Tales from Lower School
by Giovanni Pucci
Papers are strewn about as if on a literary battlefield … tables are covered with copies of rough and final drafts; blank pages hang upon the lips of tables … are we in the pressroom of The New York Times? No, we’re in my second grade classroom, where students are working on transforming the edited drafts of their personal narratives into a finished manuscript.
In second grade, Calhoun students learn to go through the formal writing process as part of Writer’s Workshop. Though all writers approach their craft differently, as a cluster we have been working on five key steps: pre-writing, or thinking of an idea; writing a first draft; reading and revising the first draft; editing the work for spelling, punctuation and other mistakes; and publishing, which could either mean turning it into a book, or simply reading the piece aloud to the other students in our cluster.
In addition to focusing on the different steps of the writing process, we have spent a lot of time learning about story structure. Stories, we discussed, can be broken down into three major parts: the beginning, the middle and the end. We took a closer look at books we had read in class to understand the role of each of these parts in telling the story. Then, students put this new understanding to work as they created short, focused pieces that intentionally touched on the essential three parts of a story.
We’ve also explored the importance of adding detail to our writing. Our goal in writing is to capture the experience on the page as if painting a picture with words. One day we drew a house together that started out as a basic pentagon shape. Little by little we added lines to make windows, then window frames, and other small details that make the drawing look like a real house. We talked about how writing is like that, too – the more details you can add, the more you can make your lived experience come to life.
Lately we have been applying these lessons to write our own personal narratives. We use what we learned about story structure as a roadmap through the writing process, and do our best to add descriptive details to our sentences that will draw a reader into the world of our narratives. Writing these narratives is an individual journey, but the small class size allows for a lot of one-on-one time with each child. At Calhoun, we are always personalizing how we teach writing so that a child feels that the work he or she is being asked to do is both possible and exciting to them.
Writing is a long process, and it can be easy for young writers to tire of it. But an interesting phenomenon can be observed in our classroom: the more time and energy that children have invested in their pieces, the more excited they feel to work on them. These second graders are seeing just how fruitful all their effort can be, and as they near the finish line, they are beginning to sense that they have created something special and beautiful. It won’t be long before it’s time for a publishing party!
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