SOME BACKGROUND [SHARING MY ROOTS]
Many moons ago, I was a self-contained, intermediate teacher. I loved teaching, loved my kiddos, loved my colleagues and my school. From day-to-day, my students helped breathe life into the work I was doing. That was especially true when the work was extra hard—navigating school initiatives, trying to understand state and district mandates, making sense of curricula, and staying on top of the never-ending, to do list on my teacher clipboard.
Those days are vivid in my mind’s eye because it was the same time my firstborn, Sydney, showed her beautiful face to the world. I was a proud, new, working mom [missing my baby fiercely] which resulted in a daily quick share during Morning Meeting, referred by my students as “Sydney Story Time”. I shared stories about Sydney throwing Cheerios all over the floor, her refusal to keep baby socks on her feet, her babbles and first words, and descriptions of lost toys in our backseat. My kiddos learned a lot about Sydney, but they also learned a lot about me and the things that were important in my life.
In those days being digital was a 2 or 3 step process. Once a week, I added a picture to my narrative to add to the storytelling experience. My students would gather around our desktop computer to view the “Sydney Picture of the Week”. As I shared the play-by-play descriptions that accompanied the picture, my students would smile and laugh and ask questions and give advice. I knew I was onto something meaningful because if I was out of the classroom and missed Morning Meeting, my students expected 2 “Sydney Stories” upon my return. It was pure joy.
Each day during Reading and Writing Workshop, my students had 2 big chunks of work time where they were doing the work of READING [reading texts they chose] and doing the work of WRITING [writing a lot]. Among others, we had 2 goals that were consistent across every unit, every day. They were:
EYES ON PRINT, EYES ON PRINT, EYES ON PRINT to build reading volume.
PENCIL TO THE PAGE, PENCIL TO THE PAGE, PENCIL TO THE PAGE to build writing volume.
“Sydney Stories” often became entry points for my students’ reading and writing experiences. It was not unusual for a few details to show up in my students’ Writer’s Notebooks. Sometimes students recounted the events from Sydney’s point of view. Sometimes fictitious details were added. Other times, students would write a similar story, but change the main character or add a new ending with a twist. There were even times when a few students would launch some research and create things, based on something that was shared, which is how I acquired homemade, baby-safe, hanging toys in the backseat of my car.
SO WHAT? WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Kids want to know their teachers. They want to know about our experiences, talents, fears, family happenings, and the adventures of our daily lives. It’s reciprocal because we want to know our students in the same way. As the years passed, I expanded my Morning Meeting share to include lots of things about me— interesting things about my extended family, my passions, and curiosities. My sharing often inspired students to want to to do the same, giving everyone ongoing opportunities to learn about and know one another.
EFFICIENT & EFFECTIVE PRACTICES STAND THE TEST OF TIME
Recently, our family got a new puppy. Oh my…. it’s like having a toddler in the house! Here’s Denver, our 16-week old Bernedoodle.
As an instructional coach who visits schools, I often need to create opportunities to learn about students and ways for students to get to know me. Earlier this week I was working with some amazing 4th graders. To launch our work, I shared Denver’s picture above along with these details:
My family got a new puppy.
He is 16 weeks old.
His name is Denver and he is a Bernedoodle.
He came from a breeder in Indiana.
His mom had a litter of 7 puppies.
When Denver runs across the yard, he sometimes does a little somersault because he’s in that clumsy puppy stage.
Students broke into small groups for about 7 minutes to discuss anything they were thinking about. The room was full of productive chatter. Some students talked about their own pets. Others listed wonderings they had about Denver. During Reading and Writing Workshop, students were given several choices. They were invited to read or write something that they were previously working on OR they could do some work in response to Denver’s picture. During a quick brainstorm, we generated this list together of some possibilities.
Denver’s photo sparked curiosity and interest, but the key was students’ choice and autonomy in what they did [or didn’t do] after my quick share. Some students talked more about their own experiences with puppies. Some students researched about Bernadoodles and other points of interest. Some created lists of questions while others wrote Denver adventure stories. Most importantly, some went about with their own reading and writing projects because that is how they chose to spend their time. These 4th graders are just getting started—I can’t wait to see where their literacy journey takes them!
TRY THIS: USE A PHOTOGRAPH TO SPARK CURIOSITY & INTEREST
Find a photo/image that is meaningful to you [family member, recent experience, something from nature, etc.]
Project the photo/image so that students can see it and share a few details about it.. Note: If time permits, give students time to talk about the photo/image and/or ask you questions about it.
Explain that during Reading and/or Writing Workshop, students will have time to read or write something related to the photo/image you shared OR they can read or write something they were previously working on.
As a whole group, brainstorm some possible reading and writing ideas.
Give students time to read and/or write.
At the end of Reading or Writing Workshop, give students an opportunity to share what they’ve been working on [whole group or small groups].
As students share, listen in and kidwatch so that you can use this data/intel to impact your focus for instruction in the days to come. CONSIDER: Ask students if they would like more time to read and write using the photo/image as inspiration OR if they have had enough time. If students would like more time, plan accordingly based on students’ interests/needs and your school/district curricular calendars.
Invite students to bring in a photo/image to share with the class. If there’s time and interest, give students an opportunity to read and write from classmates’ photos too!
If you are an administrator or instructional coach, consider asking colleagues to bring in a photograph to share during a staff meeting. They could:
Form a small group and talk to colleagues about their photo.
Do a quick write about their photo or any photo in the room.
Brainstorm ideas about ways photographs/images could be used in the classroom to bolster reading and writing volume.