Reading Matt’s book, you’ll find that he does not refer to student writing as fiction or nonfiction. He recognizes the blurred line in young children’s writing and notices how sometimes books start out as nonfiction and turn into fiction text. He also recognizes that those terms can be sometimes confusing for developing writers. Therefore he prefers to refer to writing as “storybooks” or “list books.” Simply stated, storybooks can be fiction or nonfiction but have well known story elements and are typically narrative. List books are typically nonfiction and are written to list information about a topic.
Matt also believes that students should decide what kind of book they are making. His experience as an early childhood teacher and principal has shown him that the best way to engage young learners in writing is to let them write what they want to write about! Through individual conferences, or “nudges,” as he likes to call them, educators will guide students to explore a variety of genres and experiences. Sure, he recognizes from time to time teachers need to teach specific lessons that meet certain state and grade level standards, but I think Matt would challenge us to think how we could meet those standards through read aloud, mentor text and conferences.
Here are some more student work samples that reflect mentor text we’ve read and conversations we’ve shared:
Speech bubbles: Through Kevin Henkes, we’ve explored how characters come to life and share their thinking through speech bubbles. We’ve noticed how some authors, like Peter Brown and Mo Willems, practically tell their whole story through a series of speech bubbles. Now, my students are including speech bubbles across writing topics.
As seen below, we’ve also learned how to represent more than one voice in a single speech bubble.
Back Covers: The back cover of a book provides significant information about the text, the author and the illustrator. This year we’ve been looking at the back side of texts to see what information we can uncover. Now, my students are adding back cover information to the text they’re writing in our workshop. I am frequently impressed by the clever ideas.
Below, a text modeled after a periodical with an about the author back cover.
Diverse illustration styles: Using Tomie dePaola’s text as mentors, we studied how authors lay out their illustrations on the page. T deP does a great job of varying his illustration to enhance the message. Sometimes he uses a full page spread to provide a big impact in the book. Other times he used a split-page illustration to show a conflict between characters. He also breaks the illustration into four parts to show action over time or interactions between a cast of characters. My students are attempting some of his stylistic devices to convey their messages.
Above, a nonfiction full-page spread. Below, a split page illustration. Another conversation we had while reading was how illustrators sometimes show the back of a character’s head to signal the character is facing away from the reader. Notice here how the child attempts this technique.
Caldecott Award: My students and I spend a lot of time talking about how to find good books. This conversation crosses subject areas and often presents itself in all we do. Book recommendations are constantly posted in our classroom and discussed daily. We talk about strategies for finding good books including asking a friend, finding books by an author you know and love and looking at book boxes that have been recommended in class. One minilesson we do is on Caldecott books. Together we spend lots of time looking at the beautiful illustrations in these books, talking about the awards they’ve won and learning how to use the Caldecott Medal on the front of the book as an indicator to show “this is a really good book!”
After talking about the Caldecott book box and celebrating the many wonderful text in that box, students started awarding the books they’d written the Caldecott Award! Suddenly, yellow circles were popping up on the front of many cover pages in my classroom. This action showed me that my students understood that great text were awarded medals for their writing and illustrations. It also showed me that my students recognized features and their purpose on books they read. Most importantly, it showed me that my children viewed themselves as authors and wanted to be recognized for their work.
Below, see how the text Ninja vs. Pirate (a book based off Predator vs. Prey) has been awarded the Caldecott Medal (yellow circle in the center). This child also uses “cut-aways” on the front cover (modeled after The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly). At the beginning of the year we read a lot of wordless books to provide entry points for beginning readers and to promote storytelling in the classroom. This child incorporates that feature into his text as noted by “a wrde lise book.”
I have never had a class this engaged and motivated by writing! Every day people are begging for more writer’s workshop time and producing significant work at each sitting. Sure, it may be the class. Maybe it’s just “one of those groups.” But I can’t help but think that my presentation of writing and the noticing and think alouds I’m doing across the day to “read like a writer” are having an impact on my young learners. I love this work!
More updates to come…