| May 31, 2011
BY KATIE TOPPEL
May 31, 2011
It’s important to me to create a classroom community where students’ voices are integral to learning; this theme has appeared over and over in the literature I’ve been reading for my doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, especially in the works of Geneva Gay, James Banks, and Christine Sleeter. And, because I strive to be a culturally responsive educator, much of what I do with my Kindergarten students centers on honoring their voices and giving more individualized focus to what they have to say.
I recently started a new format for writing that allows students to use conversation with a peer as a pre-writing planning strategy. You can easily implement this cooperative learning structure before writing tasks—and you’ll quickly discover it is eliminates the recurrent grumbles of “I don’t know what to write.” Additionally, it makes student voice an integral part of the writing process, which results in highly engaged students who are more prepared and excited to sit down and write.
Just before your students begin an independent writing task, use the Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up
cooperative learning structure to help students find partners: First, all students stand up with one hand in the air as if ready to give someone a high five. Then each student should find someone else with their hand up and high five each other in order to form a partnership.
Once everyone has a partner and partners are seated together, pose a question to serve as a writing prompt. I try to come up with questions that are relevant to my students’ lives and easy for them to answer such as, “Who do you love and why?” or “If you had one wish, what would you wish for?”
(If you teach older students who are developing more extensive writing skills, you could also ask them to talk about what part of the writing process they plan to focus on during their writing time—revising something they’ve already started, editing for spelling errors, or creating a best copy for publishing.)
Facilitating time for students to talk about their writing before they actually write engages them in a planning thought process and interactive dialogue about writing. Occasionally ask partners to share what they heard from their partners in a whole-group format; this emphasizes the importance of being good listeners and paying close attention to what their partners say.
Once you have provided students even just a few minutes to engage in conversations about writing with their partners and facilitated an opportunity for students to share with the whole group, let them begin their independent writing while their ideas are still fresh!
The inclusion of this cooperative learning structure prior to writing provides students with a platform to develop their unique voices and have time to share their ideas with classmates. It also helps them prepare what they will write once they begin to work independently.
The time used to implement this strategy is well invested because students are prepared to begin writing as soon as they sit down to work. By asking questions they can answer based on their personal experiences, preferences, and personalities, students feel validated—and are therefore more motivated to write. Katie Toppel is a kindergarten teacher at Durham Elementary in Oregon as well as a doctoral student at Portland State University. She has experience teaching in a bilingual preschool program for migrant families, teaching first grade, and teaching special education at the Franconian International School in Erlangen Germany. She is currently interested in pursuing research to explore how the use of scripted reading curricula fits together with culturally responsive instruction.
© 2011 Katie Toppel. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. Engage: Teaching Tips