Are you in on the One Little Word this year? I had to laugh when I dipped into the Twitter stream on New Year’s Day and Dean Shareski, an ed tech educator I admire, said donuts a top three contender for his word this year.
Oh how Shareski’s tweet made me laugh. It made me laugh because my Dad’s One Little Word is likely donuts. My Dad has spent months in and out of doctors’ offices and weeks and weeks in hospitals. It is a difficult and scary season, but when Dad asked to see the Donut King, a local bakery with a cultish following, I knew he’d turned a corner. “Donuts” is my Dad’s one little word.
Somehow when you are in community with others, ideas connect in surprising ways. There are many tables in a community. Some of us find community face to face and wonder what the virtual hub-bub is all about Others discover new friends while face-chatting or tweet-gramming or insta-hashtagging or vid-vining or snap-booking. Do you sometimes wonder, who has time for all that? What’s with all of this share, share, share and who cares what you ate for breakfast?
Really, it’s not about breakfast. It’s about the stories. It’s about getting up early to make the metaphorical donuts that will bridge the divide between alone and together. It’s about reaching in and reaching out, in order to share experiences that will help us learn and grown. It’s about the story on the table.
Sharing stories at a common table is what the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge is all about. The team at Two Writing Teachers provides the table and student bloggers serve up slices–short written stories from their everyday lives.
Here’s how it works. Each day in March, Two Writing Teachers posts a “round-up” to gather links to classroom slices. Teachers then go to the TWT blog and share the link to their students’ blog posts. Then writers are encouraged to serve themselves at least three slices, three blog posts, a day. Students read a slice and leave a comment; they get second and third servings of story every day. That is when the magic starts to happen.
When you write in community with others, you get to know one another. You recognize yourself and your own experiences in the experiences of others. Kids do too, “slowly and then all at once” (Green).
In my own classroom, I’ve had students participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge a couple of different ways. One year, I partnered with one of my best teacher-friends and an administrative dean at our school. We had seventy-six kids blogging every day for ten days. We did a mini-challenge our first time. We paired up classes and three of us shared commenting on kids posts each day. I reflected on that experience here and my friend, Beth Scanlon, wrote about it on Two Writing Teachers here.
The next year, I created a blog for students, 31 students, and had kids sign up for each day in March. I encouraged each blogger and students in every class to read and comment on posts. Some did, some didn’t. It is all good as Ruth recently wrote. We are learning our way to building a stronger writing community.
I created a few things to teach students how to blog (linked below), but the best teacher, really, turned out to be experience, not worksheets or graphic organizers. The best learning happened when I listened to what students had to say about the challenge (described here) and we practiced generating topics, drafting blog posts or commenting in small groups.
To teach students commenting, I borrowed a lesson from Lee Kolbert and Tara Smith. We learned on paper and in person first. I printed a blog post and glued it to chart paper. Then in groups of three or four, students read the post and without talking wrote comments all around it, sometimes replying to each other.
Each student used a different colored marker on the chart paper so I could assess who was saying what. Students can also leave comments using sticky notes but in our humid classrooms, sometimes the stickies fall like snow flurries, so markers work just fine.
Once groups finish the silent, collaborative commenting experience, we debrief and talk about how commenting works on an actual blog and on WordPress. Sharing commenting on paper whets students’ appetites for commenting.
Connecting to people through the moments and stories they share whether on Twitter or on a blog reminds me of how important people are in our lives. Connecting helps us share joy. Share the hard times. Connecting reminds us of the donut moments too. Teaching kids how to connect with others by telling their own stories is important work. It is made light by many virtual hands.
Hands in classrooms across the country become authentic audiences for kids’ writing. They reach out with encouraging comments. No Matter How You Slice It, the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge infuses a classroom with community and writing joy. At a shared table, stranger to friend is a short distance. Won’t you join me for the fifth annual Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge? Your students’ stories are amazing. Share them.
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York, NY: Penguin, 2012.
Lee Ann Spillane teaches high school English in Orlando, Florida. A committed roller skater and dedicated Nerdfighter, she is passionate about reading and writing with teens. Her transmedia professional book Reading Amplified: Digital Tools that Engage Students in Words, Books and Ideas is available from Stenhouse. Find her online at http://about.me/spillane and on Twitter as @spillarke.