Reading More, Understanding More

Today a third grade teacher stopped me and said, “You should read some of the reviews my students wrote. They are awesome.”

“Really?” I smiled.

“Oh yeah. They were so much better than last year.”

Last year she opened her classroom to me in order to try-out some of my thinking about opinion writing, specifically review writing, with younger writers. We worked through the unit together and were pleased with how things went, as well as excited about stepping into a new genre with third graders.

“What was different?” I asked, curious about her experience of working through the unit a second time.

She began to reflect and her realizations were powerful.

  1. She spent more time studying reviews on her own. Because she read so many, she had a better understanding of the genre. She shared how the structure of a review became more clear to her; the minilessons regarding structure made more sense to her after she studied more reviews.
  2. She found patterns in structure and voice and craft of the reviews and taught these specifics to her students.
  3. Her students read more reviews than the previous year, so they were steeped in the genre. They had a sense of how a review should go.

We continued our conversation about the importance of refining our teaching. I love how she used our work together as  a jumping off point and then continued learning on her own. I love how she figured out the genre by reading lots of reviews and then provided a similar experience for her students. The power of mentor texts is an obvious theme through her reflection.

Mostly, I love how she was willing to step into new territory last year and nudge herself to refine her teaching this year. This is the heart of a workshop teacher. We expect writing to be messy work, but we also expect workshop to be strong enough to support the work. Instead of shucking the unit or creating a lock step assignment, she studied and came to new understandings to make the review unit even more successful than the year before.

Here’s to being brave and bold in working through the mess and finding procedures and understandings in order to strengthen writing workshop.