Elementary Education: Illinois Writer’s Project

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It’s official. I am a teacher training junkie. Last Thursday my cohort attended the Illinois Writing Project’s Celebration of Teachers. The Illinois Writing Projectgives teachers tools for the classroom to help them be better teachers of reading and writing (and to help them figure out how to span reading and writing skills across their curriculum). I am feeling very enamored with their mission statement and the bevy of courses they offer for teachers throughout the year. An interest in promoting literacy is what brought me to edcaution in the first place, so anything I can do to brush up on my skills in these areas seems like a great opportunity.

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The night started with a feature on Jim Vopat, who has created a new approach to writing for the classroom called Writing Circles. The idea is simple, but genius: kids do better in reading when they select books that they want to read, so why not let them do the same with writing? The students work in small groups and they individually come up with three topics on note cards. The topics are shuffled and redistributedd. The students pick their favorite from the cards they received and put the other two cards away. Then the cards are passed around in a circle. Students mark the card with a plus if they like the topic, a checkmark if they could write about it but it’s not their favorite, or a minus if they don’t like the topic. Once everyone has had a chance to see all of the cards, the plus signs are added up and the card with the most is the topic they all write on.

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The interesting thing about this process is that the students are intrinsically motivated to write because they have helped with the process to select the topic. After a few minutes of writing, the students share their stories. Jim had a great list of positive response styles to ask your class to use when working collaboratively. I have long been looking for a list like this (nerd that I am) so I’ll share it with you!

  • Point out one positive thing from the story
  • Say back what you heard
  • State just the facts
  • Sketch it out
  • Make a suggestion
  • Ask one question
  • Talk about the writer’s craft
  • Make an association

Our group participated in this exercise to see how it stimulates writing. Our selected topic was “My first camping experience.” I like the short bit that I wrote, so I’m going to post it here for y’all to read!

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My First Camping Experience

The first time I went camping was on Wall Street. I’m a city kid through and through. Never even owned a sleeping bag. And honestly, the idea of hiking into the middle of the woods and surviving by my wits (as I naturally assumed all campers do) was not very appealing to me.

I had offers to go camping with friends all through out high school. Friends whose parents could loan us a pick up truck to drive towards Albany. I always said no. I think the idea of that much nature really terrified me. I’m used to shriveled trees along 32nd street, not pituresque forests with no buildings for miles.

But now I’m 30 days into occupying lower Manhattan. If this isn’t survival of the fittest, than I don’t know what is. I share my tent with a college student down from Boston College and a 47 year old teacher from Queens. It’s a tight squeeze, but it’s warm at night. We can’t go fishing, but people regularly bring us food. Technically we’re living off the land, or whatever earnest but busy New Yorkers can spare in the moment.

I don’t know how long I’ll be camping here. I don’t even really know if this is what camping is. But I do feel like it’s going to matter one day that I was here.

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Anyway. This model produced varied results within my group, but all very interesting stories. I hope to test it out in a classroom of my own!