Reflecting on Student Engagement: What are some of the conditions that make it happen?

I got to spend a gorgeous three days of Fall with about 95 sixth graders at the Pocono Environmental Education Center. OK, I’m going to say up-front that I wanted a cocktail about seven times a day for the three days we were there. It was pretty exhausting.

It was also amazing to see my city-kid students engaging with nature and with each other in such playful ways.

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This is where we were.  Continue reading

Helping Kids and Parents Understand Writing Notebook Rubrics

I recently wrote about wanting to encourage a playful spirit in the writer’s notebook, but also about my expectation that my 6th graders write words. Lots of words. It can be hard to feel like I’m being clear about what I think should be happening in students’ notebooks in order for them to become stronger and more confident writers, and to have lots of raw material for making things outside of their notebooks.

With help from colleagues and a couple of parents, we created this rubric for our 6th graders: CopyofGr6WNBRubricV3 It’s still being revised a little at a time, but this is our current version.

The rubric itself is not that helpful unless we all agree on what certain terms mean, such as “thoughtful and/or reflective.” In order to make sure that our other 6th grade Humanities teacher and I were approaching this the same way, we looked at students’ notebooks together. When we were ready, we then made a slideshow for kids to walk them through what it looks like to meet or exceed expectations in some key areas of the rubric.

Gr6 Understanding the Writer’s Notebook Rubric

When students got their first rubrics of the year, they were all able to understand their feedback, and work with me to set personal goals for themselves as writers.

Can We Play in a Writer’s Notebook?

I’m back from a year off of posting. Long story.

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Why are some kids tortured by writers’ notebooks?

I got an email from a parent the other day, at her wits’ end because she said that getting her son to write entries in his notebook was like pulling teeth. It was miserable for them both. Now that’s not the feeling I want to encourage in young writers!

Later that day, I sat down with my own third grader to write an entry in his notebook, which had been assigned for the next day. It was the first entry of the year he’d be writing at home rather than in school. He’d been putting it off.

He whined a bit, and complained that he had nothing to say. He tried to bargain with me. Then he got angry. I thought about letting him just not write the entry and take the consequences at school. It was an important moment, though, and I wanted to have some input into how his attitude toward writing would be affected, negatively or positively, by this experience. So I held firm. I saw an entry he’d done in class, which was a page full of small drawings of memorable experiences he had had. His teachers had clearly taught the class that this was a tool they could use to generate ideas in times such as this, when they can’t think of anything to write. We looked at all the pictures, and he told me the stories contained in them. He chose one to write, and then wrote it. The tool worked. Continue reading