Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Semester Memories

at Two Writing Teachers!
This week is exam week for my students, and it's fun to see how far they've come during our short not-quite-a-semester together.  (We still have about 2 weeks of the semester after break, but exams are this week instead of right after break.)  I'm pretty pleased with the exams I created, which are full of authentic tasks in all four language areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

As we think about all we've learned (because I've definitely been learning at least as much as they have!), I'm amazed by how much we've really done.  Students who weren't able to choose a book anywhere near their level are now self-selecting "just right" books. Students who didn't know what the plot diagram was (oh yes, that's the size of the gaps my high school ELLs have!) are able to independently read a short story and identify all the major narrative elements. Students who declared "I can't write" are utilizing a variety of prewriting techniques, drafting, and revising.

Unfortunately, I've been so busy that I haven't had time to document the everyday small successes that lead us here.  I'm going to capture a few of my favorites today, before time makes them fade hazily away:

I started putting up an "Idiom of the Week", which we discuss on Monday and try to use during the week.  This lead to two of my favorite little moments:

  • The first week we did the Idiom of the Week, my Advanced class begged me to let them play "boys vs. girls" during a game of Jeopardy. They did some friendly trash-talking as we got ready to play.  We play in groups, and each student has a whiteboard so they can write answers and ideas to share with each other so the other group doesn't hear. (And of course, to make sure that everyone is thinking about the answer!)  As soon I passed out the whiteboards, one of the girls wrote "Girls will win!" and held it up toward the boys' table.  In response, one of the boys wrote "Put your money where your mouth is!" -- our idiom of the week!  Awesome.  (Ever since, that idiom has been kind of a "thing" in that class.)
  • Now that they know what an idiom is, several students in several classes have approached me to point out new idioms in their independent reading books!
Before I started this job, one of the things I most looked forward to was making connections with my students by sharing and responding to our writing.  And this really has been one of my favorite parts of the job!
  • My beginner students and I write to each other on "dialogue calendars" twice a week.  Most of them have really been having some great conversations with me on paper.  For example, one of my band girls has been asking all about the OSU marching band and my band experiences.
  • Last week, I had my intermediate students do a timed writing about a special friend.  So many of their stories were incredibly poignant, describing friends who were like brothers or sisters to them, many of whom live far away in the students' home countries.  I had tears in my eyes as I wrote comments to them about my own special friends who now live far away.  
  • Earlier this year, my intermediate and advanced students tried out Kate Messner's place description exercise.  With the short, focused bursts of timed prewriting, they produced a wealth of rich, descriptive details unlike anything I'd seen them write before.  The next day, before I had them respond to each other's writing, we practiced making specific, positive comments about my own paragraph.  One girl said, "I like the beginning because it sounds like something a poet would say."
And while I'm certainly not "The Book Whisperer" by any means, some of my non-readers are beginning to develop into readers!  
  • M, who surprised the other kids by checking out Origami Yoda on one of the first days of school, has been devouring the entire Bone series... even when he doesn't have to be reading!  During our resource study center, he often spends most of the class period reading now! This morning, during the speaking part of the exam, he talked about how his feelings about reading have changed because he reads more now than he used to.
  • Last time we did a Friday reflection, one of my other boys wrote that he learned "that a book is just like watching tv": 
(He's really into Stormbreaker right now!)
What are your favorite little victories so far this year?


  1. Fabulous victories!

  2. Hi Jennifer! I enjoyed every bit of this. You do so many good things for those students. And I love that you are counting your blessings of the first semester "before time makes them fade hazily away". Great line! I like that last part too, nice questionnaire & answer! Finally, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas & holiday with your family & friends.

  3. Note to self: write down the little victories!! :)

    I like how you're also asking students to be reflective. I'm going to see what my 4th and 5th graders would say about their reading. (May I borrow your questions?)

    1. Of course you can borrow my questions! I will try to post about the whole reflection sheet soon. Although they're not really "my" questions -- I took a lot of them from Larry Ferlazzo, who does a lot of work with helping students reflect on their learning. Check out his blog for lots of great ideas!

  4. Love the idiom of the week! I didn't get your FB message about the reflective letter (stupid Facebook) so I thought I would leave you a comment here. My email address is my full name 8 (at) gmail (dot) com. Nice getting to "know" you!


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