At the Monday conference in my town, Lucy shares tips for teaching essay. After having us learn the STRUCTURE of essay using her bootcamp strategy to write I love ice cream because…because…and most of all, because …. , she reminded me that to revise essay, elaboration prompts help. I have used elaboration prompts with my writing students and it never fails!! I made this bookmark for my students to hold and use. Feel free to use and/or tweek. The prompts are from the Units of Study for teaching Writing. I vividly remember Kate Roberts teaching me this at a workshop where she bravely had someone in the audience name a big idea and then had the list of prompts projecting from the document camera. She started to write and when she got stuck, we called out a prompt to keep her going. Since seeing that, I have bravely repeated this in my classroom, handing cards with a prompt on it to a handful of kids. And I write in front of them as I jot down the prompts heard and fill in more ideas, elaborating! I can still see a 4th grader I taught 2 years ago smiling at me at the end of the workshop where this was the mini-lesson. “Mrs. Donnelly, I used every prompt on the bookmark,” she said as I looked at her notebook, two pages filled!
Here’s my attempt now to grow a big idea in draft form – Self-contained vs Departmentalized?
(Full disclosure – I am not sure what I’ll be typing here – as I’ve recently taught both and like both for different reasons…)
As it becomes springtime in a school, teachers start to think about NEXT year. Right now I am teaching all the subjects all day to one group of kids. I call this self-contained. I’m realizing that I like the flexibility. If I want a math lesson to go longer, I can. If I want to squeeze in another read-aloud, I can steal time away from science and make it up tomorrow. An example of this was last Wednesday when we had an author visit. We attended his presentation first thing in the morning. I had math and social studies activities planned. But the author got us excited to read and write. So, I pushed those lessons to the next day and we spent more time reading and writing. I could do this because no one was expecting me to change classes like you do when you departmentalize. I also only have 23 students and families to know well. I see this being helpful when the parents write me emails asking me questions. With just 23 families, I have easily been able to respond. This is giving me the idea that self-contained is where I should stay. What surprises me about this is that I took a job 2 years ago specifically to be the 5th grade writing teacher. I only had to plan writing and teach it to 4 classes a day. I used to think that only having one subject to worry about as a teacher would be the best. And I did like feeling very prepared in my one subject. But now, I realize some of the cons to being departmentalized. One is you have to teach LOTS of students that one subject and I found it hard to know them all well. To add on, I had to set the timer at the beginning of every class and no matter where we were, when the timer went off, we had to stop. Many people think that being departmentalized sounds easier – only one subject to know so well. But having done it and now also done self-contained, I prefer self-contained. It allows me flexibility with my schedule and time to really know my students. (And I am even getting better at teaching math!)
(Full disclosure – I did not expect to write this much. Proof that these elaboration prompts work!! Once done, I went back and bolded all the prompts I used.)