I’ve never been horseback riding. It always has sounded like it would be magical but if I’m being realistic heights and speed are not my thing. I’d probably do better on a pony connected to a circle coral. The idea, however, still appeals to me. The thought of feeling that free, wind in your hair excitement is tempting. Even though I haven’t experienced a freeing ride on horseback through winding trails at sunset, I do get to often let go of the reigns in my classroom and watch with inspiration as my students struggle, think, and grow. To me, these are the freeing moments that give me goosebumps filled with excitement.
In third-grade, we recently began studying information text and their structures. We talked about descriptive structures, compare/contrast structures, sequential structures, and others that popped up in our hunt for characteristics of information text. This began as a rocky process. Students could see the differences in the structure but to articulate them was a different story. As a result, we spent more time talking, analyzing, noting, and dissecting text to identify these pieces. I read a variety of texts from Nicola Davies, Melissa Stewart, Seymour Simon, National Geographic, and Gail Gibbons to name a few. As we continued our investigations, we used organizers, noting charts, and lists which helped us later as we began our information writing unit of study shortly after.
As the writing unit began, we started with the familiar, a description structured personal expertise piece or two. Students wrote fast and had one to two examples after two days. These flash drafts helped us to unpack our understanding of what information text looks like, sounds like, and might be modeled after. Many students gravitated toward animal topics and modeled their pieces in similar ways, with headings or subtopics that were familiar (i.e., diet and habitat). These ideas felt close to home since so many had written about animals as a focus across several days in grades K-2. We talked about expanding these ideas into something fuller. It was decided to do this we would need to take bits and pieces of our current ideas and dive into planning. My hope was if we were going to start with what felt comfortable, we could push ourselves a little deeper into the text features and description style structure we were practicing to prepare for different topics in the near future.
As we began talking about planning methods, we co-constructed a chart similar to the one in this previous post. Students shared methods we had used in the past with persuasive essays and narrative/fiction stories, which led to great conversations about what planning methods would be best for information pieces. When the boxes and bullets plan emerged as a talking point, many thought this would be a great match to information writing and not just essay writing. Other students also thought that descriptive writing would best be planned using a web or T-chart list. We talked more, and students started to see that they could take more than one planning method and merge the two. Many tried this, and the Box-Bullet-Web was born.
When students are involved in the process of thinking, evolving, and developing an idea their buy-in is natural. Motivation becomes high. It wasn’t about what I wanted but instead a facilitation of their thinking. I’m excited to dig deeper into this with my writers. Teaching students to be thinkers and self-led learners has been a goal for me. I’m trying to stay out of the way and push students to think in their own ways. We slowly make progress as they push beyond their concerns of being wrong and instead embrace the process of learning.