How Kindergarten Teachers can Build Writing Independence
Hello! My name is Heather Cacak (pronounced see-sack), and I am honored to be a guest blogger on Nellie's blog. I am a kindergarten teacher and doctoral student in Washington state. I began my career in early childhood education back in the mid-nineties; that's when I was first introduced to Nellie's magical methods of joyful learning. The field of education has changed quite a bit in the past few years, and Nellie asked if I would share with you how kindergarten teachers can meet the demands of the job — while also meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of young learners. Today's blog post will focus on what seems like one simple component of the writing workshop time frame, but it's really how I manage to get my students writing authentically and independently each day.
My writing block appears as though it is directly linked to whatever is happening at my teaching table during writing workshop, but it's not. The real secret lies within daily news writing. News writing is what all the other students are doing while I am working with writers in a small group, and it's perfect for kindergarten. Five and six year old students are very egocentric, and writing about what's happening in their world is an authentic way to get writing workshop up, running, and continuing to thrive the whole school year. My even bigger secret are the themed news writing papers I provide students with each day, but we'll get that that later in this post.
How & Why Did You Start Writing News:
There are many ways teachers manage their writing block. I knew the model of writing workshop I wanted in my classroom, and it broke my heart to find that running various writing centers while I tried to work with students at the writing table did not work for me or my 25 students. I do not have an instructional assistant, and depending on the school year, I usually do not have regular volunteers. Our block for writing felt so chaotic to me, and I spent the bulk of my time putting out various fires around the room...rather than working with my small group. It didn't seem to matter how much training and modeling took place for the writing centers, what I had dreamed of simply wasn't working. After brainstorming with colleagues, I came up with the idea for the bulk of my class to independently write daily news while I worked with 4 - 6 student writers a day at my teacher table. News writing had been one of the choices my center-based activities, and it was a student favorite. I had to streamline the choices a little and my writing block was transformed. All of a sudden, students were writing as independently as possible so that I could work (mostly) distraction-free with a small group of writers. Having everyone writing at the same time, whether it is independent news or in their writing workshop journal with me, truly sets the tone that writing is a time of the day that is:
- quiet...compared to other work times in the classroom
- important and helps us grow
- something we do independently with the help of resources throughout the classroom
Independent news writing offers me a chance to present a mini-lesson to the whole class, get all of my students authentically writing about what is happening in their lives, assess what students know about letters and concepts of print, and help them grow as writers. I am meeting all of my district requirements, as well as getting to know my students.
If you are wanting to incorporate a similar set up in your day, there are a few things teachers and students will need to do...
- Choose the best time of day for students to write news. Will it be during writing/literacy stations? How about during your writing block? Do you have a quiet time frame that would work best for you and your students? Would you rather this take place first thing in the morning, as children filter into the classroom and settle in for the day?
- Teachers choose news templates that currently meet the social-emotional needs of their students, as well as those that will complement emergent approaches to curriculum and seasonal/thematic events. I start off with 1 option and eventually offer 6 – 8 per day, and I try to offer 1 new template every week or so. If a student requests a certain writing news paper, I honor that request.
Students will write! Writing at the beginning of the year will look different than it does at the end of the year. With a variety of news templates to choose from each day, children have the freedom to choose a topic that is meaningful. Writing news also meets the needs of social-emotional growth. Students love to write about their friends, family, pets, stuffed animals, neighbors, teachers, those they love, vacations, their toys, school…the list is endless!
- The first week or two of writing workshop, I am the person setting out the news writing paper option(s). Once students know our daily routine, I let the helper of the day tackle that job. That allows me to spend a little bit more time brainstorming at the carpet with students! Within a few weeks of modeling what to do during writing time, the daily layout of news paper options, lovingly set out by my helper of the day, looks like this:
News templates are stored in file jackets that feature smaller version taped to the front so students can see what is inside the folder without having to pull out papers to view the daily options. (The small version was printed at 70%.)
|Click here to view the file jackets I use on Amazon.|
I start off using unlined paper, as shown in the four work samples above. My initial mini-lesson places focus on what quality drawings look like. I then begin modeling the different ways writers write (lesson two) and labeling illustrations with initial sounds (lesson three). Some students are able to label more than one part of their illustration. The next two samples are artifacts from our third mini-lesson, which placed focus on labeling the pictures we draw in order to help tell the whole story. It doesn't even matter if kids are writing news or in their writing workshop journals...these are skills they need to practice.
Moving to Lined & Themed News Templates:
One week after launching the initial lessons of writing workshop, I move children forward by offering one or two themed news paper options with writing lines. This is a thrilling time for them! Last year, we were getting ready to go to the pumpkin patch for our first field trip, so I chose to start them off with Pumpkin News. The mini-lesson conducted on the first day that I introduce lined writing paper is a review of what we have already learned, but I also let students know if they would like to try writing words on the lines...to "write on the white" lines. The gray lines are for teachers. As you can see in the pictures below, students begin trying out their newly acquired writing skills right away!
- The next four images are examples of four students who started the school year...
- with little to no letter recognition (recognized 2 letters or less)
- knew little to no letter sounds (orally spoke 2 letter sounds or less)
- could not recognize or write their own name the first day of school
- one student is an English language learner
Students are willing to write news for me each day because they are given choice when it comes to what to write about, and what they choose to write is something deeply important to them. According to district and state expectations, these four students were considered "behind" all school year. However, each one of them left kindergarten able to communicate what is happening in their world with written words and illustrations that make sense. I can't praise their amazing writing enough. Writing daily news transforms students into willing, joyful, confident communicators and writers!
Now let's chat about the themed news writing papers. I have been known to whip up a news template for groovy and super cool writing paper on the fly (aka: two seconds before the morning bell rings and kids pile in the room). I have to admit, having them all together in one place has made my life so much easier! I am able to simply print and move on with my life. The good news is, I am finally able to offer a bundle of my themed daily news writing papers to other teachers. This new addition to my Teachers Pay Teachers store will be an ever-growing bundle; this means I will update the packet with even more writing paper options from time to time...forever! Anyone who purchases the packet gets all of my updates for FREE.
I prefer the gray lined paper for my students, but the packet includes writing papers with handwriting lines if that is what you prefer in your classroom. There are over 50 writing papers to choose from so far! Themes include: Friends & Family, School, Vacation, Critters, Seasonal & Holiday, Miscellaneous, as well as the multiple beginning of the school year templates featuring no or fewer writing lines.
|Learn more about this packet by clicking here.|
Thanks so much for letting me tell you all about daily news writing in kindergarten. It has made a huge difference in student engagement and academic success in my classroom. If you are looking for a way to incorporate authentic writing in your classroom, let children write news pertaining to whatever it is they know best. You would be surprised to see how willing they are to share their news with others.