Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Involve Me, I Understand

When it comes to planning reading and writing instruction, there is an old Chinese proverb that I live by:

Tell me, I forget.
Show me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand.

I recently taught a group of first graders how to place line breaks in their poetry to help them achieve the sound they desired. If you’ve ever taught this to first graders, you know this is not an easy concept for six and seven year olds. So I started by modeling. I wrote one of the poems written by a child in the class on a large piece of chart paper. The student read how he wanted the poem to sound and as he read it, I marked the pauses with an orange line. Afterward, I showed them how line breaks change the look of the poem.

At one point in my teaching career, this would have been the time when I would have sent my students back to their seats and said, “Now I want you to try this with your own poems.”

And I know what would have happened. I would have been bouncing from frustrated student to frustrated student re-explaining line breaks and what I wanted them to do. While they would have remembered what I wanted them to do, they would not have understood the task.

This is why I don’t stop at modeling when I am introducing new concepts. The Chinese proverb says: “Involve me.” Guided practice is my answer to “involve me.” At this point in my poetry lesson, I asked students to pair off and look at the first part of a poem written by Christiana, another student in the class. We listened to how Christiana wanted the poem to sound and as she read, we used red pens and drew line breaks. Afterward, we practiced rewriting the poem so that it looked the way Christiana intended it to sound.

While students practiced in pairs, I easily visited the eleven groups huddled around the classroom. I knew right away that Mark and Tatiana were having trouble. I knew Dylan and Skylar were struggling too. So I pulled them all together and we worked out the kinks as a small group.

Then, I knew they were ready to try it on their own.

When they went off to write, it was calm and peaceful in the classroom. The poems written by these first graders were inspired and beautiful. And most importantly, they appeared on the page the way these writers wanted them to sound.

As a student teacher nineteen years ago, I had an outstanding mentor who reminded me daily of the importance of modeling. For years, as I sat down to plan, I’d hear Patti Reagan’s voice saying, “Model, model, model.” Today, these words still echo in my planning brain but I’ve modified the mantra just a little bit. Because I am so committed to helping children understand, I chant:“Model, model, model. Involve, involve, involve.”

1 comment:

Patti said...

Timely! We are talking about and playing with line breaks. One of the "noticings" my guys came up with is" zig zag" kind of lines and choppy sentences. So it was time to play with the white space andbreaks. I love the lesson you shared. I'll try it! Also once again, I am freaking over some of the stuff they are writing!