Last December my colleagues and I attended a workshop featuring Matt Glover and Katie Wood Ray. I’ve followed Katie Wood Ray’s work for several years and really love what she does with young writers. For several years, I’ve used Lucy Calkins Units of Study and think it is a terrific resource for elementary classrooms. My primary teaching colleagues and I are always looking for new ways to go deeper and differentiate our instruction to grow our students into proficient readers, thinkers and writers.
When I saw Matt Glover for the first time, I was like “Whoa! Now this is something to get excited about!” My colleagues and I loved the session he did with Katie Wood Ray! We feverishly scribed notes as fast as we could write (type). At the breaks we turned to each other, feeling exhausted as our brains were exploding with new information, needing to talk and debrief our new learning. At any moment throughout the day, you would’ve caught my group of four with mouths hanging open and eyes wide. Looking at the work samples Matt displayed we wondered, “How can a kindergartener use language like that?” “That sample is from first grade? My kids don’t do that!” “I never thought to teach with a mentor text in that fashion…”
By the lunch break we were overwhelmed. We were able to catch up with Matt before the afternoon session started and asked him several questions. He was so warm and open and seemed genuinely curious about our teaching and reflections on student writing. The afternoon continued in the same fashion as the morning—new ideas for using mentor text, analyzing student work, nudging students as writers instead of pushing them, effective writing conferences…by the time the session wrapped up we were mentally exhausted, but energized and excited to make some changes to our writing practices.
After lingering until Matt packed up, I was able to obtain his email. It was obvious that I was going to need more Matt Glover. After several email exchanges, one colleague and I wrote a grant to invite Matt to do a staff development for early childhood teachers in my district. The grant was funded as a study group, and now my colleagues and 25 teachers across my district are getting together to talk about his text, Engaging Young Writer’s. Matt will spend two days with the group and guide us on our journey of exploring writing in the early childhood grades.
It’s only October, but I’ve seen some amazing things coming from my writers already! In his book, Matt talks about noticing things that authors and illustrators do. He suggests inserting teaching points into read alouds across the day. This is a very simple strategy to implement. Good teachers think about this all the time, however, now that I’m really aware of naming the technique and pointing it out to my students, I rarely let a book pass by without saying a quick, “Notice how the character’s facial expression shows how they’re feeling. Lots of times the illustration gives you more detail about how a character feels.”
Matt calls this careful analysis of text “reading like a writer.” As I’ve started to do this throughout the day, I’ve observed my students notice and use the techniques we talk about.
Here are some examples:
We’ve talked a lot about facial expressions. Each day we note the facial expressions of characters in our books. For example, an “O” shaped mouth shows surprise or shock.
We’ve also talked about how authors show movement in an illustration. Many children’s books use little dashes or lines to show that a character is running or jumping. Here a child attempts the same strategy to show motion.
As we’ve read a wide variety of genres in our class we have named them, identified characteristics of that genre, and suggested “You may want to try a book like this during writer’s workshop.” We’ve read many counting books this year as they have a variety of features that provide easy access to developing readers. As a result, several students have attempted to write counting books.
These snapshots from a counting book show this writer is implementing a lot. She’s added “cut-aways” to the front cover so when the book is opened, the numbers 1, 2, and 3 are on the title page. She uses a quick descriptor after the title page to grab the reader’s attention and share her purpose. On the counting pages she introduces each page with a new color (it is an “art” counting book) and shows an example of the number for the reader to count both in swirl form and in birds. She also provides the written form of the number and the numerical representation to give a variety of information to the reader. This work sample definitely shows this child understands the counting book genre!
I have so many other work samples to share! Stay tuned for more as I take a new look at writing in my classroom.