We’ve wondered about it, discovered patterns around it, modeled it, taught it, and supported it. Yep… now, it is time to take another step backward, and help that “we go” become a “you go.” Let me be clear. This is not you go because I tell you to- but an empowered you go because you choose to go and know how to go! This is often the hardest step for both teachers and students in the gradual release of responsibility model. So my advice to you is this: Let it go. Sing the song lyrics from the movie Frozen if you have to, but stop talking, stop teaching, and trust your students to give it a go.
My second piece of advice is to boost students’ confidence with tools they can independently access during writing. My top three tools: materials, mentor texts, and classmates. What follows is a bit more on each of these valuable resources.
I admit it. Rolling my cart down the aisle in Staples, I’m like a kid in a candy shop. As I gained experience as an educator, I stopped doing cute for cute sake, or falling prey to glittery pre-made charts and such. I know, however, that there are particular tools (that are often readily available in most classrooms) that may encourage certain class members to try something new. Access to a variety of materials, and choice in which materials to use when, can nudge reticent revisers and editors to try taught processes. My favorites include:
Colored pencils, gel pens, thin-tip flair pens
Sticky notes of different sizes, shapes, and colors— And sometimes “extra fancy” sticky notes
Different paper choices and revision strips (flaps)
Plain and lined paper
Staplers and staples
Highlighters and highlighting tape
Minicharts representing previously taught strategies
Alphabet, blend, and digraph charts
And because I know it is on your mind, let me just put it out there: Do students always use these materials purposefully? Nope, not always. Kids are kids. But, with lots of modeling, reasonable expectations, these blips are few and far between. And honestly, I am totally okay sacrificing a bit of tape or a few too many staples if it means that students are becoming more engaged in the process of writing. Here we see a checklist being used by a kindergartener and sticky notes being used by an upper elementary student. These materials encourage rereading, revising, and editing:
Seeing it helps us believe we can take a chance- and do it! Referring to mentor texts is a habit I want to cultivate! Like the previously mentioned tools, mentor texts help students work with greater independence and success. When a writer feels stuck or frustrated, a mentor text can provide inspiration, vision, direction, and confidence. Our instruction can foster a habit of having students turn to a mentor text—instead of us-—when any of this is wanted or needed. Mentor texts help the “I go” and “we go” of gradual release transition into the “you go.”
Here are a few tips to get students owning this choice and using mentor texts purposefully:
Read a few mentor texts during Immersion Week, at the start of a unit. Highlight or use sticky notes to call attention to taught conventions and spelling patterns.
Keep a basket of mentor texts out for students to borrow as needed.
Regularly model remembering to refer to a mentor text- to help you get inspired.
Use a variety of types of mentor texts: picture books, excerpts of longer texts, digital texts, visual texts- and perhaps most importantly- also include student-written mentor texts so students can get a feel of how it looks for someone in their grade to do this work!
Celebrate the use of mentor texts. End a writing period by having students give a shout out a mentor text they used- and explain to their classmates where and how the mentor text enhanced their writing experience.
I am thoughtful about my word choice and am as efficient as possible when meeting with students and small groups. That said, it is impossible for me to meet with every student every day. And the last thing I want is a conga line wrapping around the classroom of students waiting to talk to me instead of writing. Enter partners! Whereas I may not be able to meet with every student every day, students can meet with partners everyday (or almost every day). Students can lean on each other when they feel stuck. Students can see someone’s reaction and hear someone’s feedback almost every day. Students get a first-hand glimpse into how a larger audience will react and respond to their writing almost every day. Not only that, as much as students may value our opinions and advice as teachers, sometimes, it just makes more sense and feels more authentic when it comes from a peer.
If I was to try and sum up the ideas presented throughout this series, it would sound something like this: The best practices, strategies, processes, and tools we use to encourage students to feel prepared to try out all of the other writing strategies can also be used to help students remember and more consistently apply their language learning. We do not need a brand-new skillset, toolkit, or process for spelling and grammar. We can use all that we know works to encourage students to become more engaged in the process of writing - and yes, that includes finding joy and satisfaction in revising and editing too. To paraphrase what Glinda the Good Witch said, you’ve had the power all along! I hope this series has provided some helpful reminders, tips, and ideas for putting all you know to good use. Happy writing and keep sharing with us! Inspire others with all the authentic spelling and grammar work happening in a classroom near you- and don't forget to tag @PamKou and @drgravitygllc.
This is the eighth (and last) in a series on teaching the language standards and infusing conventions into writing instruction. To look back on previous blogs, use these links: blog 1, blog 2, blog 3, blog 4, blog 5, blog 6, blog 7, blog 8.
Averbeck, J. and Ismail, Y. (2015). New York, NY: Atheneum Books.