On pages 62 – 63 of Day by Day, I talked about the role of Pilates and its connection to writing workshop in a detailed discussion called “Concrete Images for Support.” Here I talked about one of many concrete tools, a ball, I used to help support my body as I did Pilates. I want to go beyond that one example, which lacked a related image, and talk a little more about concrete tools in both Pilates and in the writing workshop.
Ab Preps: Ab preps are a way of getting the body ready to do a full sit-up in Pilates. It’s an exercise where one plants their feet on a mat. With hands by one’s side, the person doing the exercises lifts their head, neck, and shoulders off of the mat and comes into a small curl. Until recently, I was completely unable to do an ab prep. However, my Pilates instructor gave me lightly weighted (2 lbs.) balls to place in my hands. I start an ab prep laying down, but before lifting my head, neck, and shoulders off of the mat, I left my arms up. There’s something about having the weighted balls in my hands that provides me with the ability to come up easier off of the mat. How can four pounds of weight make such a big difference? I think the balls in my hands allow me to take the focus off of my neck and get me to think more about tightening my core to help me curl up from there rather than just fling myself up using my neck (which would be both painful and unsafe). My instructor has taken the weighted balls away from me a couple of times since I’ve mastered ab preps and has encouraged me to do the exercise without them. I am able to do ab preps, now, without the assistance of the weighted balls because I know what ab preps should feel like without the use of this concrete tool.
Half Roll Backs: Sitting up with one’s knees bent and feet on the floor, the object of this exercise is to tighten one’s core and roll the spine back to the mat halfway and then stop. Then, using one’s core strength, one is supposed to roll themselves back up to their knees again, keeping a slight rounding in the spine, and then straighten up at the end of the movement. When I started doing half roll backs with my present Pilates instructor, Lauren, she noticed I had a hard time keeping my legs and hips still when I rolled backwards. Therefore, in order to help support me through this exercises, she gave me two concrete tools to support my body. First, she had me place a squishy, purple ball in-between my knees to keep the bottom half of my body still. By focusing on keeping one’s knees together, one is somewhat forced to engage their core. In addition, she gave me a Pilates ring (known to some people as a “magic circle”) to help me keep my arms straight as a rolled back on to my spine from a seated position. Keeping one’s arms straight means you have to focus on the core in order to do the exercise properly. If one can’t use their legs or arms for momentum to help them roll back (or back up, for that matter), then the core becomes engaged, which means that a half roll back is being done correctly. Once I was able to stabilize my core and roll back, half way, properly, Lauren encouraged me to raise and lower my arms, with my hands gripping the Pilates ring, so as to further challenge my core. This isn’t very easy when you’re rolled back half way on to your spine, but it’s possible when you have something to hold on to and focus on. Over time, the goal is to take away the squishy ball and the Pilates ring so I can do half roll backs without any kind of support. However, for now, these tools are necessary for me to keep my form correct, which in turn, keeps my body protected from injury.
In the discussion that appears in Day by Day, I talk about a few different concrete tools for support, which help out during various parts of the writing process. Graphic organizers are other tools that we can give to young writers to help support them at various points in the writing process. Some teachers are incredible at providing this type of support for their students, while others never provide graphic organizers because they think of it as too much of a crutch.
When I began teaching, my principal in New York had to push me to provide students graphic organizers. I wasn’t a fan of them because I thought they took the authenticity out of the writing process and I was afraid that students would become too dependent on them. However, over time, I learned that some students often needed these tools to help them organize their writing, while others needed graphic organizers to help them during other parts of the writing process. Some organizers, like two “pocket” collection folders for literary essays, can be useful for an entire class of kids. However, other graphic organizers may be needed by only one or a handful of students who need help overcoming a hurdle in writing workshop. For instance, I once had a student who needed a lot of support generating non-narrative entries in her writer’s notebook. Therefore, I created a sleuth of graphic organizers to support the collection process in her notebook. If I had provided all of my students with this kind of support it would’ve been too much since most of the children were able to generate non-narrative entries without t-charts and boxes in their notebooks. Later in the year, the student who received this support in her writer’s notebook had less trouble finding things to write about. And when she did… she would either look back through her notebook to locate old entries that would help her write new ones or would re-create old graphic organizers, like the ones I designed for her, to help her get started with her own writing.
Graphic organizers are one of many concrete tools we use in writing workshop to help scaffold students’ writing development and their writing process. What kinds of concrete tools do you give your students to help them with their writing? And, how and when do you know when gradually take those concrete tools away from them (if at all)?
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.