Lindsay Reyes began her teaching career seven years ago in South Carolina where she taught 4th and 5th graders. Following her heart for urban education and literacy reform, she moved to New York City where she taught middle school in the South Bronx. She has experience teaching General Ed and Special Ed (as a Collaborative Team Teacher in an inclusive setting). This year, she’s teaching 5th grade at P.S. 59 in Manhattan. Last summer she began a blog, Chasing Beauty… in the Classroom, to help celebrate and reflect on teaching.
When I think about finishing the year with students, a new excitement washes over me. I find myself sifting through lots of new ideas trying to settle on only the best ones. It’s as if my mind thinks it’s the beginning of the year. And it kind of is. I was at a wedding this past weekend that reminded me that endings always give way to new beginnings. There is great celebration, fond memories, and a sendoff of people into the next season of their lives.
The end of a school year isn’t much different. Perhaps that’s why it carries so much weight in my heart. Each year, I have to remind myself to slow down and live these days with purpose (even amidst the school activities and field trips we know so well) because they will solidify our time together as a class.
I often try to center my culminating units around three things: remembrance, celebration, and looking forward. This year, we launched our writing workshop by discussing WHY, WHAT, and WHEN writers write. Students brainstormed a long list of forms such as scrapbooks, memoirs, essays, fantasy stories, etc. Then we spent the next month engaged in independent writing projects, where each student followed the writing process on a genre of their choice. It was my first year ever beginning the year with independent projects, and the excitement I witnessed was sustained and palpable.
So in planning for the end of the year, I thought we could do the same thing. But this time, I decided to do a multi-genre unit in which students could select multiple projects. I had the students turn to the cover of their writer’s notebook where there is a heart. If you’ve taught poetry through the eyes of Georgia Heard, you know this heart. It is comprised of many topics or people (territories) that take up lots of our heart space, therefore taking up space in our writing lives. After that, we recalled all the many forms of writing we’d learned. But this time, instead of using our territories for poems, we used it for ANY genre.
A possible cycle goes something like this:
Day 1: What’s in your heart? Look at your territories and post-it as many small moments (or thoughts) you have for each one.
Day 2: Pick an idea! Writers decide on a “just right genre.” Maybe this is one that will help you best express your idea or maybe it’s one that feels the most comfortable. (Ex: I might not be comfortable writing a small moment about a fight with my brother but I could write a How-To on “How to Get Along With Siblings.”)
Day 3: Drafting
Days 4-10: Small Groups/Writing Clubs (Here, students can form clubs based on what they need. Usually this would be around a step in the writing process or a strategy particular to a genre.)
Repeat cycle if you want!
A mini-unit like this allows students to look back and celebrate their favorite genres. It allows them to do work they love the most. And most of all, it allows the release of the teachers hand to say, “Go. You are a writer. Write.”
So maybe long after they leave us, when they feel silly, lost, angry, inspired…or just itching to create… they will.