Lessons From The Trenches of The Slice of Life Challenge

It’s been a crazy month.  Crazy.  Why?  Because both I and my students have been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge dreamed up by the amazing ladies at Two Writing Teachers.  To sum it up: write everyday, comment on other people’s writing every day.  Sounds easy enough but writing my own posts, commenting on adult blogs in my community, facilitating student writing, commenting on student blogs, it’s all gotten a bit overwhelming.  Fun and exciting but overwhelming.  Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

  • The community benefit far outweighs the stress of the thing.  I “schoolified” the challenge by telling the students they HAD to write every day.  I just knew that the kids who really needed to write every day wouldn’t if I made it optional.  It’s been hard but as the month has gone on I’ve seen them dig deep and get creative.  Their posts range from creative to silly to heartfelt truths about their lives.  I have witnessed students who hate to write blossom at the idea of an audience or getting to write about whatever they want, even Minecraft.  I have seen friendships rekindled over posts and comments.  I’ve learned things about my students home lives and private worlds. (Like what they are really talking about when they line up for lunch-mostly being very silly.)  I’ve seen students strengths and challenges amplified and addressed through the online posting format.  We are together because we write together.  They are begging for it to go on and on.  So it’s worth me getting up at 4am to play catch up.

 

  • Students love getting comments but not giving them.  We’ve been surveying the kids every week about this process.  Most of them agree it’s great to get comments but hard to give them.  Normally I do 10 minutes of nonfiction choice reading in the morning but this month we’ve set that time aside for reading and commenting.  It helps to have a fresh mind and fingers for those comments.  I also set up commenting circles.  Small rotating groups of students who comment on each others blogs each week.  This way everyone is sure to get some comments on their writing.

 

  • Be organized!  I have 31 kids.  31.  That’s 31 blogs to read and comment on every day.  I just can’t.  So a detailed spreadsheet of whose is posting when and which kids I’ve commented on is key.  I try to give each kid three comments a week, more if I can.  But my spreadsheet helps me see who I’ve already commented on and who needs comments.

 

  • The less a kid writes, the more they need comments.   In the real world you pretty only much get comments on a blog if people have something to say.  I’ve found that kids who are losing steam or are struggling or just aren’t “into it” need comments to keep going.  If I see a kid is starting to falter I go in and comment on every single post for a week.  I remind them, there is an audience and we are interested in you.  It almost always gets them going again.

 

  • Not everything should go on the blog.  We made the kids special slice of life notebooks for this month.  This way they can write at home if they don’t have a computer and can keep ideas for slices.  Some slices need to stay or go in those notebooks.  My students have a lot going on in their lives.  I never want to discourage them from writing truthfully about their world.  But this year I’ve had some students go through some really personal things.  Events that shouldn’t and some that can’t be shared publicly.  It’s been a great learning opportunity for both of us and I’ve been able to have important and honest conversations with students about the types of things we post for the whole wide world to see.

These are just a few lessons and I’m sure there are more to come.  Many, many more!  I’m also thinking about next year and what I want to change or do to support my students and myself.

  • Get more parent involvement.  I sent out the information but we haven’t had as many comments from families as I was hoping.
  • Set up a buddy system with one or two other classes.  As much as we try to comment on other classes it gets hard.  I’d like to have a clear partner so that we can work on getting kids to comment on each others work and maybe even do a little brainstorming together.
  • Expand my support board.  I used QR codes on a bulletin board so students could quick link to examples and ideas.  I plan on archiving these and making more with student examples (I only had mine to work from this year) to post next year.  My students love to go to the board for inspiration and ideas.

Now my biggest challenge is archiving.  Although my student’s blogs will be there for a long long time, I want them to have something tangible to take at the end of the year.  Something real to put in their hands.  I’m working on an idea….stay tuned!  I’m also thinking of some kind of collaborative resource for teachers.  Maybe a website or live binder with mentor slices?

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8 Responses to Lessons From The Trenches of The Slice of Life Challenge

  1. This is a great post. You have set a foundation for teachers and students. Very helpful ideas! I think the organization of it all is what deters teachers from doing the classroom challenge. The buddy system is a great suggestion as well. Again, great post for teachers to use as a resource for getting started and keeping it going.

  2. margaretsmn says:

    I love your reflection. I could have written the same. It is the ones who write the least who need the most comments. I have tried a comment challenge each week that works well, but again for the motivated students. I have seen some real growth as well. I sent a letter out to the parents and I think they are reading from what the kids say, but they are not commenting.
    Do you post to a Facebook page? Are parents tuned in to that?
    I also think having a partner class is a good idea. On our blog, we have more than one class participating and also have links set up on a blogroll. This has helped the students interact with others.
    Don’t you love this challenge? It’s an amazing adventure in writing!

  3. This is really helpful. Your points about commenting really resonated with me. I think to be able to comment effectively on writing, you need to be comfortable with your own writing process. Of course, commenting on topic or content is fine too, but to look at a piece and comment on technique, well that is really powerful. I wonder if using a checklist with qualities of good writing could help with commenting.
    Also, I love your idea about tracking the comments you give to your students. It’s like record-keeping with conferring. I always think I’ll remember who I’ve talked to and who still needs a conference, but I don’t really unless I write it down.

  4. Linda Baie says:

    I think it’s great that you are doing this, but know it’s hard to keep up. You shared great points here, Katie.

  5. Do you mind if I share parts of this post with the community? On one of the classroom challenge posts? I think it would be great to share with others. I would also like to share the format that your class has come up with, balancing dialogue and action. That works really well. Shoot me a message at annagcockerilleliteracy@gmail.com.

  6. Beth Rogers says:

    I love your thinking – you’ve given me much to contemplate. This has been a hard year for me as well. I teach all LA for both my class and my teaching partner’s, so I have 58 students. I had to let their blogs go live without a pre-read, which I have always done in years past. This has caused a few hiccups but we are surviving. These are lessons for me for next year. I mostly need to reflect on how to better elevate the quality of writing next time – many of my students have not met their potential this year. I know there are some things I can do, so notes for next year will be essential.

    One way that I was able to involve parents : I invited them to come early for their spring conference and read their child’s blog. This was hugely successful and informative for them. It also helped our conversations about writing tremendously.

    Again, thank you for starting this conversation.

  7. mrssurridge says:

    This is a very thoughtful list. Where there were some days I struggled with writing my own slice, I put a lot of effort into making comments on student blogs. I wanted to set an example for my students so I tried to comment on at least one slice from every other classroom who was participating. Sometimes I made it, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I was able to motivate a student, and sometimes I bombed. I think each of your insights are correct. I have a small class this year so it was easier for me. I spent at least an hour each night in March making comments, I can’t imagine doing it with 31 students. That’s dedication!

  8. Ramona says:

    I love, love, love reading your reflections from the trenches. I’m definitely interested in what you might create to put in student’s hands. Keep me posted. We select four slices to share for our slicing party. Students make a colorful poster with them, and they stay in the library for awhile before I post them to our hallway bulletin board.

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