Last week, I spent some time working in one of our second-grade classrooms. As part of a unit on writing about reading, they are developing opinions around the books that they are reading, including chapter books, early readers, or picture books.
I love the idea of having multiple celebrations throughout writing units. Celebrations don’t have to look like a catered event with food, guests, and dress-up; celebrations can also be the sharing of work that makes us proud and inspires us to set new goals and standards for ourselves.
Together, the classroom teacher and I planned our mini-celebration of the end of the first part of the opinion unit. To begin our mini-celebration, we asked the students to select a piece of writing from their folders that they had done that they were proud of. All of the students had a few pieces to choose from–one of the reasons that I like this unit so much is that students find a lot of writing inspiration and the volume/productivity is high. Then, with students in a circle in the meeting area, we gave each students an opinion checklist (you can find samples on the Teachers College website), and we had students share their work.
The important challenge that we issued to the students was that their compliments be reflective of the language on the checklist. We wanted them to practice listening for the qualities of opinion writing, verbalize those qualities, and hear them explicitly named. Recently, Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan wrote about the Baader Meinhof on their blog. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is the tendency for us to keep seeing recently learned information pop up all over the place soon after our learning. The more that we explicitly name the skills and get students to pay attention to the characteristics, traits, and expectations of writing, regardless of genre, the higher the probability of retention. I explained to the teacher that my goal was to have students repeatedly experience the language of opinion writing, as well as celebrate their work and set some goals for themselves.
After the first few students shared and the others complimented them using language from the checklist, I asked the next students if they would like compliments as well as some feedback. I wanted them to decide if they wanted to open themselves up to what might feel like criticism, and they were amazingly enthusiastic and receptive. I had to repeat many, many times that they should ground their responses in the checklist. “Wait,” I heard myself say several times. “Where is that on the checklist?” Usually, I don’t like to repeat myself, but in this case, I wanted the students to internalize not only the language of the checklist, but also the process of using the checklist to develop independence and repertoire, as well as its power to remind them of grade level expectations.
Once two-thirds of the class had shared their writing, I changed their listening task one more time, as I did not want them to be compliant listeners; I wanted them to be engaged and listening with a purpose. Therefore, I asked the students to not only think about compliments and feedback for their classmates, but also to think about the goals this activity was inspiring to set for themselves for the next part of the unit.
During the entire time, the classroom teacher and I were making notes, keeping track of strengths and learning opportunities. By the time everyone read, we had several small groups to plan and conduct. We also had student write their own goals which will help us to sort students into small group lessons, partner lessons, and individual conferences.
Put my opinion in and try to hook the readers
My goals are also, for example, another. Transitions.
Self-reflection and goal setting are such important elements of learning. It’s amazing how even second graders are able to analyze, reflect, and set goals, and how connected these goals are to reflection and celebration.