Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Modeling, Peer Response and Unforeseen Obstacles

I concur with Maria regarding the importance of modeling. In fact, this semester I have been modeling the writing of the stories I am writing about my dogs and sharing this writing with my students as our read aloud story. In the beginning, I wanted them to simply see that I am a writer, and I am allowing myself to take risks as a writer, just like I ask them to do every day. However, I found that it became so much more. I am able to model everything that a read aloud story promotes: comprehension strategies, vocabulary, fluency and accuracy, and writing skills. But I have also been able to model peer response strategies by having students give me PATS (praise, ask a question, tell something that stuck with you, and a suggestion) after I read each section. Even though we haven’t used this PATS technique in student peer response groups yet, they are getting enough practice doing it with me that they should feel comfortable doing it when they finally give feedback on their classmates’ writing. The one obstacle I did not foresee was parental interference.

Last week I received an e-mail questioning my sharing of my stories with the class. She mistakenly inferred that it had nothing to do with the language arts curriculum so I shouldn’t be wasting class time on something that didn’t matter. I was confused because no one had ever questioned whether or not I should have shared reading experiences via read aloud stories in my classroom. Wasn’t my own life story a read aloud? It was a story that included exploding moments, descriptive settings, colorful characters, showing (not telling), problems and solutions…all the skills we have been working on adding to our writing in class. And couldn’t she assume that a teacher who is also a writer can help motivate students with their writing?

When I ask the students about why it is important that I share my writing with them, they get it. They see that I am engaged in doing tasks that I ask them to do every day (which is something they said most of their teachers don’t do). They know that it's important for me to get their feedback so that I can make my writing better. They understand that 5th graders are my target audience so it's essential that I get this feedback from them. They know I want them to get to know me better as a person so we can connect on a different level. And they understand that it’s a risk to share topics that are important to you and that I’m putting myself in the same shoes they wear when they expose a piece of themselves to their audiences.

If my students understand this, why can't the parents? I have to admit that this parent made me feel reluctant to share my stories with my students this week. Writing involves so many risks, and I certainly don't want to reveal this part of my self if it is criticized by parents. Parents need to be educated about the importance of adults modeling the acts of writing for our children. They too can have a huge impact on how their child progresses with writing just by being writers themselves. If we expect adults to be readers around students, we should assume the same advantages exist for having adults be writers, as well. This continues to be a struggle for me because parents often respond that they don't have time to write with their children when given suggestions of how they can interact with their 5th graders in this way. Sharing stories is such a wonderful way to get to know people, and I want to figure out how to educate parents so they support us and help their children become lifelong writers. Any ideas?


  1. Hooray for you for sharing your writing with your students, modeling the writing process and peer response. And smart point, Michelle. We ask parents to model and share reading with kids, why not writing? I wonder if adults are more intimidated by writing. While I don't hesitate to admit to being a "reader", I am more shy about declaring myself a "writer" (as if only the select few who are published can make this claim). Perhaps you could pursue this idea for your final project for this class, or for your capstone. As for the parent, someone gave me this wise little tidbit a few years back: "Just because someone hands you a snake, doesn't mean you have to take it from them!" You go, girl!

  2. Wow... unbelievable. You are educating more than the children who come to your classroom every day, Michelle. You are right when you say that we need to educate parents as well. I would compile much of what you have written in this post into a newsletter/wiki post and attach to it a couple of the articles we read this week. Title it "How to improve your child's writing skills" and send it to all the parents. You will be proactively educating all the parents before the Starbucks grapevine has a chance to raise even more idiotic questions.

  3. Michelle, I was so drawn to the authenticity of this posting that I had to revisit and read it again today.

    The comprehensive modeling you do through all phases of the writing process provides these students with such a literacy rich environment that teaches them so many literacy practices that can't even be assessed (e.g. how to think through writer's block, how to determine focus, how to know when to revise -- in other words -- how to self assess).

    I hope that you won't be too discouraged by the comments you received. I believe that our work as teachers is best when it nourishes both the students and the teacher, which means seeing ourselves as humans, not robots, and putting ourselves into our work. I would argue that this ultimately benefits the students.

    Thanks for taking the time to offer such a provocative meditation on the importance of modeling.