Saturday, April 22, 2017

Building Character Schoolwide

How does your school address character education?  In my district, we have a character education committee that plans some of the activities that we do each year.  We also work at the building and classroom levels to incorporate character education into our teaching.

One way our school supports positive behavior and/or good character is by using "Character Rocks." The rocks are small flat stones that can be purchased at craft stores.  Each teacher or staff member has a supply to hand out when they notice students exhibiting great behavior or showing good character. Students can earn these rocks in their own classrooms or anywhere on school grounds.

Each classroom has a container for collecting the rocks.  At the end of each month, the rocks earned by each grade level are collected and counted.  The grade level with the most rocks for the month earns some type of reward.  In the past, it has been things like extra recess, a popsicle, or a "craft day" in the multi-purpose room.

The display that you see above shows each grade level's current count.  There is a key at the bottom of the display that tells that each colored circle stands for 5 rocks.  The star next to second grade indicates that grade earned the most rocks in the previous month.  Although second grade has the star for the month, kindergarten is in the lead for most rocks earned.

I love that our school has a universal way to recognize good character.  The students really take pride in earning "Character Rocks."  I  am not sure who came up with the idea for the display above, but I love it!

How does your school or classroom recognize good character?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Revision Success- Tips to Help Young Writers

Revision can be a difficult process for young writers to grasp.  Though part of the writing process, it's not frequently done with enthusiasm, especially by primary grade writers. It's hard enough for these little darlings to get their thoughts out the first time.  "Now you want me to change or add more?  But I'm done." How can you avoid this frustration and still have kids experience revision?

One key point is to get into the writing BEFORE the student is "finished."  I hate to admit this, but until the last few years, I often conferred with students just at the end of the writing process.  When a student had a completed piece, I would meet with them and offer suggestions.  Now I see the error of my ways! I have learned to confer early in the process and ask questions instead of offer suggestions.

When I am conferring with students, I often ask "What is the one thing you want your readers to remember after hearing your story?  What sort of sums it all up?'  If you are teaching with the traits, they already know about having one clear message and thinking about their audience and purpose. If they can't really answer those questions, and it's not clear in the piece, I need to ask some more questions to help the writer uncover his or her focus.

I also ask, "Who is this piece for?  Who do you think would want to hear or needs to hear this piece?" I am trying to get the writer to think about the audience.  Considering the audience helps the writer strengthen his or her voice in the piece.  Connecting with the reader is an important goal for the author.

Here's an example that recently occurred in my second grade class.  While conferring with a writer, I noticed her piece seemed to lack a clear message.  It appeared to be a list of things she did in the day. (I call these "list" writings.  Others call them "bed to bed" stories.)  She wrote "First I do ….., then I do…after that I do…."  It was not a very captivating story to say the least.  I was wondering where she was headed with this piece.

At first, I didn't think she had any real message in mind while she was writing.  I think of these stories like diary entries.  This is usually what I tell the kids too. Sometimes I write things like that in my diary because I want to recall things I did on a certain day.  But those are not stories that anyone other than me would want to read.  It doesn't mean I can't write them. I just don't expect to share them.

One of the things she told me was that the writing was for other kids to learn.  As I  talked to her, I got the feeling that she had something else in mind when writing her piece.  When I  started asking more direct questions, she revealed that the heart of her piece was  really a lesson.  She wanted other kids to know that they should get their work done before playing.  The lesson was "Put first things first" so to speak.  She had not yet mentioned that anywhere in her piece though.  Through questioning, we were able to uncover her one clear main idea.

We talked about what she could do to make her message more clear.  She was very motivated to go back and add some new details to her piece.  She really just adjusted her beginning to include a few more direct statements.  These adjustments also made it easier for her to end the piece.  She now knew what her concluding statement should be. It made a HUGE difference in the quality of her writing.  She was so proud to share and to explain how she had revised her work.

By conferring with her while she was still drafting, she was much more willing to revise.  Revision does not only come at the end!  Asking questions helped her to reflect on her piece and find places where changes would improve her message.

Do you have any tips for revision?  What questions do you ask writers?