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Teaching powerful writing through personal mentor texts
Deborah Copher ED,S,Oakwood Elementary – Hall County
Deborah CopherCurrently 3rd Grade teacherOakwood ElementaryHall County, Georgia20th year of teachingK-5 experiencePersonal Professional Goal this Year:Improve the Writing Environment in the Classroom
A teacher… write my own personal mentor texts? Absolutely! Today is interactive! Today is a day to consider something new! Today most of you will see yourself as a real writer – after all, our students all do! Today I will show just a glimpse of personal mentor text writing with: ◦ “Zooming in on a moment” ◦ “Building a story of character (s), not just telling a tale from beginning, middle and end. ◦ If time, non-fiction writing ◦ Finally, closing with a powerful tribute to mentor text writing from my students.
Quick! Write down 5-10 words or short phrases that honestly describe you as an writer (good or bad) – Go!Now turn and talk with the personnext to you and share your top three. Share out with whole group common themes.
Cool Persuasive *Has stamina I have nice handwriting Imaginable *Satisfying Confident *Shows individuality I want to write cursive Positive *Character is important I like to write Focused Graceful *Adventurous *Safe Hate it Brave Emotional *Full of Ideas *Organized I don’t know what to Diligent Passionate *Surprising *Simple write about Full of Action *Has my opinion Interesting characters *Accurate Can I draw? Enjoyable *Rich with details Durable *Mysterious How many sentences? Have a story to share *A treasure Loves a message inside *Forgiving September - 2012 March - 2013
My children: “Are you EVER going to write down these stories you tell us?” Time? Where do I start? I enjoy writing- What’s considered a good story? How do I choose? What motivates me to tell a family story with my class?
Project Video Stephanie Jones, with the Classroom Project from UGA, observed a writing lesson in my classroom about a story I was writing about my sister’s new venture with raising chickens. Using Graphic Organizer – journals Her Observations: “When you told the story orally, they were completely engaged.” “They were begging to ask questions and clarify details. They were predicting, inferring, drawing conclusions automatically orally.” “Everything fizzled out when they went back to their seats to write.” “’Why the disconnect? Even with conferring during individual writing time, the students got quiet, not reflective, writer’s block.”
Stephanie – “If you could choose anything to work on to improve your teaching, what would you choose? Me – “I want them to learn to love to write.” Stephanie – “Exactly! “Suggestion? You have got to write these stories down. They are memories that needs preserving, they are stories that the kids can connect to, they love to hear them! They couldn’t wait for you to tell them the ending. They want to hear more.” We talked about how I plan writing lessons, student needs, conference observations,etc. Then her one question for me at the end…
Writing the story before? Not a little each day on chart paper? What would be the purpose of that? How will that make it more meaningful? Stephanie’s Challenge: Find a time everyday to write – even 5 minutes. Write your next story completely. Then write your lesson plans. See what happens to the intent of your lessons. Sure enough – as I wrote the story, the craft lessons the students needed (conferencing data), started presenting themselves as I wrote. I made notes as I wrote, but wrote the complete story. But the lessons, I realized were all student focused on their individualized needs.
“Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott “Let the Polaroid develop; in other words, observe, watch, listen, stay in the moment, until you understand what you want to write about.” –Anne Lamott Article – “14 Writing Tips from Anne Lamott” Handout in folder
ZOOM IN! Quickly choose a moment, a snapshot, in your memory and just write until I say stop. Share?
Flip over your writing and list several writing craft lessons that come to mind from student conferences. Build craft lessons into the story as you write it with the class (chart paper). Ask students for comments and questions. Use those suggestions to make the writing stronger. Differentiating for students? Absolutely!
Intentional Craft Lessons:*”Zoom” in on a moment *Getting the reader’sattention (hook) *Sound words for description *Flashback *Dialogue*Variety of word choice for “said”. *Transitions *Figurative Language *Possible conclusions
In order to put myself in theirshoes as writers, they had to see me as a writerlike them. How? *I asked forfeedback. They loved that! *Quality of questions, wonderings, suggestions, comments developed rapidly. Quality of writing improved dramatically.
“What’s a “Kodak Moment”? “Is it ok to put a quote from the song, “Singing in the Rain”? You could put it right here. “Why were they in the rain?” (This provided the flashback opportunity) “Let’s put the sound of the wood-chipper – like “RRRRRrrrr” in there. That would be cool! “Why do people say, “raining cats and dogs”? This is a memory for you and Mr. Copher! I’ve got a great idea for the conclusion– put the picture at the end as the moment you clicked the camera!
“This rain, that had teased us all day, suddenly appeared as if the heavens had opened up and overflowed. The thunder ceased when the rain began. It was truly raining cats and dogs.”“ So this is how it came to be that three kids, troupers for the duration of a Saturday project, , suddenly found themselves soaked to the skin, dancing and singing in the rain.”“Todd and I snuck closer, hiding under the dripping umbrella, and I put my camera in place, finger ready to snap the moment that was to come…Click! My finger snapped the button just at the right moment …
“Let the plot grow out of the characters.If you find that you start a number of stories or pieces that don’t get finished, it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately for. Put yourself at THEIR center – you and what you believe to be true or right.”-Anne Lamott
Story Idea –“Mama’s Quilt Top” Story Web #1 -
“Drama moves forward and upward”-Anne Lamott “I write with the thought of discovering a story, not just telling one.” –Terry Kay, award winning novelist, journalist, playwright. Not happy with the story, and how it was coming together, I went back to the idea that this story was really about my mother – not my memory, or the quilt. I drew a timeline in my journal of the quilt top’s journey, and what was happening in her life. Called and talked to her. Very interesting facts she filled in that I never knew.
Traveling Back in Time Early 1970’s – Move houses- Quilt stays in storage. Late 1960’s Top stored away in box Mama raising family plus New baby (me) Mid-1960’s – Quilt top assembled- Not finished Mama gets quilt pattern from G’ma Daisy (my dad’s Grandmother) “Road to Oklahoma” patternEarly 1960’s –(special family meaning)Fabric ScrapsFrom Homemade Clothes
But… Jan. 1997-Time moves on… Quilt put away…too painful to look at. Dec. 1996 Christmas Present July-Aug 1996 – With help, I preserve the quilt and finish it. June1996-Mama has moved. I drive out to Help her move in; unpacking boxes. I find the “lone” box. Unpack it and find the quilt top I never knew existed. Mama shocked-tears- doesn’t want to see it. I realize why, finally. 30 Years… I asked to bring it home and have it finished. Box moved, never unpacked
The quilt’s journey was a story to tell…but the discovered story is journey of my mother in concert with the quilt. Her character travels through aAnother 15 years go by… story of joy, happiness, loss, sorrow, pain, and finally comfort. That’s the story. “It’s on my bed, of course. I like having it near me now. I get so lonely with your brother and sister gone, Jim and you so far away. It helps me feel like a part of all four of you are here.” Quilt top has come full circle – Once planned as a future treasure, it now is – although forOct. 2012 a different reason.“Mama, what ever happenedto that quilt I finished for you?”
New focus- Develop her character What is most important to her as the character? What do I see through her character’s eyes; emotions ; life Set up story… Built forward and upward… Payoff or conclusion
“Oh, that’s just an old thing I made years ago, from extra scraps of material I had.” Her comments stopped suddenly with a large pause. Then she went back to unpacking the box she had just unwrapped, and made herself “noticeably” busy, pulling newspaper from glass figurines. I sensed her hesitation. “Mama? Would you mind if I laid it out and looked at it?” My question was hesitant, bracing myself for the reaction coming. “Well, I guess so. But I don’t want to see it. I’ll go upstairs and start some lunch. Make sure to fold it up and put it in the box when you are done.” And with that, she walked quietly to the stairs and slowly climbed up them.
Soon, I began to remember seeing some of the material scraps hidden away within my childhood memories. The black and white print from my sister’s square dance dress, the plaid from my brothers’ pj’s, pink material from an Easter dress my sister had her picture made in when she was little… Within moments I began to realize these fragile scraps were really precious memories of a young mother with three little kids, trying to make ends meet. This was pieced long before I, the youngest, ever came along.
This quilt had begun as a keepsake, a record of time and happy occasions to be treasured for generations. Now a piece of history, a silent reminder of overwhelming sorrow and loss for the two children who passed away as early adults – within three years of each other. Her own painful divorce near the same time. Looking at this now was terribly painful for her, and also for me, as I wiped tears from my eyes.
Turn and talk about what you know about this character. How do you know? What questions are arising? What is not said, but is understood? (Inferred)
Researching/asking about family and stories Developing the character Asking “What if?” Descriptive language to display emotion Dialogue Questioning Skills as you are writing Re-wording sentences to make stronger emotion. Importance of illustrations in text.“Make writing a want to…not a must too!”-Terry Kay, novelist.
Why is she alone? What if the movers had lost that box? I think you should use “hesitation” there instead of the word “worry” How about saying, “My curiosity was overflowing with questions”, instead of “grew even more”. You need more dialogue from your mom. What else did she say? Where’s the quilt? What does it look like? Don’t you have a picture of the quilt? Let’s just call your mom. She can tell us. Maybe she can email a picture of it to us? Is she still sad?
Why are you frustrated? How can I help? -I’m frustrated about the story and spelling the words. How did people feel when this happened? “She felt……” – Hey buddy! Don’t tell me that! Write it down-that’s good stuff. Hey-you’ve had something really important happen in your family. You should contrast how your family was before the divorce, and now how you just told me you are learning to be happy in a different way.
“For Mama, Gail June Heath Piper Quilt presented by your daughter Deborah Annette Piper CopherPieced by you – circa 1960 – Lamar, CO Quilted and Completed by Me September, 1996 – Oakwood, Georgia With all my love”
“This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of…wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds.” – Anne Lamott “Anyone who wants to, can be surprised by the beauty or pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that-the details, the nuance, what is.”-Anne Lamott When we see what catches us off guard, and when we write it as realistically and openly as possible, it offers hope.” – Anne Lamott
How did she become a best friend? Why? What if she moved away? What would you do? Is something about her character like yours? What’s that word? Could you use a different word that might have more meaning or add some “Pizzaz” I think you should change this word in the sentence. It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t go with the meaning. You need to add more details to this. You could put much more effort into this. I’m not sure what the point is to your chapter.
Whales Quote: Craft Lesson: Text Features Student Samples
Its important for them to design their journal with their own keepsakes and reminders of personal stories. Gives them immediate ownership. It is powerful to see the change in the student’s writing, and approach a variety of topics, and feel safe enough to do so. My vulnerability to share my stories, sad or happy, helps level the playing field and write WITH the children. The comfort level of all have increased. They feel confident to question and draw conclusions, correct grammar mistakes, etc. Writing teams are awesome! They can build a story together. I am not just a teacher anymore, I am a writer!
These Items are in your folder: 14 Writing Tips from Anne Lamont Short Biography and Writing Thoughts from Terry Kay Looking for the Best Way – Post from Avi, author(active writing blog post)
Based on the mentor text, In My Family by Carmen Lomas Garza www.cophermentortextwriting/weebly.com