A Year of “Slice of Life” in the classroom.

SOL

It’s finally summer in most school districts, and every teacher I know seems to have closed the classroom door to daily school life…and opened another to summer relaxation, reading, and PD (I am thinking of all my lucky friends at All Write ‘14 right now, and those who will be at Boothbay with me on Sunday).  The nerdy teacher in me is definitely on summer break, but also (hence the nerdiness) thinking just a little bit about new ideas for next year.  For those of you who may be thinking along these lines, too, perhaps this is the time to start thinking about launching a year long Slice of Life project in your classroom.

This project has been part of my school year for some time, but this year fellow Tuesday slicer and tech wizard Bonnie Kaplan and I decided that it was time to collaborate together and document the journey from launch to year end reflection. What does a year of Slice of Life writing within the context of writing workshop look like?  What impact can this have on students growth as writers and on classroom community?  Before the school year began, and then as it unfolded, Bonnie and I met to share ideas, mull over the progress my kids were making, and plan new trajectories in slice of life writing. Her experience as a teacher, and as co-director of the Hudson Valley Writing Project, which is part of the National Writing Project ,  gave our Slice of Life year an extra boost of energy and motivation – my kids loved having Ms. Kaplan videotaping and asking great questions!  You can read Bonnie’s posts about these visits here,  here, and here.  And here is the amazing video she produced – a year of slicing in 18 minutes:

 

If you are reading this and your first thoughts are: Why add another “thing” to my already full writing workshop year?

Or: How would I even begin?

And: What would SOL in the classroom over the span of the year even look like?

…then here are some answers to motivate you into beginning the process.

Why add another “thing” to my already full writing workshop year?

  • A yearlong Slice of Life Project enhances everything else you do in writing workshop.  Slicing once a week gives kids another chance to practice all those skills you’ve been crafting mini lessons for, and each week’s set of slices become instant mentor texts for craft moves and (on a more mundane level) grammar and punctuation conventions.  The class blog becomes a collective digital writers notebook – my students returned time and time again to check out ideas and refresh their memories about this or that event which they wrote lengthier pieces about as memoirs, feature articles or narrative poems.  In Bonnie’s video, you can see my kids marking up and analyzing each others’ slices – we felt that it was important to make Slice of Life writing as interactive as possible, for our students can learn so much about the craft of writing by reading closely and trying to figure out the hows and whys of each others’ writing moves.
  • Because you are slicing once a week with your students, they get to see you live a writer’s life.  In the early days of the school year, I often wrote my slice of life and posted it on our blog right there in classroom, so that my kids could see what the writing process looked like.  Looking back, I know that some of our most powerful writing lessons and (more importantly) ideas about the habits of a writer’s life, came from these “live” demonstrations.
  • As I have written about before, The SOL Project is also an authentic way in which to build and nurture a classroom community.  My students shared bits and pieces of their lives all year, and learned so much about each other in the process.  Stories and events they wouldn’t have necessarily shared with everyone, became slices that everyone could read, think over, and comment upon. We learned of visits from far away relatives, the loss of a beloved family member, a new bike or iphone, the highlight or great disappointment of a trip – slicing every week gave us a chance to know the lives of our classmates.

How would I even begin?

It’s my personal belief that every writing teacher should have a personal teaching blog or keep a writer’s notebook (or both!).  We ask our kids to write every day, we should do the same. Penny Kittle makes an impassioned case for this in Chapter 2 (fittingly titled “This I Believe”) of her wonderful book, Write Beside Them, here’s my favorite bit:

“I now believe you really can’t teach writing well unless you write yourself…We don’t learn  many things well just by following directions.  We have to ride together.  The apprenticeship with the master in the field is still the best model for learning.”

Here’s link to an excellent post I just read, in which the author, a National Writing Project member makes the same case:

“NWP teachers don’t teach the writing process. We live it. We model it. We write because we are writers and that is what we teach our students to be.”

Spend some time crafting and sharing a Slice of Life with our Tuesday writing community here at Two Writing Teachers, it will help you launch a much more effective project in September (plus, it’s a fabulous group of supportive and creative writers!).

Here is a link to a post I wrote about launching the project in September (always with fanfare and celebration: it’s the new cool thing in our classroom life).

What would SOL in the classroom over the span of the year even look like?

We wrote a Slice of Life almost every week of the school year – even when school was closed (endlessly it seemed) over our dreadful winter of snow and ice.  That’s the beauty of digital writing, for I was able to post the opening slice whether it was a school day or a snow day.  Most often, it was a “regular” slice of life – the classic moment-in-the-day one which the Tuesday writing community creates.  But, there were times when Bonnie and I felt that we could generate more engagement and excitement by mixing things up a bit, and so we wrote about:

  • our One Little Word and why we chose it
  • a 100 word Halloween story
  • a Thanksgiving tradition SOL
  • a “portrait of a favorite relative” SOL (a moment that gives insight into what this person is all about)
  • what inspired our multi genre topic
  • what taking the NJASK state test felt like
  • trying various storytelling apps to experiment with visual elements and tighter, more focused narratives and poetry (Tapestry and Haiku Deck were class favorites)

These “non-regular” SOLs allowed some variety in our weekly blog posts, and my kids appreciated the change of pace… as well as the opportunity to use their phones to take photographs they could use in their digital writing pieces.

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On our last day of writing workshop, we invited parents to view Bonnie’s video as part of our multi genre writing celebration.  For the parents present, it was a glimpse into the workings of our writing workshop, and many of them remarked on the ease with which their kids talked about the writing process, and how Slice of Life writing had made their kids much more aware of  writing for an audience.  This reminded me of a conversation Bonnie and I had had, very early in the process, in which we had articulated those very goals for our project and for our students.

Perhaps our class’ writing journey will inspire yours.   Perhaps this is the summer to get ready to become a “slicer” and plan for a year of Slice of Life with your students. Join us, and share your slicing story!