This is your EMWP Summer Institute Book Group blog. You are asked to post at least once a week before and during the Institute. Your group leader will post additional assignments and post topics. Check back often. If you have any questions or concerns contact your leader, Cynthia.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Now That We Have Finished the Book . . .

I think yesterday was one of our most enjoyable book discussion days. As the only elementary teachers in the institute this summer, it was fun for Julie and I to talk specifically about how we would use the lessons in the book with our own students and with the books we already have available in our classroom libraries. In preparation for sharing our learning with other institute members, we decided to use the idea from Chapter 6 on page 172 for creating survival guides. Even though we didn't have the books mentioned in the text, Julie had other books that we felt accomplished the same instructional goals. We liked Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt, Crinkleroot's Guide to Walking in Wild Places by Jim Arnosky, and  Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Trees, also by Jim Arnosky. We decided to use the mentor texts below to create our own survival guide or survival zine for future EMWP fellows.

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chapter 7

First of all, let me shout a "Hallelujah!" Because I finished the book!  Now I can cruise some of that YA fiction that has been touted.

     I feel like the timing of teaching career has placed me in the middle of a tidal wave of new methods.  Writing workshop was the big idea when I began in the late 90's, followed by the 6+1 Traits.  I still have a copy of the old Silver-Burdett English book, which sits on my "resource" shelf.  I digress:  6+1 Traits seemed like a great tool to me, with one exception -voice.  I had a sense of what that was, but absolutely no idea how to go about teaching it.  I even wondered if it was appropriate to expect it from my 6-year old students at the time.  So what a relief to read on p. 189 that I had been doing it right!  Again, I called it modelling, but Dorfman and Capelli call it "Oral Writing."  It sounds  a little like D&C recommend using the mentor texts as rehearsal pieces for the students to actually say out loud a bit of text and then try their own version of the phrasing in their own writing.  My technique had been to exclaim, "Wow!  What a great example of voice!   Let's hear that again!"  I liked the focus of what D&C do because it brings the students attention more fully to the good example. I could see using the idea of "Found poetry" on p. 198 as an extension of their technique.
    On another note:  p. 195 discusses the parenthetical whisper in your ear technique.  I loved it, and I would use it as an example on the conventions craft/chart on p. 212.  I have just the place in my room for that chart!  I have always taken the old school practice approach to grammar because too many kids just write the way the talk.  Yes, I know that is "voice," but you have to know that there are rules and what they are before you can intentionally break them!  Too many of my little guys don't know where one sentence ends and another one begins for me to give them the freedom to write fragments, for example.  "Uses standard English" was actually ON THE REPORT CARD!  Having written all that, I still love the idea of finding good examples of language and charting them.  I can see the students having fun making contributions to that chart.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chapter 5: Persuasion at it's finest!

     Students must develop the fine art of rational argument for many curricular areas and not just literary analysis.  I'm thinking of social studies, of course, but even math arguments follow the basic logic.  Science has plenty of societal issues that can be subject to debate: Evolution, yes or no?  How about global warming?
     I loved the idea on p. 109 that the students would take on the point of view of a character and argue for or against something that the character wants.  Should Junie B. Jones have to ride the stinky bus?  What does Junie say?  What does her long-suffering mom say?
     I can honestly say that I have used "oral writing," (p. 114) without calling it that.  I think we call it modeling, but the other phrase is delightfully sophisticated.  Either way, the students are thinking about the ideas in their writing and they are primed to go write some good content.
     For sure, I will use the road map on p. 120 to guide me as a prepare my next round of persuasive writing projects.  It does a great job summarizing all of the baby steps that the students need to take along the way to write a solid piece.  I think I want to take it to the next step and have a public debate and  let the students judge who "won."  Just think of how much fun the 2014 midterm elections will be when the kids understand more about the persuasive format!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Back to Chapter 6: Nonfiction Writing in the Real World

Every time I read this chapter, new teaching ideas bombard my brain. One of the sections of this chapter that grabbed my attention was Nature All Around Us on page 146. Unfortunately, I don't have  Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli, but I have another book that I think would motivate students to wonder, explore, and examine their everyday world.  The book is Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies. I was thinking this would be a great mentor text to revisit frequently throughout the year. And because it is a book of poetry, I can pick and choose selections that fit what I might be teaching. I can visualize students taking pictures of what is outside their classroom windows or taking walks around the school to see what they can notice and recording their noticings in their writer's notebook. Actually, in the past, I've done poetry walks with groups of kids with great success. But I think adding this book as a mentor text would make it a much richer learning experience--sort of like a writing marathon for elementary students.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Chapter 4 Introductions and conclusions

    I seem to spend a lot of time on this as a classroom teacher.  I love having some new ideas to present to students, particularly the one about sharing a secret.  I can see that one really catching fire with my 3rd graders.  Another good idea was the "What if.." lead. That lead adds the element of fiction to non-fiction writing and makes for a sort of story.
     I also appreciated the remark that alot of the text books, Scholastic News, etc. do not model the art of writing a conlcusion for the students.  The writing just stops.   If the kids aren't reading them, how can they begin to write them?  And how can I point out good examples if there aren't any?
     Finally, I noticed that many of the strategies for leads and conclusions might also apply to fiction writing as well.  For example, the conclusion "lingering questions," makes me think of all the stories I've read where the villain doesn't quite get away.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Need to Add Details

So many times I've heard teachers tell kids that they needed to add details to their writing. I've also noticed that "telling" kids to add details didn't have a significant impact on the quality of student writing. In Chapter 3: Building Content, the authors clearly described what it means to add details and explained ways to do it. A common issue I've had with students is what Dorfman and Cappelli referred to as "list writing." On page 44-46, the authors provided several lesson ideas and mentor texts to use to show kids a better alternative to "list writing." My favorite quote about nonfiction writing was from Jane Kirkland on page 58: "A good storyteller doesn't have to be a good writer, but a good writer must be a good storyteller." What stuck with you about the chapter?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Better Late than Never!

Dearest Diana and Julie:

I'm so happy to be able to finally post on this site!  I've been busily ending the school year, keeping track of family, and beginning the summer agendas.  I'm sure that this is no different for the two of you.  I can see that we are reading the book, but I was curious to ask a couple of questions.  What made you decide to select this book (Non-Fiction Mentor Texts)? What are some expected outcomes that you are hoping this book will help you with?

I'm looking forward to some great conversations!

Very truly yours,

Cynthia Andrews

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Buckets of Ideas

While it was raining buckets and blowing like crazy last night, I finished reading Chapter 2: Establishing the Topic and Point. This chapter was jammed packed with great ideas, not just for teaching kids about composing nonfiction pieces but also for teacher-writers working at their own craft. I liked the way the authors explained how making a point in nonfiction writing has to be stronger than in narrative. They stated on page 23, "Children need to know that all good writing centers around a controlling point or a so what? that makes content meaningful, powerful, and memorable." I suppose I knew that, but I don't think I've been explicit with students about how narrative and nonfiction compare and contrast with each other. I think this will be critical knowledge for students as they manage Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Going Back to the Beginning

I feel like Chapter 1, The Value of Nonfiction: Imagining the Possibilities is a light and easy read. I appreciate that Dorfman and Cappelli repeatedly make the point that teachers who teach writers need to write themselves. I believe that this is true. I think it influences a teacher's comfort for picking mentor texts and using them in multiple ways. I also like how the authors weave tight connections between fiction and nonfiction reading and writing.  On page 4, the authors state, "We have found that fiction books can serve as mentors when writing informational and persuasive texts." This makes a lot of sense to me. They go on further to say, "Sometimes we need a fiction book to serve as a catalyst to write about a topic or to imitate the form, voice, or syntax of an author." Writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, is about audience, purpose, and form.

Late to the Party

So I waded through my spam folder and finally found the invitation to join our shared blog about Nonfiction Mentor Texts by Dorfman and Cappelli. I will admit that I haven't read as much as I had planned. In fact, I haven't touched the book in a few weeks. I initially spent some time perusing the table of contents wondering why I hadn't reached for this book sooner. Toward the end of the school year, I did some crisis reading from Chapter 6: Nonfiction Writing in the Real World. The section on Using Interviews to Create Family Histories caught my eye. One of the snippets included in the book was from a 2nd grader named Matthew. He wrote about how he thought his fingers were the best part of himself. I loved this snippet because it matched my thinking about my model lesson on having kids write about their hands.

The best part of me is my fingers. They are made of German skin. My fingers have a little hair on them. They get lots of cuts. My fingers love to hold my pencil and write all day. They love writing the answers to math questions with my pencil. My fingers remember gripping the ball I threw for the first time. After that I felt so good. My fingers wish to be playing Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite in front of a huge audience. When I was done they would clap so loud it would hurt my ears. The best part of me is my fingers.  Matthew, Grade 2  (p. 150 from Nonfiction Mentor Texts by Dorfman and Cappelli.)