The Writing block is carried out in "writers workshop" fashion. It begins with a mini-lesson (10 minutes). The teacher sits at the overhead projector or with a large piece of chart paper. The teacher writes and models all the things writers do (although not all on any one day!). The teacher thinks about -- deciding what to write about and then writes. While writing, the teacher models looking at the word wall for a troublesome word which is there as well as inventing the spelling of a few big words. The teacher also makes a few mistakes relating to the items currently on the editor's checklist. When the piece is finished, the children help the teacher edit the piece for the items on the checklist. Next the children go to their own writing. They are at all different stages of the writing process -- finishing a story, starting a new story, editing, illustrating, etc. While the children write, the teacher conferences with individuals who are getting ready to publish. From 3 to 5 pieces, they choose one to make into a book. This piece is edited with the teacher's help and the child proceeds to the publishing table where he will copy the correct form and finally illustrate the book. This block ends with "author's chair" in which several students each day share work in progress or their published book.
Making the Writing Block Multilevel
Writing is the most multilevel block because it is not limited by the availability or acceptability of appropriate books. If teachers allow children to choose their own topics, accept whatever level of first-draft writing each child can accomplish, and allow them to work on their pieces as many days as needed, all children can succeed in writing. One of the major tenets of process writing is that children should choose their own topic. When children decide what they will write about, they write about something of particular interest to them and consequently something that they know about. Now this may seem like belaboring the obvious but it is a crucial component in making process writing multilevel. When everyone writes about the same topic, the different levels of children's knowledge and writing ability become painfully obvious. In addition to teacher acceptance, children choosing their own topics, and not expecting finished pieces each day, Writer's Workshops include two teaching opportunities which promote the multilevel function of process writing--minilessons and publishing conferences.
When primary students write, they can not spell all the words they want to use---unless they limit what they say to words that they can spell. Children can and will choose "easy" words if the teacher (or a parent) talks too much about "spelling it right". When children limit their word choices, they no longer write about an "enormous" dinosaur but a big one. Food is not "delicious," it is good. Friends are not "fantastic" or "wonderful" to play with, they are nice. Children, whether eager or reluctant writers, need to feel free to express themselves and use the words they want to tell their story.
The Word Wall and other visible words in the room will help with lots of words but there are many words young children have in their speaking vocabulary that are not in their reading or writing vocabularies. For these words, we ask children to do what authors (and adults) do---say the word slowly and listen for the sounds they hear and write the letters those sounds represent. Sometimes adults are right and sometimes they are wrong. . . just like children!
It is a good idea to have a minilesson on "What to do when you cannot spell a word" early in the school year. After that, model what you do about spelling word for several words--but not all the words--in each minilesson. For this minilesson, the teacher takes a big piece of chart paper or an overhead transparency and begins to talk and write.
"Today I am going to write about the snow we had yesterday. I Ďm beginning with a capital because sentences begin that way. Yesterday was January 28. I can find the words January and yesterday on our calendar board. January is at the top; it is the name of this month. I know that under the calendar it says: Today is__________. Yesterday was _________. Tomorrow will be ____________. So I can look there and find the word yesterday."
"Once again for the second sentence, I start with a capital letter and write: 'We had' (had is easy because I can look on the Word Wall for it) 'six' (The word six is under the number words in the front of our classroom so I know I can write the word six.) 'inches' (I look around the room for the word inches and I donít see it. If itís not on the Word Wall and I cannot find it anywhere in the room Iíll stretch it out and sound spell the word ---'i-n. . . c-h. . . e-s'. ) 'of snow' ( I can find snow on the theme board where all the winter words are listed under winter pictures.)"
The teacher does the same thing when she writes her next three sentences:
"I made snowballs. I made a snowman. I had fun in the snow."
Letting children see what adults and good writers
do when they need a word they can't spell is important. Authors
don't stop their writing and look up a word. They keep writing and spell
the word as best they can. Then they hope that spell check will find and
fix it. If not, they depend on their editor to be sure everything is correct
before going to print! Young children need to learn to have a spelling
consciousness--that means spelling words as best they can in first draft and
getting them correct in the final draft. Looking words up in the
dictionary belongs in the editing stage--not the first draft.
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