Thursday, November 13 was our third Parent Cafe´this year. We were focusing on writing and how to help your child. The first thing our kindergarten teachers want students to know is that they, the students, are writers. Everything that is written doesn’t have to be spelled correctly, with proper grammar and capitalization to be shared. What all the teachers want most is for students to write, write, write.
For the cafe´we started with each of the participants writing about a photo they brought from home or choosing one from several I printed from the internet. They could tell why it was special, if they had ever been there, why they would like to go there, whatever they wanted to write. After they wrote for 5 minutes they exchanged their paper to have someone else make a comment. This is an exercise I’ve used to introduce blogging to our elementary staff and at a conference. We didn’t spend a lot of time on it at the cafe´. I wanted parents to write and then think about why we write. After they had shared their papers we spent time discussing why we write. Here are there reasons why we write.
- To express our thoughts to others
- To make our heart/feelings visible to others
- Clarify our thoughts
- To remember something
- Send a message to others
The audience and purpose are really the heart of writing, it is what teachers want students to think about when they are writing. The audience can be just for yourself, for family and friends, for your teacher and classmates, or a wider audience. The purpose could be as simple as remembering a special occasion, making a list of items you need from the store, saying thank you for a gift, updating family and friends about your life, encouraging a friend or family member, clarifying your own thoughts, sharing what you have learned about a subject, or sharing information or a message with a wider audience. We all use writing in many ways each day. Just as it is important for our children to see us reading, it is equally important for them to see us writing.
At school we teach the writing process:
- Prewriting – Brainstorming, Graphic organizers
- Drafting – Using ideas to write a rough draft
- Revising – Making changes to improve writing
- Editing – Proofreading and correcting mistakes
- Publishing – Writing and presenting final copy
Not everything we write goes through this process. Obviously a shopping list is just written. Notes to family and friends may start with just drafting and being reread for revising and editing. But for things we write to publish, there is a process that most writers use. Editing is important, but so is the prewriting to organize ideas and revision to improve those ideas.
So what can parents do to help their child with writing, especially if English is not their first language or they don’t feel confident in their own writing? Write in your native language, let your child see you writing. For school work, parents can help their child by finding resources for a topic, help their child process the information they are reading, discuss ideas, ask questions for clarification and remind their child of the rules they already know for writing. Don’t try to fix everything in a first draft or make your child’s writing sound and look perfect. Teachers don’t expect an elementary student’s writing to look or sound like an adult’s writing.
The expectations for each grade and even for various projects can be very different. We want all students to see themselves as writers, just like we want them to see themselves as readers. Since students all are unique and learn at different rates we use a writing continuum and reading continuum for grading. These continua were developed by Bonnie Campbell Hill.
Rubrics for grading individual projects are based on the 6+Traits of writing: Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions and Presentation. Spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar are part of the Conventions, but they are not usually the central focus of an assignment. Sharing their ideas, interpreting and connecting to something they have read or studied, and believing their words and ideas are important is the focus in all grades.
In kindergarten we want students to see themselves as writers. This is often a picture and a string of letters that may or may not make up words. Understanding that words are made up of letters and sentences are made up of words is an important beginning to writing.
By first grade students are encouraged to use more conventional spelling but there is still a lot of room for creative spelling. There is a large word wall and a small word wall for the students to use to find frequently used words. Focusing too much on the conventions of writing: spelling, capitalization and grammar, can cause students to believe that if it isn’t perfect they can’t or shouldn’t write or share.
One of the apps the primary grades has been using for writing is My Story. Here is one of the 1st grader’s stories. There are convention errors, but the focus of the writing was to tell about the seasons and using the app, the students was able to publish a book that met the expectations and showed the student’s understanding of the seasons.
Second grade the expectations are a bit higher especially on published work, but there is still a lot of room for creative spelling, especially in first drafts. One checklist you could use at home when your child is writing is:
Capitalization – proper names, beginning of the sentence, I
Out loud – Sometimes Usage – does it make sense when read out loud
Punctuation – .!? sometimes,
Spelling – frequently used words
Third, fourth and fifth grade will continue to work on conventions but also focus on organization, ideas, word choice, voice and sentence fluency. Some samples of student writing is below. Most of these are unedited rough drafts from the students’ writers notebook. Circles around the words indicate the student is “stretching out” the word and writing letters that represent the sounds in the word.
Two websites that I shared with the parents are Scholastic story-starters and ReadWrite Think. Most students have plenty of homework or extra activities after school. But on days when your child says, “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.” Encourage them to write and express themselves.
The best thing you can do to help your child become a better writer is to read with your child and encourage your child to read. One other thing you and your child could write together is a comment on your child’s class blog. Ask your child about the post and type in their comment. Let them see that their words are important. I know their teachers will be glad to hear from them and you.
The day after the Parent Cafe´I received the following book report from a student who was home sick. The mom had been at the Parent Cafe´and worked with her child.
A book review by Emma
Book Title: Helen Keller
Author: Jane Sutcliffe
Illustrator: Elaine Verstraete
This book was about a true story of a girl who couldn’t see, hear or talk, and how she learned to communicate with others and became famous.
I liked the story because Helen became very wise and was able to read and write.
My first favorite part of the story was when she made her own book. The title of the book was The Story of My Life. I want to read it.
My second favorite part was when she said “Who put salt in the ocean?” She said that because no one told her that ocean water was salty. She didn’t learn it by reading about the ocean, but when she was about to drown she tasted the salty water.
I wonder if Miss Sullivan’s mother played the tooth fairy like my mom when Helen knocked out her front tooth. I hope she got a gift.
I want other kids to read this book because even if you have some difficult things in life, you can work things out by learning and not giving up and I feel