Notes from the SOLSC my classroom: how to leave “constructive comments”.

sol lesson 1

Writing a Slice of Life every day is  challenging for us, and challenging for our students.  And, just as we (may) struggle with getting to everyone and leaving a meaningful comment, so it is for our students, too.

For my students, who slice every Friday, all year, as part of our writing workshop routine, commenting was something that had to be modeled, taught, and practiced.  The first year we sliced, one of my students said: “I like getting comments, but I don’t like writing them.”  That pretty much sums up the attitude of many of my students at the start of the school year, and I know that I have to work hard to get them to see the purpose and value of commenting.

At the beginning of the year, I share comments from years past alongside the slices that inspired them.  This shows my kids the connection between the two, and the way in which comments can:

  • touch upon writing highlights – lines, words, imagery that were beautiful or moving
  •  encourage the writer – did they try something cool with the entry line? the way they described something?
  • inspire the writer to take on new writing challenges – can you suggest something they could do to bring the scene alive more clearly? would the addition of dialogue help?

I paste slices from years past on chart paper, and my students work in their table groups to read, appreciate, and figure out how to compose meaningful comments.  This type of discussion with someone else’s writing frees them up to be honest in their critiques.  This exercise, done more than a few times in those early days, allows my kids to practice ways of noticing and framing  comments.  We want to focus on the constructive and complimentary aspects of commenting (sixth graders can be oh so snarky at times!), and this type of guided commenting sets the stage for their own independent work in the weeks and months ahead.  These charts are left up on our walls for a while to serve as reference points – just in case.

Here is an example of “constructive commenting” from our current  SOLSC:

K: Winter Storm SOL
I was sitting in the living room, listening to the wind roaring outside. I turned to peek out of the big windows that looked out to my back yard. The strength of the wind blew the tree branches to the left, making a slight rustling sound. The snow looked like white sheets, floating down from the clouds. You could only notice the individual snowflakes if you peered very closely to the clouds of snow. Once you could notice the snowflakes, they looked like butterfly wings, fluttering ever so slightly. The snow perfectly coated the bare tree branches, creating the illusion of powdered sugar being gently sifted onto the branches. On the deck, the snow was piled so it sat up to at least a foot. I wondered what I could do outside in the snow, with my friends. But that is a story for another time…

  • Mrs. Smith: This is just lovely!  My favorite line, because you captured the delicacy of snow so beautifully: “The snow perfectly coated the bare tree branches, creating the illusion of powdered sugar being gently sifted onto the branches.”
  • A: This is a perfect description of what it looked like. I liked how  you used similes, and I like your ending “But that is a story for another time…”
  • M: My favorite line is when you said ” they looked like butterfly wings, fluttering ever so slightly.” I love your descriptive language!
  • C: I like the description of the trees – perfect to visualize.
  • D: I like your specific word choice, peered very closely, looked like butterfly wings, etc.
  • I: I like how you said the snow looked like white sheets.  I could just envision it!

And here’s another example:

M: Yawn! I rubbed my eyes and looked at my clock.
“Eight o’clock!” I shouted. I stared out my window at the snow lying on my lawn like a field of clouds. Snow days are the best, relaxing all day and playing outside. I bundled up in my Abercrombie snow jacket, snow pants, gloves, hat, and my heavy boots. I ran outside into the winter wonderland. The snow was blowing into my face as if it was being blown by a fan.
“Want to help me shovel?” My mom asked me. I nodded and grabbed a shovel from my garage. There was a soft layer of snow, a layer of ice, and then some more fluffy snow. This made it hard to shovel and I gradually got slower as I kept shoveling. I shoveled some snow and flung it on top of the white mountains on the sides of the driveway. My fingers and toes were numb from the cold and my cheeks were rosy red.
I finally finished shoveling and I laid down on the snow and looked up at the small crystals floating beautifully through the blue sky. “What a great day,” I thought to myself.
  • H: I love how you compared snow to small crystals floating.
  • A: I like how you started with a yawn and transitioned into the day without giving any unnecessary details. I also like how you added in small details that let me visualize, like “my cheeks were rosy red.”
  • K: I like how you described the snow as fluffy – that’s exactly the texture I’d think of.

Some of my kids are comment counters – they want to amass the most comments, but not necessarily return the favor! So, we work on this as well – everyone MUST comment on at least 6 slices.  As time goes on, I find that reading and commenting becomes a natural process – even an addictive one!  But, setting up those initial parameters gives us a beginning point.

 Practicing, sharing, and discussing comments is as much a part of our SOL experience as writing those slices.  All of my kids have learned the value of commenting and really appreciate it when their classmates say something thoughtful about their slice.  How do I know this? Because they thank each other in class for this or that comment, not ostentatiously  but quietly, in passing, as they move from one thing to the next in our daily routine:

“That was nice what you said about my slice!”
“Thanks for the smiley face on your comment.”

Best of all, they appreciate the slices their classmates have crafted and enjoy the shared experience of writing about their lives together, learning about their lives together.  How do I know this? Because they talk about their classmate’s slices, also as a matter or course, and that has become a part of our classroom conversations:

“How cool that you finally got a dog!”
“I didn’t know your grandma was sick.”
“You finally saw that movie, wasn’t it awesome?”

Writing posts and comments has helped my students become much better writers, and noticers of great writing.  I hope that those of you who have taken the plunge into the SOLSC this March are beginning to experience this, too.