This summer for professional development, I stepped outside my comfort zone of technology PD to attend a two-day conference that focused on writing. I was not sure what to expect in the sessions the past few days, but I gained some valuable knowledge that will hopefully make it into lessons this year.
The keynote speaker for the first day was Laura Vacarro Seeger, a well-known children’s book author and illustrator. In her keynote Reading Words, Reading Pictures, Laura went through many of her books to describe the process of making a children’s book. Her books focus on illustrations, with carefully-selected words to coincide with the pictures. She designs her books with special cutouts and effects. The lessons of her books can lead to great discussions with students.
I want to use her books with my PreK and Kindergarten students this year. In Kindergarten, students complete an Eric Carle author study, and some of her books (Green, Bully) will be a good unit to follow Eric Carle. Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treat will make a nice Halloween companion to my Madeline/Frankenstein lesson in October.
Another session honed in on different forms of writing: narrative, informational and opinion-based. I began to ponder what forms of writing I use in my lessons with students. What can be improved? What can be added? After some reflection and viewing of my units, I added some more writing elements to lessons:
- Fifth grade persuasive piece with STEM subjects
- Second grade: animal informational piece and Diary of A Fly creative journal entry
- First grade: Reflection of favorite Caldecott; book recommendation
- Sixth grade: Narrative journal entry with students pretending to be a Greek god, goddess or monster after completing inquiry research
- More reflective pieces in all grade levels, especially at the end of a unit
Matt de la Pena was the second author visit for Day 2. I was only familiar with his book, The Last Stop on Market Street. I read this book to my kindergartners this past spring, and they loved it. Matt was an excellent storyteller-he told his journey of how he came to where he is now. I picked up one of his young-adult novels, Mexican Whiteboy, that I am excited to start reading.
Later on that day, one session I attended explained the importance of adding a checklist for students to self-assess writing. Do I have punctuation? Does my piece make sense? Does my handwriting look neat? I plan to add a checklist for many of my writing assignments for students this year.
One of my favorite sessions included a presenter that shared his experiences of providing writing opportunities for students outside the school day to write what they want. I am a co-adviser for my school’s newspaper. I want to provide students more opportunities in the newspaper club to write about what they want. The logistics of this are still in progress, but it is one of my goals this year.
Overall, the two-day professional development has made me think about an underlying question that has been on my mind for some time: What is my role in my school? What do my students need to learn? I had this conversation with a colleague that attended, as well. Technology is huge, but can too much of it be a bad thing? Do we teach tech all year or library skills? With limited time in an elementary setting on a fixed schedule, every minute and every lesson matters in library special. Computer class and library class should be two separate sections. It is possible to infuse both, but time and schedules make the difference.
My first year at my school, I focused heavily on technology. Too much maybe. Last year, I went back to the basics of my standards, focusing on digital citizenship, information literacy and literature appreciation. There were many guinea-pig lessons, lots of successes and lots of flops.
This year, I finally have a curriculum with a strong foundation that I have created. I think I have finally mastered how to use technology as the extension of a lesson. I am going back to the basics with technology and STEM infused with literature appreciation, inquiry research and information-literacy skill development. Makerspaces, newspaper club, Battle of the Books. I am excited for this year to start with my kids.