Two things I learned from last week’s “Exquisite-ness:” 4th graders are old-hats at writing by late winter and 1st graders think that anything they write is a finished product. Last week I had the opportunity to introduce the level II and level I prompts for the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge to Mrs. Miller’s 4th grade and Mrs. Nelson’s 1st grade class at Archer Glen Elementary School in Sherwood. After discussing some ideas with the 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Miller, it was decided that the students would be required to choose one prompt to write for, but they could choose whether or not to have it submitted for the contest. This class does quite a bit of writing; 4th graders in Oregon have a big state writing assessment every year. Along with the variety of writing they have worked on in class, they have also discussed poetry and various writing conventions. So, my role was to simply introduce the program, the featured authors, and the prompts. The prompts for this level this month are relatively short – one is writing a poem and one is writing neologisms, new words and definitions. Towards the end of the hour the students had the chance to begin brainstorming ideas for their poems or their new words. They seemed to have fun with it and the teacher is going to work with them for the revisions and final copies.
Mrs. Nelson, the 1st grade teacher, and I met the day before the lesson for planning. Her class gets very little writing time — the required math and reading blocks along with other requirements leaves very little time for this important skill development. We decided to not offer the choice of two prompts and went with the prompt that offered more depth of writing. With this class I decided to first work on some basic ground rules for classroom management. From discussions with the teacher and my own observations from other visits, I have found that there are many students in this class that are preoperational and taking this extra time definitely paid off. I then read the story that the prompt is based on, Phoebe’s Revolt. We had some whole group discussion, pair-sharing, and then transitioned to their desks for the writing prompt. During the planning session, Mrs. Nelson had suggested that some transitions would be good so that the students wouldn’t be sitting in one spot the whole time. This suggestion was, of course, spot on.
The first graders were instructed to try some brainstorming using the ideas from their earlier group and paired discussions, and maybe begin a rough draft. We talked briefly about what was meant by “brainstorming” and “rough draft” but it was clear when I visited with individual students while they were working that these ideas were not completely grasped. I noticed some beautiful handwriting, I was asked for correct spelling of words, and some even declared that they were all done! It was a terrific experience for me – I learned from the students and enjoyed the visit thoroughly. They are a bunch of curious, eager, and bright 1st graders. I am visiting the class again tomorrow, and yes – we are going to spend much time on the idea of brainstorming and rough draft.