This week at TWT we will be writing about how to keep learning going through the summer months. As we approach the end of the year, thinking of new ways to inspire students to carry the learning with them is always a daunting task. We hope to inspire you throughout the week with ideas and tips to encourage both you and your students to bridge the gap from June to September. For an overview of the blog series click here.
It’s the last day of school. You give your last high-fives and hugs of the year. Everyone is smiling and excited. You think, “I did everything I could. Now it’s up to them,” and you wave as the bus pulls out. Maybe you even shed a tear.
As teachers, we know about the inevitable slide that can occur over the course of the summer. We often hear statistics that include learning loss and how these losses over years begin to accumulate, putting students behind their peers. Just Google, “summer slide statistics” and you will be inundated with infographics and articles covering the issue. It made me think, “How long does it take to lose a skill?” There just so happens to be an article on this topic covered by the online publication Hopes&Fears. It’s an interesting read that covers several perspectives. One section of the article that I thought was most prevalent to teaching writing was from Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D. After discussing how the loss of a skill is directly proportional to the amount of time spent learning the skill he explained how we often are surprised that we can still ride a bike after many years or plink out a song on the keyboard.
In contrast, if we’ve just developed a new skill, it’s quick to fade. The neural connections that encode this learning are neither extensive nor “deep.” We see this all of the time in our colleges and universities as students “cram for the test” and days later they are unable to remember the content or demonstrate the skill. It’s called surface learning for a reason, as it’s easily erased.
As I thought about all the new skills my students have learned over the past school year I thought to myself, as I often do, how deeply is this going?
Pondering this over the past few weeks I began to wonder what I could do to prevent or at least stifle the loss in the area of writing. Can I help students identify what skills they have learned deeply and have them set goals to maintain some level of their learning? When my students began the school year it was their stamina that seemed to be hit the hardest. If I could encourage my students to write periodically through the summer months focusing on some of their strongest skills it would certainly make a difference once they came back next year. I started to think about what they would need most to make this happen. Well, guess what? Something that has been a motivator for me in the past is when I’ve set aside a special place, a writing space.
I decided to chat about this with my students to see what they thought.
“I want you to imagine the place that you have had some of your best writing experiences.”
We began to list. Some students said a tree house, grandma’s backyard, their porch, under their desk, the classroom library, on their bed or in their closet. I asked the class what made these places so perfect for a good writing experience. Many of them talked about the fact that all these places were quiet or a place their little brother or sister couldn’t bother them. Some of them mentioned that being surrounded by nature or all their favorite things made them happy and it made it easier to think about something to write about. I asked each to think about a place they could create and design that would meet their writing needs when they were at home. Students sketched out their perfect writing spot and made a list of what they would need.
In the coming weeks, students are going to try and set up their spaces to prepare for summer. Collecting the items they need and getting it just right. Once we have our spaces ready each of them will be able to create their goal board. This will simply be a small poster listing two-three goals they have for themselves as writers. These goals will be different from goals they have set in the past. Typically in my classroom, students find an area they want to improve and write it on a sticky note to post near them and on our goal chart. Our summer goals will be what they feel they are independently capable of practicing with success. It might be, always using punctuation or remembering to organize using paragraphs and structure. Maybe their goals will be to continue to write catchy leads or informative pieces that include voice and personal stories. I think ending the school year celebrating some our biggest strengths will be a great way to cap off all the learning that has occurred. Students will be focused on what has gone well and set a goal to continue to excel in these areas. We will also talk about the best place for our little goal posters. Maybe on the refrigerator or inside our notebooks.
Feeling like we have already achieved a certain level of success takes a lot of pressure off of our goal setting. I suspect if students are able to work and practice skills they already feel comfortable with they will write with more freedom. It really is just about the writing. The act itself. The more we can encourage our students to be free to write and share with their own purposes the more likely they will succeed in the area of writing across time.
This brings me to our giveaway! At the end of our series this week I will be using a random number generator to choose one winner for Heinemann’s new book from Ralph Fletcher, Joy Write. I hope you are inspired by the series this week and I wish you luck in the giveaway! Read below for details.
This giveaway is for a copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
For a chance to win this copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 12:00 p.m. EDT. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winner whose name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 8th.
Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship your book 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, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – JOY WRITE BOOK. Please respond to her 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.