I am pleased with how our third grade writing-program is evolving this year. Students are at the point in the term where they are working independently. They know when they need to meet with their writing partner. They know when they need their laptops. They are learning how to publish their personal narratives using Microsoft Word, and use tools such as grammar and spelling to edit their work.
Our writing workshop is a simple process. First, all writing begins in the Writer’s Notebook. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I began the year introducing students to the narrative genre with “small moments.” Small moments are short pieces of writing that use action, dialogue and thought/feeling sentences. I provided writers with a number of strategies for generating ideas for writing, providing time for writers to practice each strategy. After several weeks of practice, I then introduced longer personal narrative writing. Students have a strong understanding of the success criteria for personal narrative writing.
You have written an effective personal narrative when:
- your story has a beginning, middle and end;
- the main character tells the story using the personal pronoun “I”;
- you have included action, dialogue and thought/feeling sentences;
- your story is a “seed” story, not a “watermelon” story;
- you have correct spelling and punctuation.
Those familiar with the Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study resource will recognize the idea of small moments, seed stories and action, dialogue and thought sentences.
When writers feel they have finished a piece of writing, the next stage in our writer’s workshop is for writers to meet with their assigned writing partner. I decided to match writers who are writing at the same stage of development rather than pairing stronger writers with more dependent writers. This way each partner will benefit from the feedback they receive. Writing partners refer to our success criteria when giving feedback to their writing partner. I expect writing partners to provide two “glow” comments and one “grow” comment to their partner when they meet.
Following their meeting with their writing partner, the writer begins their first revision. Most students choose to type their narratives on Microsoft Word. As they begin to publish their narratives, they make revisions to their first draft, keeping in mind the feedback they just received.
In addition to meeting with their writing partner, I call writers for writing conferences each day. I usually wait until writers have completed their first revision on their laptops. I decide on a teaching focus, for example, using correct punctuation when using quotation marks, for our conference. A writer will walk away from our conference with a skill to practice as they continue to revise a piece of writing or when they begin a new piece of writing in their Writer’s Notebook.
For many, the most exciting step in writing workshop comes next. After writers have revised their personal narratives, they log in to Edmodo.com and post their narrative in their assigned writing group. I have created five separate writing groups on Edmodo.com. There are four to five students in each writing group. These groups are more heterogeneous. When writers post their narratives in the writing groups on Edmodo.com, they ask members of their writing group as well as their teachers for descriptive feedback. It is the responsibility of each writer to read their colleagues’ personal narratives and provide them with descriptive feedback in the form of glow and grow comments. Students’ writing partners are not assigned to the same writing group. Therefore, each writer in our class receives descriptive feedback from five to six of their peers as well as their teachers!
We are now at the stage where writers are reading their feedback on line and returning to their posted piece for a second or third revision. They then repost their narrative to share with their group members. Ideally, I would like my third graders to learn how to leave a piece of writing. They can start a new piece in their Writer’s Notebook and perhaps return to earlier published pieces later in the year.
Integrating Edmodo.com into our writing program revealed additional benefits I didn’t anticipate. Edmodo is basically acting as our class’ private server. Students can access their stories from any computer at school or at home. This eliminates the need for flash drives. If students want to work on a piece of writing at home, they simply log into Edmodo.com. I also have easy access to student writing. I can provide feedback to students at my convenience without having to carry writing folders. Parents can also see what their child is writing at school. When parents log in using their assigned parent access code, they only have access to their child’s posts.
- I promise that not all my posts will be about Edmodo.com, but it is really exciting to see students engaged in the writing process. It is amazing how this technology enriches our writing workshop. However, our writing program is not dependent on technology. If the technology were to disappear, our writing workshop would continue, just less efficiently.