Sunday, 29 November 2015

Back to Blogging: My Students Write And I Should Too

No excuses. It's long overdue that I dedicate some time to writing my blog* (Why does "blog" show up with a red squiggly underline as if it's misspelled? Right-click blog, select Spell-checker options->Ask Google for suggestions and then choose "Enable").

Problem solved, everything is awesome! HT Peg + Cat. Okay, I'm done with that tangent, but I do enjoy going off on them, and I want my students to as well or at the very least help steer our class in different directions. This is part of the genesis behind today's blog post.

Wednesday, in my period 3 ENG3C (English, Grade 11, College) class I tried a 5 minute writing activity that I hadn't used since the last time I taught an English course...or maybe was during my student teaching placement, either way it was a long time ago. Each student wrote "This morning on my way to school..." on a piece of paper and then the fun began. I told them:
You will have 60 seconds to continue writing the narrative, and then you will pass the paper to the person behind you, with the last person in the row bringing their sheet up to the first person. Once the sheet has been passed, you get another 60 seconds to read what the person in front of you wrote, and then continue their story. This will repeat 3 more times so that each person in your row will have contributed to the story.
Poor planning on my part by waiting until the end of class to do this, so we didn't get a chance to share after everyone had finished writing.

On Thursday I started by asking my students what they thought of the 5 minute writing activity from yesterday's class. Those who responded were positive, yet critical, which made me smile and it went something like this:
Student - We didn't have time to read them.
Me - We can start earlier in the period.
Student - I didn't have long enough to write after reading everyone else's stuff.
Me - Excellent can we fix this?
Student - Add 10 seconds.
Student - No, 30 seconds.
Student - That's too long.
Me - How about we increase each round by 15 seconds?
Student - Yeah, that should work.

Off we went with an improved version of this creative writing activity. I had them start with "On my way home from school..." while I set the Google timer on the SMARTBoard to 1 minute. Ready, set, go! For the next 8 minutes I watched as the students scribbled furiously across their pages. What amazed me the most were the sounds: The scrawling of the pens and pencils, dee-dee-dee-dee of the timer, the shuffle of the papers being passed, a few chuckles as they read, and then back to the scrawling. All I had to do was add 15 seconds to the timer, and then start it back up. I did provide one additional prompt at the start of the last round that they were the last writer and they should try to wrap up the story.

At the end of the 5 rounds I asked them to pass them one more time so that the original author could read where their story had gone. There were quite a few laughs, a number of puzzled looks, and some questions about what had been written. I then asked for volunteers to share...and it was very entertaining. Some were written well, others were not, but through the sharing and discussion a number of important ideas were brought out. We talked about what worked well or what didn't. We highlighted something from each shared piece whether it was dialogue, lack of fluency, effective description, or a happy ending.

Would I do this activity again? You bet. However, I would start with the caveat that this is meant to be a piece of fiction, and they are not to write about other students (to limit the risk of anyone being bullied). Adding 15 seconds each round worked much better for timing, and sharing the stories afterwards was a great way to get more students to share "their" work orally.

As for my class, they have some ideas on how we could make this even better:
1. Make it a whole class story, which should take most of our 75 minute period. While the class is reading, writing and working on other stuff, one person starts our story by writing for 60 seconds (self-timed), then they pass the sheet on to someone else. The next person reads what has been read, and they also write for 60 seconds before passing it on to someone else. By the end of class everyone should have contributed.
2. For our next round of comfy seat draws*, the first winner has to write one paragraph of a story during class that day. Whoever wins the following day, will read what has been written, and then add their own paragraph. So that after 28 days we should have quite the class story.
*A random name is drawn each day to see who gets to sit in the leather chair or loveseat, and they can invite up to 3 people to sit with them. The winner's name is removed from the pool, and do this each day until everyone has had their name drawn to complete the cycle.

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