I just spent two weeks teaching in Trenton, NJ. I had a ball with some excellent K-2 teachers. (Thanks, you guys!) The thread that ran through the two weeks was doing meaningful activities with kids. We came up with the following list to remind ourselves that all writers (and especially little kids) need a purpose for their writing.
Real World Purposes for Writing
- Invitations to parties, events
- Birthday Cards, Thank You cards, “I’m Sorry” cards, “I Miss You” cards, Holiday Cards
- Letters to express your feelings
- Signs for the classroom/school (something is lost, found, broken, new, going on in your class)
- Signs that explain your work in centers (i.e. a sign to let everyone know you built a bridge in the block center)
- Telling a story about something interesting that happened to you
- Writing a story for someone you love
- Writing a poem for someone you love
- Writing to get your feelings out
- Writing that shows what you know about a topic
- Teaching somebody how to do something
- Making lists for planning or remembering things
- Writing to express how much you love (or hate) something
- Writing to recommend a place, movie, book
- Writing to discover what you really think
- Writing to discover what you’re trying to say
- Writing to make your voice heard in the world!
When Nicole Crumlich, a Kindergarten teacher in Glen Cove, NY noticed that her students were wasting precious writing moments, it was time to do a minilesson on dilly-dallyers. In Nicole’s lesson she explained what it meant to dilly dally and why it was not a good idea to do it. Then (this is the piece I love) she modeled what it would look like to dilly dally BEFORE, DURING and AFTER writing. Here’s what it looked like: Before: you go to your seat, slowly open your folder, don’t take out your piece of writing right away. During: playing with your pencil, “pretending” you can’t see a word on the word wall so you have to get up and walk over to it and hang out by it for awhile, even though your seat is right next to the word wall! After: when it’s time to clean up, you don’t put your paper away quickly, you hang out by the folder bin, but don’t put your folder away because you want yours on the top! And you don’t come to the carpet to share quickly. The kids all laughed when Nicole demonstrated each of these (probably laughs of self-recognition). The kids are taking writing time much more seriously now and they love to tell each other, “Don’t dilly dally!”
The other night I was at dinner with my husband’s family. At one point, my husband’s brother and his wife were talking about their daughter’s acceptance into college. So I asked, “Will she be bringing her car?” Mom said no, Dad said yes. Mom gave all her reasons why her daughter shouldn’t have her car–she needs to get used to walking places, she needs to focus on her studies, she can certainly take the train three hours to get home! Dad countered with his thoughts. She may want to go into town with friends, it would be easier for her to go back and forth from home and hey-she’s been driving all this time, why should she have to suffer without her car?
To which Mom said, “Were you raised in satin diapers?”
Which made me laugh. But it also got me thinking.
Do we swaddle our students in satin diapers? Do we do for them what they should be doing for themselves? I think sometimes we do. Instead of letting them solve some of their problems, we tell them what to do, every step of the way. We figure it all out, then give them a fill-in-the-blank worksheet. Or we ask a question and in the next breath answer it for them. Why do we do this? It’s quicker. It’s easier. But it doesn’t get them to think. It doesn’t teach them to explore or investigate. When I trained for Reading Recovery, our teacher leader always told us, “Whatever a kid CAN do, a kid should do.”
Not always easy to let the process unfold. But it’s better than dressing them in satin diapers.