Prewriting and modeling. Prewriting and modeling. No matter how great of a start a class had on the first day of a digital composition project, the foundation will be built around two things: prewriting and modeling.
In a recent National Writing Project workshop it was noted that 90% of writing instruction should be spent on helping students find their topics.
Prewriting activities allow students time to explore. It provides teachers with the time to be a mentor and moves us away from the allure of being a judge of student writing. Furthermore, at no point in this project will I approve or reject topics. My goal is to put students into the best position to find the topics that they care about and to learn from their choices as writers.
As we are five months into the school year, and students have had guided instruction in various prewriting activities, several prewriting strategies can now function at once in the classroom:
- turning and talking
- writing itself...or diving in
On any given day, students choose which strategy best fits.
When using prewriting activities for a family history or family culture digital project, it is important to encourage students to use their prewriting to reach out to others. This helps students pull the pieces together for a project that is about more than just their point of view. Reaching out to family will develop basic research skills and it will encourage important social and interpersonal skills.
Today's prewriting arose from the prompt what object(s) do you associate with family members? First, we took a look at Julia Alvarez's poem Dusting and discussed what objects or things Alvarez connects with her mother.
As a transition to the next stage, I asked students to share out loud any connections that they had with objects and their family. Some of the more memorable ones from today include:
- an aunt's obsession with, and hovering around, an antique, family punchbowl at parties
- a grandfather's war helmet
- dad's '68 Mustang
- a grandmom chasing a grandchild with money
- a dad burning peat in the fireplace because the aroma reminds him of his childhood in Ireland
Because modeling the behaviors we want garners the most positive results, I build in significant time for modeling on a daily basis. As students took out their writer's notebooks, I shared a blog entry by my mom on a new family blog that I created just for this project: Homemade Ravioli.
We get what we emphasize.
My mom's blog entry, Early Days, is about her connection to her mother's sewing machine. After reading the blog, I showed students the comments my aunts and cousins have been leaving on some of the others posts. I come from an Italian family. My great-grandfather came over from Naples on the steamship Bolivia on May 21st, 1901. Our family culture is coming out as my family shares on the family blog.
My aunt Joanne writes about her connection to an object, a role, and a time, in a comment:
But making Raviolis was always special for me, because I was given the job of closing them with the fork. When the job was done, I was allowed to roll out the left over dough and cut it into strips and when the ravioli were cooking, my grandmother would cook my strings of dough. You always had the feeling that you belonged to people who loved you.
While my family members are not bloggers, leaving comments for me is a great way for them to engage with the family conversation online. And, these ongoing conversations provide information and details that I will use in the near future when I compose a sample video (or mentor text) for my students.
Students will continue to have access to my family history blog. A personal passion project for me becomes a fluid model and mentor texts for them.
It creates an opportunity for students to see me excited about writing.
Students can use our classroom blog to imitate this strategy and to gather comments from their families. For example, after posting a draft about an object, students can email their blog entry's URL code to a family member and invite them to leave a comment. In my classroom, I keep our blog public but I filter all comments through me first. Only I see comments left on students blog until I approve and release them to the general public.
Sometimes hearing or reading a story can help others make connections that a basic prompt or question fails to draw out of us. We all see examples of this everyday in our classes, don’t we?
Tomorrow, we will take a day for reading. This allows time for relatives to respond to emails and for students to make connections with family under their own roof.