Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Analyzing Student Writing

Sometime in 2006 I read my first book by Katie Wood Ray. Shortly thereafter I attended a professional development session she gave in Indianapolis. I quickly became a Katie devotee – purchased every book she had written and even drove thirteen hours to attend sessions of hers in DC. So even though her book Already Ready was for younger children than I taught, I purchased it shortly after it came out in 2008.

Reading that book I was impressed by what Ray and co-author Matt Glover were saying could happen in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. I had taught kindergarten for two years in Chicago, I wished I had this book then. Wondering if kids in that age group could really create these stories with purpose, I tried the lesson out with my own children. Luke was five at the time, getting ready to start kindergarten that fall. Liam was 2.

Tonight I dug Luke’s first book out. I remember looking at it and thinking of Katie’s words – that children this age do things with intention. That they have a story in mind. What Luke drew was this:

Title Page: The Spider With the Pebble Sleeper by Luke Sokolowski (age 5)

Page One: There is pebbles on the ground and he has long arms because when he goes on a tree that is where the pebbles are.

Page Two: But he landed in a pebble rock and there was even pebbles inside. There was a pebble on his head. But when he got it on his head it went down to his tummy. That’s how he got to sleep. The moon is showing but there was a little fish in the pebble covered up and sleeping.
Page Three: And when the sun showed in the pebble and he fell asleep in one second. Someone had shot a pebble in the sun. With a pebble in his tummy and the sun he had to fall asleep.

Page Four: But when he goed in the water there wasn’t enough room. Cause he needed to reach his hands to the other people’s hands before he floated away. The man outside kept him there for five million weeks. The moon with a pebble was shooting at him and making him go to sleep.

Page Five: But at the end he got the pebble out of his tummy so he wouldn’t fall asleep, day or night. He could get more pebbles every day or night.

Page Six: The people are the creepy spider and the creeper. He was the one covered up until he was in the water and the pebble got out of his tummy. (This was an addition – he wanted to add it and said it would have been page 2.)

I love Luke’s story because, after reading Ray’s book, I noticed more. I noticed that it was a true story – title page, characters, plot, beginning, middle, and an end. I noticed that he knew a story moved in a certain direction. I noticed that he would edit when he wanted something to be changed to what he was thinking. I noticed his words matched the illustrations. I don’t know if I would have noticed this earlier in my career.

This was brought to mind after sharing writing at my house the other day in a blog post HERE. Lee Ann Spillane left the comment below:

As I wrote Lee Ann, I was extremely impressed that she noticed those items on my boys’ notebooks entries. This is something I have to remind myself at times.

After reading Ralph Fletcher’s book, Boy Writers, I am constantly analyzing whether I am judging boys (or girls) writing based on the content or the appearance. It is easy to look at beautiful writing, a great story, organized in paragraphs with complete sentences and see good things. When I am looking at several pages that have been wadded up, deciphering handwriting and spelling, in one giant paragraph – do I look to see what they have done right? Are there amazing insights inside the paper that I overlook because of mechanics?

I want to be the teacher that teachers children to write well in all areas. I want to help them learn how to communicate – sentences, grammar, punctuation, paragraphing, message. I also want to teach them to love writing. To love having created a piece of writing or a story. I do not want them coming back with a piece of writing, defeated. I am thankful to teachers like Ray, Fletcher, and Spillane for teaching me that. I am also thankful to two boys who remind me of it on a daily basis.