Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Literally Putting a Frame Around Them

A framed theater poster from a 1999 production of The Diary of Anne Frank fell from the wall in my classroom.  Its glass shattered across the space in the empty room over the weekend.

I thought I was saving the signed poster as I cleaned the fragments from the floor.  Instead, I found a new resource for my classroom: the frame.

Still intact, it brought me back to something I read in Kathryn Bomer's Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching from the Brillance in Every Child's Writing:
If we have to literally put a frame around a piece of writing to get kids to see their work as art then that is what we must do.
My teaching of writing has shifted in recent years--I no longer write on student writing.  Using post-its and face-to-face conferring, I am trying to elevate their perception of themselves in their own eyes.  This includes their writing...this especially includes their writing.

While I use a large bulletin in a main hallway to display student writing, and while I hang a variety of pieces throughout the classroom, I have not yet used a frame to isolate a piece of writing.

What an experiment thus far.

Placing the frame directly over a portion of the class white board, I place a new piece of student writing inside each day.  It has created a buzz...whose piece will show up next?  Students gather around the bulletin boards and they scan the many one-pagers/book reviews posted around the room, but the energy and smile the simple frame has generated has been quite a happy accident.

The frame opened up another avenue for me--highlighting student quizzes and tests.  As this is a writing class, I teach vocabulary by asking students to write.  Our vocabulary assessments are not the multiple choice/fill-in-the-blank garden variety that I used for many years.  Students now write fluid passages using any five words from our list of twenty.  They do not know what the topic will be--I've found that forces the students to be ready for anything and therefore willing to study all twenty words.

I stress context when I grading these quizzes--remember this is a vocabulary assessment so take the time as a writer to demonstrate that you understand the word.  We practice this together as a large class and in small groups.  Over the course of the year, they are getting better at writing with context and I believe they are truly learning some words well--some words are truly becoming embedded in their written vocabulary.  I am seeing more of our vocabulary of study showing up in more of their work.

I hadn't displayed exemplary pieces of these quizzes in class--I have placed them on an overhead/Elmo/Promethean board and talked through what makes it strong writing, but I hadn't displayed it.  I hadn't set a frame around a test or a quiz.

By using the simple frame I see the evidence that more students are seeing what they do as a piece of art...which is just another way of saying important...valued...special.

Or elevating them in their own eyes.

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