Writing with Rita M's 2nd Grade Class
(January 15, 2016) Last year, I walked past Rita's second grade classroom. The door was open and I stopped to look into the room. The lights were dimmed. There was a round table with a tablecloth and flowers on it. Indian flute music was quietly playing and second graders were fully engaged in writing. I thought to myself, "I would love to write in this classroom."
In January of 2016, I asked if I could come and write with her class. She said, "Of course." And I did. Here is some of what I saw and heard. ~ S. Kolbo
Photo Gallery - Writing with Rita's Second Grade Class
The Riverhead Central School District uses the Columbia University Teachers College Reading/Writing Project (TCRWP) as its English Language Arts curriculum. The second graders in Rita M's class are currently engaged in a nonfiction reading/writing unit that requires them to write a "book" on a topic on which they are "experts". They began by choosing a topic and formulating a table of contents.
The students begin their day participating in Fundations, a phonics program that helps students learn to decode words and improve their reading levels. Young learners need this tool, noted Mrs. M, they use this learning throughout the day as they attack and divide words. Later in the morning, the students engage in the reading component of the Reading/Writing Project. Because they are studying nonfiction, reading topics include weather and animals. Social studies and science topics are integrated into the reading and writing workshops.
On the floor by her main teaching chart was a book entitled Tigers, which had been used to discuss how the author's expertise on tigers was reflected in her writing (i.e., a tiger has incisors, etc.)--with the teaching point being "Learn the Lingo / Talk the Talk of an expert in your own writing".
At 2PM, the second graders began the Writing portion of TCRWP. They took out their writing and quickly joined Mrs. M on the carpet. Using a chart entitled "Strong Writers Think About Their Topics", she reviewed her earlier teaching point concerning the use of expert language (or learning the lingo) and introduced the idea of adding a "tip" to the chapter they were currently writing.
"Tips," she counseled, "help motivate the reader to continue reading by giving them something to take away from your topic." Mrs. M shared a 'tip' from her own writing on walking as an example of what they could do. Still on the carpet, the students "turned and talked" with their partner about a tip they could add to their writing. Then it was time to write.
A designated student turned on the music, which was "The Best of James Taylor". The second graders quickly took out their writing and began to integrate a "tip" into the text. In addition, several worked on illustrating their writing. Mrs. M had one-on-one conferences with a couple of students and then rotated from table to table to interact with each group of writers.
Each table had a flip book with examples on it to which the students could refer during their writing time. At one table, Lavonnie was writing about reading. When asked, she shared her tip about reading: "Reading is like riding a bike, the longer you practice the better you get". Angela shared, "Mathematicians need sharp pencils with good erasers".
In addition to this chart and the flip books on each table, there were displays on nonfiction artistically arranged around the room, baskets of nonfiction books, bins of student books at their current level of reading, plants, and good writing reminders around the room. Writing workshop concluded with the children returning to the carpet. Three of the students shared their "tips" with the others.
Mrs. M pointed out their next ingredient for good writing in nonfiction: "Good writers keep their readers wanting more". Writers do this, she counseled, by including a statement at the end a chapter about what the reader will learn in the following chapter of the book, which was the final teaching point on her chart. Then it was time for a snack and dismissal.
Mrs. M, who has been teaching for 25 years in Riverhead and had previously taught in New York City for 6 years, noted how teaching reading and writing has changed over the course of that time. When she first began teaching, she shared, her students read from Basel readers and were given very simple prompts in their discussions and writing. Now, students are given mentor texts and the bar has been raised. Close reading and critical thinking have been integrated into the reading and writing process. Scaffolding learning from one grade level to the next is an important element.
"Second grade is a transition year," she noted. "Second graders firm up their reading skills and begin reading for meaning. Ninety percent of what we read as adults is nonfiction, so it is very important that we realize that and integrate it into our reading/writing standards. We need to continue to give children more writing and reading choices, teach more explicitly and continue to raise the bar for both teachers and learners."
What's next? The second graders will transition from writing on a topic of their own choice based on their own experience as "experts" to learning how to "research" a topic using a variety of tools. I'll be back in May to see how they are doing as readers and writers.