Tuesday, June 19, 2012

No Matter How You Slice It

The fine print at the top of the SOL logo reads inspired by Two Writing Teachers with the link.

You think it is going to be so easy: once a day, once a week, once a month. It can't be that hard right? After doing the thirty-one day Slice of Life Story Challenge, I thought posting once a week would be cake. I was wrong. Just about anything can get in the way of writing: school, lesson plans, house work, a new puppy. You name it and I can use it to avoid writing. No matter how you slice it, writing is never as easy as it seems (for me). Writing takes time. Your heart has to be in it.

Today I promised my friend and colleague, Beth Scanlon, that I'd reflect on our experience doing the Slice of Life Story Challenge with students. We aimed to inspire kids to write every day, publicly on our school Ning network, for ten days. We created a "helpful handout." I think it helped me more than it helped students to be honest. Having project parameters on paper helped Beth and I think work together. It helped me explain the process to students. I wanted to help students set writing goals for the challenge (as you can see on the handout) and though we talked about them at the beginning, we got so caught up in slicing we didn't reconnect to writing goals during the ten days. During our reflection at the end when I asked students to revisit their goal, Andrew blurted out, "Oh, yeah. I forgot to set one." Students always show me where I need to tweak my instruction!

The blogpost checklist (adapted from the one Gary Anderson used on the Fremd American Studies Ning) helped us with writing details. Next time around I want to spend more time on setting students up for the challenge. Each of the items on the checklist could be a mini-lesson (or two for practice). I can see a week's worth of set-up lessons to build excitement and anticipation for the challenge. Maybe that is how I will begin next year.

Blog post checklist:

  • Write your post in organized paragraphs (at least 2).
  • Use positive tone.
  • Read your post out loud before you post it.
  • Invite readers to respond.
  • Proof-read your blog before you post.
  • Include media (picture, slice logo, links, video) to enhance reading.
  • Tag the post (use sol2012, “slice of life”, Scanlon, Spillane).
  • Post a link as a comment on the main page/lead slice each day
  • Comment on 2 people’s blogs.
As with most of the projects we do in my classroom, I asked students to reflect on what worked and what didn't work. Beth and I had students evaluate themselves. We split the quality grade; the teacher's evaluation counted fifty percent and so did the students. I enjoy reading what students say about their own work. They are often spot on. For instance, Dani tried writing fiction during some of her ten day posts. Reflecting on what she wished she'd done differently Dani said, "I wish I could have  stuck to my story challenge longer and not give up so easily." As a parent, how much would I pay for that "stick to it" lesson? Or Michael's " I learned that the best topics are the ones that can be applied to most people." I like his thinking; he's begining to grasp audience. William is seeing himself as part of a community with this reflection: "I learned that I go through many of the problems other people go through. I connected what they [other students] were saying and related myself to their topic. I believe that it [commenting] helped others because they can see thaty they're not the only ones with a certain problem." As  a teacher, I appreciate and often find joy in students' honest assessments. 

I wish I found joy in finding problems to correct. That's one way I view reflection as a process--it shows me the gaps in my instruction. Reflection (mine and students' reflections) help me see what I can do differently. Students' reflections help me plan for instruction. Titles, writing them, understanding them, connecting to a title, those are lessons I need to teach next time.

More than half of my students titled their posts: Slice #1, Slice #2, Slice #3, or the even worse SOL #1, etc. If we had done the story challenge earlier in the year I would have planned lessons on crafting interesting titles. I also saw the need for reiterating how to punctuate dialogue or use a dash. I could mine students' slice of life writings for lessons for weeks. There is a lot to work with when fifty students (or nearly fifty) are posting a few paragraphs daily. 

Next year I plan to begin the year with a slice of life challenge. I think it will be a great way to get to know my students and to create community. Plus, it pairs well with narrative and memoir. I can't wait to tweak the process and see what happens next. If you think you'd like to connect classes for a short slice of life challenge this fall leave  a comment! I know Beth and I are in again; we'd love to connect.

In the meantime, I'm going to re-commit myself to slicing each week. I've got a lot to write about and I want to have plenty of current examples I can share with students. 

Enjoy summer!