Immersing young writers in a genre helps them understand what a type of writing is. Spending a few days on immersion, before diving into a unit of study, is always time well-spent. After all, kids need to know what argument, informational, narrative and poetry writing sounds like before they’re expected to produce something similar.
Janiel Wagstaff published the Stella series of books, which is about a second-grade student and her classmates who thrive in a joyful, supportive writing workshop classroom. However, the Stella books — Stella: Poet Extraordinaire, Stella and Class: Information Experts, Stella Tells Her Story, and Stella Writes An Opinion — aren’t just books you read aloud once to your students and toss aside. They can be used in a variety of ways. Janiel’s book page includes instructional strategies for each book, suggestions for adaptations across grade levels, and downloads of (the fictional) Stella’s writing that can be used in minilessons (notes, drafts with revisions and edits, as well as final copies).
I asked Janiel how she imagines teachers using her books in the classroom. Here’s what she said:
First, Stella, with her can-do, empowered personality has already been a wonderful inspiration to student writers. Teachers can read the books or parts of them aloud simply as a means to motivate their students to write. I’ve shared the books in many classrooms and delight in how even kindergartners take on a persona of confidence and purpose after hearing Stella’s stories. She is, and was meant to be, a positive model for students to relate to and emulate. Throughout the books she engages deeply with her writing, problem solves and preservers to achieve her goals and, in the end, her writing and that of her classmates has real purpose. This is another HUGE theme I’ve tried to convey within the texts—that the writing we do with students should be purposeful so they understand the power of their voices. My hope is teachers take that point to heart and look to find ways to make the writing they do with their students more purposeful, and thus, engaging.
The narrative, informative and opinion texts all cover possible explicit steps for teaching the genres while meeting standards. I included these to scaffold instruction for teachers who are newer to the teaching of writing. The steps can be followed as they are presented in each text, while the books are read in chunks/sections, if teachers desire such scaffolding. In my experience doing workshops and talking with teachers over the course of decades, many desire such support, especially in the teaching of writing. Additionally, a plethora of instructional techniques are shown in the books including modeled and shared writing, using a Running Topics List, oral rehearsal, peer work, using reading to stimulate writing, etc. Even more experienced teachers look for ways to enhance or breathe new life into their writing workshops, and my hope is there is something for everyone among the books.
Another thought is that teachers can use the books to revisit teaching points throughout the year as they continually write in varied genres with students. Say, for example, a teacher would like to encourage a group of students to branch out on their own or in partners to write on a topic of interest. She might revisit the questioning, organizing, researching and note taking sections of Stella and Class: Information Experts to stimulate discussion of this process. Another example: say a student is stuck and cannot come up with an ending for his piece. A teacher can turn to Stella Writes an Opinion and review what strategies Stella used to overcome that same problem. Possibilities for revisiting teaching points whole-class, small group, or with individuals across the books abound.
But how can these books help struggling writers? Janiel answered that question, even before I asked it, on her own blog.
Let’s not forget the strugglers: those who stare at the page blankly, those who wrestle with spelling, those who are crippled by perfection, those who feel they have nothing of worth to say, or those who begin a new school year, with long, sharpened pencils, fresh notebooks and a profound dislike for writing. I thought a lot about them as I formed Stella, because it’s students like her who help lift the writing bar. Stella is a model of writing hope. And, alongside her teacher and classmates, her classroom is a place of writing joy. The struggle is worth it, the struggle is worth it. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has something we need to take the time to hear.
The Stella books are a worthy addition to any primary writing classroom. Not only will they help you ground your students’ understanding about the different types of writing, but they are resources you can use throughout units of study.
This giveaway is for five sets of four Stella books. Many thanks to Staff Development for Educators for donating this series to five separate readers. For a chance to win one set of the Stella series books, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, May 22nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, May 24th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, Staff Development for Educators will ship your books out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – STELLA. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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I used a random number generator to select the winners of the Stella books. The winners are:
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.