My students have been like little snails coming out of their shells when it comes to their “free writing”. For the first few lessons they drew pictures but almost nobody wrote words on the lines. I think they were in a little bit of shock about the level of handwriting I was expecting and some were too nervous to write words on the page.
I know that some teachers out there would think that I was too tough and that I was stifling creativity by caring about how handwriting looks. However, I know from doing this for so many years that once you raise the bar, students will meet it. We are really doing a disservice when we don’t expect enough. Expecting neatness and care will eventually lead to more writing, not less. It will lead to confidence and success, because students will get positive feedback and they won’t have to re-do work (I am talking about the years to come as well as this year).
After the first few lessons, and as I began to share work from students who had at least a few lines of writing to go with their pictures, more students began to emerge from their shells and write words. Most children really want their work shared with the class! Now, after Lesson 9, everyone has shared at least once and many twice. My expectation now is at least four lines of writing in order to share.
Even though I’m not as picky on the free writing side, I have been asking students to re-do some of their work there as well. This is all done in a positive manner, such as, “I like your story about the beach. It sounds like fun. And you even drew the beach toys in the sand! I’m just going to have you make some of these letters neater so when we share your story everyone can see what words you wrote and we won’t get confused. See what a beautiful job you did with letter d’s on your handwriting page? Now fix up your d’s on this side so they look like that. Fantastic!”
I always try to make positive comments before asking a child to fix something.
For the latest round of sharing, we have a new format called “Two compliments and a suggestion”. I project the student’s work on the screen and read it. Then the student comes up to call on people. The first two comments have to be compliments on the work. (Sometimes there is a question, which needs to be followed by a compliment from that person) The third person who is called on provides a suggestion for the written portion – not the picture. It can be a handwriting, spelling, or punctuation suggestion. Even if there are lots of mistakes, there is only ONE suggestion. I have to keep my mouth shut because often it isn’t the suggestion I would have made. It would really discourage sharing if some students were having every error pointed out by their peers!
The “suggestion” is just as much for the entire class as the student receiving it. I want students to start being editors and looking carefully at their own work and the work of others to catch mistakes and fix them without a teacher being involved.
A word about time… many of us struggle to find time for writing with the enormous demands made on reading instruction. I have 3 50-minute blocks set aside for writing each week, but one block comes from giving up specialist time on Friday. I work half time so I can survive this. Even with 50 minutes, we often don’t have time to share and some students don’t have time to finish a free write. (We often fit in sharing during other short time periods in the day) There are a few ways around this, especially if you have even shorter blocks of time. If you have 30-minute blocks, you can do the lesson in two parts, the first day being whole group instruction and the conventions page, and the second day continuing the free write and time for sharing. If you do this daily, you can fit in 2 or more lessons per week.
Here are a few samples of student writing. I am putting them in three categories, high, medium and low, so you can see the range of ability. Here are some of my two highest writers:
Note: I am not teaching that all Indians live in teepees with American flags on them!
Here are two samples of medium-level writers. One is my little guy who wouldn’t write anything at first! Now he’s writing an adventure story.
And a few of my writers who struggle with conventions but do not lack enthusiasm!
Last, I apologize for any confusion in the directions. Some of the lessons seem to have sections put in that shouldn’t be there, and there are some repeats. Lessons 9-11 repeat the directions for the two-lined writing, which is also introduced in Lesson 3. Oh, well! Lots for me to fix up for next year.