Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spontaneous Team Writing

Every once in a while, we get tired of the routine in class and feel the need for a little spontaneity. Last week, we were feeling like we needed to shake things up. At the beginning of class, I moved kids into groups of four. I told them that they would be writing a group story and would have to have it ready for reading ten minutes before the end of the class period. Kids had about 35 minutes to work and then we used the last ten minutes to read these creations. "You can write about anything you want, but your story must include some form of treachery!" "Ooooooh," many of the kids yelled. They were ON it.

Immediately they got to work talking about different situations that would work for their story, brainstorming various degrees of treachery and adding details to the ideas to really punch them up. As I roamed the room, I saw some groups using one student as a scribe and others using a shared Google doc to which all could contribute. They were energized and excited. This was just what we needed last week! As the class period went on, I noticed that the level of engagement increased. As the plot lines got more complex, the kids became more and more involved in the creation. Good ideas were built from other good ideas. This learning was interesting and relevant to the kids.

It is amazing what motivated kids can accomplish in a half hour. The stories were creative, complex, well written, littered with details and well thought-out. The kids were a great audience when it came time to read the stories because the stories were so good. It was at that moment that I decided to use this as a weekly writing activity in class. Each week, we will have another topic/theme around which the kids will write. Part of the challenge is to weave the theme or topic into the story the kids want to write. It is through this limitation that such creativity is born. By stumbling upon this cool activity, we struck gold.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Crayon Art

A couple of weeks ago, the kids were all asking to use the hot glue gun. Of course, the materials and equipment in the room are theirs to use so I said, "Sure." When I checked in on them, they were not gluing anything. Apparently, they were creating art from melting crayons against the hot tip of the gun. We have a bucket of crayons in the room and, holding the glue gun over paper, the kids pressed a crayon of a particular color against the hot tip and created art from the drippings.

One of the things that I like about this type of activity is that it was totally driven by students. They discovered it, they shared what they discovered and they began creating their art. I had nothing to do with it; I just provided the materials and watched the magic happen. To this day, kids are using the glue gun and crayons to put their own spin on crayon art. Below is a video of Ian creating with crayons.

Here is a picture of Ian's finished product.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Next Level of Classroom Collaboration

Recently, I had the opportunity to have an exchange with Ameir Abouelela about the role of collaboration in learning. I have always been a big believer in collaboration in classrooms and additional time for students to reflect, alone, on the fruits of that collaborative process. Often times, the act of bouncing ideas off of each other can generate lots of ideas but it is the quiet time afterwards that allows the students to process and use the results of the collaboration. The entire piece can be found at this link: The Next Level of Classroom Collaboration.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Excuse Notes

Kids are great at making excuses. They make excuses about why they were late, why they didn't do their work and why they got in trouble. They are experts at coming up with excuses. About this time every year, we harness this power to write "excuse notes" as a writing assignment. On Monday, we talked about all of the excuses kids have made in the past to their teachers and parents. We get a good laugh out of many of them and the kids appreciate the creativity of each excuse that is described in the conversation. Then, I tell them about our new assignment: the excuse note. I ask the kids to write a few paragraphs about why they couldn't do something or why they were late somewhere or why they didn't turn in something. While the kids get a charge out of the assignment idea, we talk a bit about the elements of a good story. I tell the kids that they can use something that actually happened to them or make up something completely fictional. After all, there are elements of truth in even the best fiction.

I ask kids to write a 2-3 paragraph excuse note. The note can be from them, a letter from their parents or any other manifestation of an excuse they'd like to create. We go over some of the finer points of good, descriptive writing and talk about believability. I stress to the kids that the best excuse notes are ones that can pass as truthful, whether they are or not. We want readers to ask at the end, "Hmm, I wonder if that really happened." I ask for no aliens, monsters, etc. I want real drama from the kids.

As an added challenge, I told the kids that they would get some bonus points if they wrote the entire excuse note without using the letter "o". I was surprised at the number of kids who decided to try the challenge. There are always the kids who want to push themselves harder to see if they can achieve something. We have many of those kids on team this year.

Well, the kiddos did a great job on their notes. Many of the kids had elaborate scenarios as to why they were late to class, didn't turn in work or failed badly in a different situation. I read all of the notes to the class and the kids listened intently to each note, trying to guess which student wrote each note. It was a fun assignment that brought out some creativity in the students and stressed the importance of clear writing.