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Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model...

by Cheryl M. Sigmon

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Publishing Pressures

While end of the year matters are still on our minds, let's think about a couple of issues that deal with publishing during the Writing Block. Fran Jenkins, a first grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School in Port McNeill, B.C. Canada, wrote to ask, "I'm having trouble with my writing block in Grade One. I am trying to do a writer's conference with my kids, and I love that part and find it a really valuable time. But, it takes me soooo long to get through all 24 children. They want me to read their stories everyday and publish all the stories they write. I tell them I can only publish when we conference, but that seems like the reward is too far away. Should I be trying to conference with Grade Ones? Is it fair to make them wait sometimes a month (or more) for their next conference and publishing?"

Here's my response...

Yes, we conference with first graders. It's the time we have to grow them individually----and they are so diverse at first grade! It sounds like Fran's making the best of her conference time since she says it's been invaluable to her. But, here are a few hints that might help Fran and others:

1 - Define the number of pieces students need to write before publishing. It's usually 3-5 "good" pieces---and hold them individually accountable to what you know is "good" work for them. That will slow down the publishing process to help with your sanity and will help them begin to differentiate among the pieces they write the ones that are better. You don't want them to have the impression that everything they write is worthy of publishing---just as everything we write isn't worthy of publishing. But, you come across a piece now and then that shows more potential than others, just like our favorite authors do!

2 - Be sure that your model lessons include multiple day pieces. Show them how to re-connect with their thoughts and continue to write for several days on the same piece. I've found it effective to make an off-handed comment to first graders that with all of my teaching experience I've found that first graders usually write one page, second graders usually write two pages, and third graders write three pages. "I wonder why that is?" That's all it takes before they're striving for longer pieces---the power of suggestion!

3 - First graders probably do need to publish more than once a month to keep them motivated. Find some ways to keep publishing simple. You can have them copy over into pre-made little books that volunteers have put together---or templates that are in the publishing center that the students staple together with the right number of pages. Publishing can be that you have a current piece on display in the hallway or in the classroom. Just keep some of the publishing very simple.

4 - It takes me longer for my writing conferences than it does for the SSR conferences since it's really a time to teach individual "mini-lessons." So, it's not a goal in writing to see every student every week. You can have some very informal status conferences, just going to a few desks on your way to conference. If you're only able to conference once a month, I would say that's probably not often enough to keep kids motivated and to grow them as writers.

5 - Be sure to allow the sharing time each day for 5-10 minutes of closure to the block. Sometimes it can be with a few children sitting in the share chair to talk about their writing (I do like teaching them to talk about their writing versus always reading their pieces---which often isn't interesting to the group). Sometimes it's just having the students share with a table buddy what they've been working on that day. If they have a need to share as you've indicated, then this sharing might take care of that.

6 - Be sure that they've really growing as writers---not just writing junk to get published. That sometimes happens. Slow down the publishing so that they're even more proud of the fewer pieces that make it to the final draft.

7 - You can have small group conferences to help with the publishing process. (In a future article, I may share what Pat Cunningham has been sharing lately as a way to manage small group conferences for publishing.)

By the way, Fran Jenkins tried the small group conferences, and here's a report from her experience,

"I called 4 children to come and conference with me at one time. We had a small group conference, where I would look at one child's writing piece, and select what needed to be edited. As that child was fixing his work, I moved on to the next child. They all listened as I talked with each child, and fixed up the things I asked them to correct in their own piece. I am giving each child a small sticky note with one thing they need to remember to improve their writing, i.e. 'Don't forget the date,' 'Remember periods,' or 'Neat writing, please.' Whatever a child needs to work on goes onto a sticky note and into the front of their journal, where they'll have a list of what specific things they need to remember. I keep track of what I have given them to work on with my conference form, and at my next conference, I can check and see if they have followed the reminders on their sticky notes. Even conferencing as a small group, I was able to keep the instruction individualized, and it seemed to work pretty smoothly. It may be worth a small compromise to be able to conference with children more frequently."

Let me address one additional writing issue while we're on the subject. While in Germany in April, I visited many of the American DOD schools to see their Building Blocks and Four-Blocks classrooms. A wonderful kindergarten teacher at Bad Nauheim, Michelle Tepper, asked for advice about her students' writing development. Although she was quite pleased that her students were writing without hesitation and were motivated to write daily, she felt that many of the students were able to write more but were choosing not to. I asked many questions about her procedures and found one that I thought might actually be discouraging children from extending their writing. At the end of the writing time daily, she was offering a date stamp before the students filed their writing in their folders. I suggested that the children may have misconstrued the stamp to be a reward for completion which had in turn become their goal daily. Here's the response I received by email several weeks after my return to the US:

"I took your suggestion, adding papers to their writing folders where they would have continued access to them, did away with the stamping, and I have been modeling writing every day. Well, their writing has exploded!!!!! They are so excited and working so hard. They are creating wonderful stories and are so proud of their work. Great suggestion! So simple and so effective! Thank you!"

Sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference! Another solution might be to offer a stamp at the end of each day, regardless of whether the work is complete. It might be a date stamp or just a fun stamp. Then, brag a bit if someone ends up with two or three stamps on one piece of writing which means they've worked several days on the that piece. Tell students that writing several days on the same piece is what "the big kids in first grade do"! They'll likely strive to write like "the big kids" and want to have several stamps on their paper, too!

I hope that these questions and responses help with your writing and publishing this year and next. Till next month! ------------Cheryl (Hope you'll visit me at www.cherylsigmon.com for lots of new information this month and all summer, too!)

Grant Support: If your school is submitting a grant, I'll be happy to submit a letter to support your training. Often, grant readers are impressed that you've secured someone with credentials to assist with training and implementation. Contact me at cmsigmon@aol.com if I can help you. Congratulations to the schools who've written to say that you've been awarded your grants! I'm looking forward to working with you!

Training Opportunities:

Below are seminars that I have coming up in the future. The fall schedule will soon be posted. Hope to see you at one!

Cheryl Sigmon: http://www.cherylsigmon.com

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