain, science experiments.....anything that will engage their curiosity! But do NOT make them fill out a worksheet about it. Or force them to write about it. Just provide opportunities for students to engage with these materials throughout the day. Instead of finding more busywork for early finishers, set up an area with a rotating display of materials like these for them to explore. Instead of morning work, allow students to come in and engage with a material that you might not have time to fit into your regular curriculum. The "genius hour" idea is being talked about quite a bit lately; encourage and provide time for students to find out more about something in the room that has piqued their curiosity. As they learn, they will naturally want to write about what they are learning. If you give them time to present what they are studying, they will naturally learn to write speech notes. Do NOT grade these kinds of writings for mechanics. Just take note of what mini-lessons you might want to offer in the future, such as certain homophones, or spelling patterns, or punctuation.
2. Stop giving specific whole-class writing assignments. Resist the urge to have all of your students write letters to Santa Claus this month. Instead, what if you presented them with the opportunity to write something with a holiday theme? Most students will be able to come up with their own idea of what they want to write. For students who are stuck, you could say: "You may choose to write about a holiday tradition your family celebrates. Or you might imagine a story about a holiday character. Or you may choose to make a list of things you hope to do this holiday season. Or you may have another idea." This allows students to see that they MAY write about many things; they lose the sense that they MUST write about a certain thing, in a certain way. That encourages engagement and increases motivation. And when you increase engagement and motivation, the effort is much greater, and the resulting writing is much more representative of a student's true capabilities.
3. Allow students to share their writing with others in a way that is meaningful to them. Would they like to write a book to share with younger students? Would they like to write an entry for a class encyclopedia to share what they've learned with their classmates? Would they like to write a letter to a friend, family member, or penpal? Would they like to write to a Congressman, or the President, or the principal? When we write for others, with a purpose, we are more willing to pay attention to conventions and mechanics. We're also more willing to go through the process of revising drafts of our work. And the resulting writing is better.
The holiday season can be a crazy time in our classrooms. But it can also be a wonderful opportunity. If your classroom is out of its normal rhythm anyway, why not try one of these ideas? Or maybe you'll be inspired to think about how you could implement one after break. I hope that your own ideas are beginning to percolate; and I hope you'll share them with us!
I normally like to share a printable resource for you at the end of each post over here; but in this case, that is precisely what you do NOT need! But watch my blog, because I'll be sharing some other free resources over there.
Ginger at School en casa