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Summer Writing Goals

Summer’s calling, yet every year while my 5th graders are dreaming of middle school and summer vacation, my heart is filled with my future 5th graders. I’m itching to understand them and support their growth as readers and writers.

Historically, my year-end focus has been on summer reading. We send books home and make sure families know reading is a priority. And it’s paid off. The trouble has been with writing.

The majority of my students have had writing workshop since kindergarten. Still year after year, my 5th graders begin their year with me as if small moments, mentor texts, and bit-by-bit storytelling are foreign ideas. Asking students to write for more than 15 minutes is painful to watch. Every year we slowly reclaim skills and stamina. This just kills me.

Every fall I kick myself for not being proactive, so this year our 4th and 5th-grade teams got together to create a plan to limit summer writing loss. We wanted something to maintain the writing muscles and to hold students accountable for their prior learning. To work, it had to be flexible, straightforward, and fun. Nothing about it could be too “teachery.”

Two weeks before the end of school, I joined my soon-to-be students in the comfort of their current classroom. With new notebooks at my side, I called them to the carpet and complimented them on their writing accomplishments. Then, I told them about the strange thing that happens over the summer to incoming 5th graders: with a whole summer of not writing, their brains get sluggish and temporarily forget how to write. Shocking right! But this year, I told them, will be different. This year, they were going to be the first group of 5th graders to break the summer curse.

We talked about the importance of goals and the need to quantify them. Then we planned.

For each of the nine weeks of summer, I asked students to set a writing goal in terms of pages written.  I asked them to turn back a corner of the page where they would meet their weekly goal and label it with the week’s number, nine in all. Watching them do this was fascinating. Some quickly determined their goals, while others thoughtfully calculated out each week. writing goals Goals are easy to make; the tough part, for all of us, is keeping them. We all need continued inspiration and support. Giving students inspiration when we aren’t there is a challenge. I thought of planting little bits of encouragement throughout their notebooks, but I wanted it to be when they needed it. We came up with a few ways to attack this problem.

First, I shared the notebook I got from Dana Murphy at the Two Writing Teachers’ NCTE dinner. I showed students the literary gifts I found within the journal as I used it. Little surprises were scattered within the pages for me to find as I used the notebook.

I asked students if they could think of words, phrases, even drawings that could do the same thing for their writing partners. After a bit of talk and charting of ideas, each student got two post-its for their words of inspiration.  Every student jotted and then passed their words of encouragement to their friends. Then, I asked students to put these post its where they thought they’d need them, maybe at the beginning of a week.

Take thing you see - turn it into writing
Take thing you see – turn it into writing

Knowing my need for inspiration in the summer and even lessons to push me, I thought of Kate Messener’s book, 59 Reasons to Write. This book is a summertime, low-key teacher.  Using her book as a model, our teacher team created prompts, cut them into strips of colored paper and put them into envelopes, one for each student.

After the students placed their post its, I showed them the envelope and shared how they might use it like I use Messener’s book. When you don’t know what to write, pull one and read it. If it inspires you, go for it and write. If not, put it back and try another. Some included:

  • If you could have superhero powers, what would it be and why?
  • What are your favorite foods? Create a menu for a restaurant that served all of these foods.
  • Write about something you’ve lost.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

At this point, students are clutching their brand new notebooks and begging to peek at the writing prompts. I tell them no. It’s not summer yet, so they reluctantly turned them back in.

After school, I inspect their notebooks, find how students have set goals, and I read the post-its they’ve received. From this information, I have small groups to work with during next week’s lesson when students will decorate their summer notebooks, turn in their 4th-grade notebooks, and choose the charts they find the most helpful for me to take to their new classroom.

Over the summer, I’ll send home letters with writing ideas and mentor texts. Inspired by Messner’s book each prompt includes my writing as a mentor text. You can find prompts and letters home here.

Next week, students will walk off with personalized notebooks. I know their writing intentions might be forgotten. It’s to be expected, but with a few reminders from me, and a bit of parent support, the notebook will be there to be used.  Will this work? Will students come in retaining more stamina and skills than they have in the past? Some students will follow through, and some will fall short. Some will walk in empty handed. That will be an assessment in itself and guide our work next year.

Summer will happen, and if the plan works, a little writing will happen too. When fall rolls around, students will find their 4th-grade notebooks and charts in their 5th-grade classroom as reminders of where they left last year, ready to be used the first week of school.

Julieanne Harmatz teaches reading and writing to 5th-graders in Los Angeles, California. You can find her blog, To Read To Write To Be here.

36 thoughts on “Summer Writing Goals Leave a comment

  1. Julieanne~
    I LOVE this post! As a first grade team we re-introduced our writing notebooks and loaded their writing minds with new ideas and inspirations for summer writing. The problem as you mentioned is, we aren’t there to remind them. So we sit back, cross our fingers and hope upon all hopes that they write!
    The idea of friends adding post-it-notes of inspiration is one way to reach out from school. I am definitely borrowing this next year and maybe this year for my daughter who heading off to college 4 states away! Wouldn’t it be nice for her to have a journal sprinkled with notes from home!
    Thanks for sharing!

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    • Deb,
      I love, love the idea of sending our babies off to college with a note-sprinkled journal! I’m with my daughter in NOLA now (half a country away from home). If she comes here next year I’ll be sure to send her with one.
      Julieanne

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  2. Wow- this is just flat out brilliant. I really love what you are doing and cannot wait to hear more about this at the start of the school year. Such a great idea- and you executed the whole thing with incredible care and forethought. Really really great.

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  3. I love the post-its that partners created for each other to personalize the notebooks, and give each other inspiration. What a great idea! I want a notebook like that for myself as a writer!

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  4. It’s brilliant how you’re doing this for your incoming students, Julieanne! I hope you won’t have to “reclaim their stamina” during the first weeks of school. Let us know how it turns out in the fall!

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    • Thanks, Stacey! I am so hopeful and feel so lucky to have spent some time with them before they are “mine.” The experience of teaching your future students is a gift.

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  5. Love this so much, Julieanne. I love how you’re being proactive instead of just lamenting the lack of writing come fall. Your ideas are brilliant – really brilliant. I especially love the notes you’re sending home. So, so smart.

    I’m glad you liked your literary gift, btw, and I hope you’re enjoying the little surprises as you find them. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much, Dana. Your notebook was a very big part of this. The whole idea of “literary gifts” is something I want to incorporate into my classroom culture next year.

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  6. Wow, Julieanne! I love this idea. So many of us worry about summer reading loss, and plan for ways to prevent it. I, too, am frustrated when my new 3rd graders act as though they’ve never even heard of writing workshop. So I love this idea as a way to minimize summer WRITING loss!
    I can’t wait to try this at the end of next year, and am planning on trying to recruit some of my 4th grade teachers. I think students would be even more motivated to write during the summer if they know their 4th grade teacher is expecting it. Am also pondering ways to do this with the 2nd graders who will come to me in third grade.

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    • Allison,
      I was worried I was the only one who saw summer writing loss because no one really talks much about it. I’m thinking we need to get families and other teachers involved. In some ways reading is a harder act to facilitate because you need the books. With writing you just need a notebook and pen! Can’t wait to see you,
      Julieanne

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  7. I am doing this with my second graders, but I did not think of the added concept of sticky note prompts! I love it! I got my PTO on board to purchase the notebooks and market the idea to parents so I’m hoping to get a bit more buy in. We are going to have a special share day so that kids will fell motivated to continue. Thanks for your ideas!

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    • Kimberley,
      My PTA paid (and shopped) for the notebooks for all incoming 5th graders. They are awesome. I’m planning to have lots of parent education around writing next year. (Love your notebooking site with Amy, I’m thinking of sending this link to my kiddos in one of the letters.)

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  8. Thanks, Kathleen! So many parents have learned the importance of reading, but I don’t think most understand the equal importance of writing. I grew up with lots of writing tools at home. It was something I did for fun. It was part of make-believe play. Funny how your comment reminded me of those times. 🙂
    You will love Kate Messner’s’ book and check out her site for summer — Teacher’s Write! starts July 7th. http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write/

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  9. I am hopeful for you,Julieanne. These are great ideas that connect so much and help round out the workshop that all your teachers have been doing with students. What if students really hadn’t thought about the connection? At the least, perhaps they’ll gather more ideas from noticing more during their summers. Great post-looking forward to hearing about the results in the fall.

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    • ILinda,
      You make such a good point, they probably did not think about the connection. I think we have a ways to go in terms of students (and parents) understanding that writing is something we do outside of school. For pleasure no less. I’m excited for the possible.

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    • Thanks, Susan. I am very fortunate to have a great team of teachers who support students so beautifully. I’m hopeful for next year (of course!). I believe we will start with better understandings of writing expectations come fall.

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  10. Great to see your ideas on Two Writing Teachers. I am so inspired by your wonderful idea. You are very fortunate that you have administration that supports this. Can’t wait to hear about what your new 5thgrade notebooks look like when school starts. Summer is filled with so many small moments!

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    • Thanks Adrienne! Isn’t it always the way.. just a few more days….
      I’m keeping my fingers crossed for fall. If nothing else, it sets the expectation. We’ve done this with reading, why not writing.

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  11. Julieanne,

    Such thoughtful care for your incoming students . . . They are already part of a writing community that is now full circle and continues through the summer rather than a cycle that runs only during the school months. The individual goal setting, the post-its, and the prompts provide several choices.

    ANY and ALL writing that these kiddos do over the summer will make them winners! What great encouragement (and I can’t wait to hear how they do with on-demands at the beginning of the year)!

    Another superb guest post this week!

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  12. There’s so much to love here, Julieanne! You make me want to return to teaching elementary school again. My first thought is, “I can’t do this with middle schoolers.” But my second is, “How can this be done with middle schoolers?” I LOVE every bit of this…the notebooks, the charts, the sticky notes & prompts!!! There’s so much valuable planning and implementing to make this work! I can’t wait to hear about the results in the fall. I predict it will work out BETTER than you imagined! As always, I walk away from reading your post feeling like I learned something new!!! 🙂

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  13. Great post Julieanne! You created a challenge and excitement for writing this summer. I can’t wait to see what happens when the new year arrives. I love that you are using anchor charts that they had in fourth grade.

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    • I can’t tell you how much I LOVE the charts I’ve inherited. AND the students chose them. Gotta love that accountability. This lovely idea came from Shana Frazin our first TCRWP staff developer.

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  14. Last year I sent home a letter about summer writing. It failed miserably, so I didn’t even try it this year. But these ideas I love! The post-its of encouragement from friends really seals the deal and makes them accountable to more than just themselves. I will tuck these away for the end of next year. I am determined to solve the problem of summer lag. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    • The last couple of years I tried to get them blogging over the summer, but the results were bad. I’m hoping they enjoy the freedom and find their notebooks easy access. I’m with you, can’t give up on this. I’m hoping it can become something we can develop an expectation during the summer months.

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  15. Oooh, I LOVE these ideas and only wish I had thought of similar before my third graders headed out the door. I have also traditionally focused on pushing summer reading and your ideas have really hit home. While I encouraged them to write (and gave out new pens and reminded them that their blogs would still be open) I should have been more purposeful like you were. I will definitely refer to this at the end of next school year. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thanks Erika! I have been mulling over this for years and finally did something about it. I’m hoping they come in stronger and maybe getting the idea that writing happens outside of classrooms. (Love giving students pens! )

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  16. What a motivating way to kick off summer writing! I always worry about summer slide, but most of the discussion is about reading. Great that you were so proactive about writing. I love that the children came up with ways to help each other find ideas. I want to check out Kate Messner’s book now as well! Part of the problem of summer slide is kids not choosing to continue reading and writing and seeing them as purely school activities and not life activities. One of our challenges is to help them see themselves as people who read and write all the time, not just in school! Thanks for sharing such great ideas!

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