There are lots of resources out there that help guide teachers in their writing instruction in the early childhood classroom. I absolutely love Katie Wood Ray’s work and have read all of her books. A few years ago, Katie Wood Ray wrote About The Authors with Lisa B. Cleaveland. It easily became one of my favorite books, but THIS ONE… THIS ONE…
Hands down, More About The Authors explains EXACTLY what is going on in my brain when I teach writing in my kindergarten classroom. As I was reading this, I was thinking, “I know, right?” Like I was having a conversation with the author.
Last year I was the only kindergarten teacher in my building. It was kind of fun. I mean, when there were “team meetings” my team met and we agreed on EVERYTHING. We didn’t even need to consider the feelings or thoughts of the others in our group because I was IT. Heck, I could have a meeting in my shower if I wanted. This year, I have a fabulous new teaching partner who is new to the classroom and SUPER excited about teaching kindergarten. We meet every week to discuss curriculum, planning, and teaching in general. One day, she asked me how I “know” what I’m going to teach when it comes to writing. Deep breath…
You see, in all my years of teaching (20 years, now) I have never had a writing curriculum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’ve never wanted a writing curriculum. We have standards that we work toward and I love the creativity that comes with freedom in instruction. I love teaching literacy and I read every book that I can get my hands on, which helps guide my instruction. Ralph Fletcher, Katie Wood Ray, Matt Glover, Lucy Calkins, and Reggie Routman are my idols. I read their work and integrate this into what I know about best practice in teaching. Then, I add some writing mentors (children’s book authors and illustrators) and magic seems to happen. Writer’s Workshop is my favorite time of the day and I’m constantly on the lookout for books and authors to feature in my instruction.
Back to that big question… how do I “know” what I’m going to teach. I have been using our district’s work with David Matteson (another great mind in the area of writing) to help guide my work, but SO much of what I do is based on 20 years worth of practice, experience, and READING all of those great resources. I didn’t even know how to begin to explain the concepts that are going through my brain. After reading More About The Authors, I feel like I could hand this book to any teacher and say, “This is what I do in the classroom.” Lisa B. Cleaveland could be my new BFF. I swear she read my mind so many times as she wrote this book. It’s exactly what I would want to say to my new teaching partner, if I could write as perfectly as Lisa, to explain how I know what I’m going to teach.
There are so many things I love about this book, but I’d like to point out my two favorite, BIG PICTURE, ideas that really struck me.
- We have been using “mentor texts” in the classroom for years, but when we shift to “authors as mentors” learning really comes to life. The students in my class LOVE getting to know authors. They love hearing about the way Lois Elhert had a table set up next to her mom’s table and that it was just set aside for creating. They laugh with Jan Brett as we watch videos of her animals and the way she uses them for inspiration in her stories. When students really get to know these authors, they connect with them and they begin to try things in their writing that these mentors have done. Writing becomes a time when we learn from our mentors and step out of our comfort zone a bit. This is where I get many of my ideas for lessons I’d like to teach. Through our mentors we learn how they make their text and illustrations match, why they alter the appearance of their text, how long it takes to make a single page in a book, and that it’s ok to learn right along side your teacher.
- This brings me to my second point. I am, in no way, an expert on the craft of writing or the teaching of writing. My students and I learn right along side each other. Let me say that again, my students and I learn right along side each other. Yes, I will admit that I am RIGHT THERE learning new things with my kindergartners. I learn something new every single day because I’m teaching through INQUIRY. We often think of teaching through inquiry with scientific topics, but writing is the perfect subject to let this happen. There have been plenty of books that I have not been a huge fan of, but my kids were, so I purchased books, found videos, and dug a bit deeper into the authors with my kids. I learned so much about Mo Willems (Elephant and Piggie books), Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat), and Loren Long (Otis books) simply because my kindergartners wanted to know more about these authors and try things that they have tried in their books. We let these authors become our mentors in writing and we were flexible enough to let our curious minds take us where we needed to go, while keeping the Common Core State Standards for writing in mind.
Seriously, friends, More About The Authors is probably my favorite book on teaching writing in the early grades. It explains exactly what I do in my classroom, the things I’m working toward, the process of finding authors as mentors and how to let them guide us, and helps teachers teach through inquiry – even in writing. It’s a MUST BUY and something great to read during the summer months!