I started the year, well actually, I ended last year with the question, “What happens when a group of teachers reads Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher?” I’ve managed to hold onto the question and continue my research in a first grade classroom every Friday afternoon. Leigh-ann, a first grade teacher and my colleague, created Journal Time in her weekly schedule. Her purpose was to explore a playful, free writing time with her first graders. She invited me in to research and explore her more targeted question, “What happens when I give first graders journals?”
Last week, I read, Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles and James Boast. The purpose in reading was to teach them that writers get ideas from books. I told them that their job was to read the book, find an idea, plan through a picture and write. The first graders jumped into this work. I went into research mode, circulating looking, wondering, building my own curiosity.
I looked over Ava’s shoulder, her idea took her to writing. “You want to hear my writing?” She looked up and asked. I nodded, yes. She looked down and read “This reminds me of when Kayla read a rain forest book and I liked it.” She looked back up and added “it was all about frogs and bugs, just like the book we just read.”
I moved in between Simon and Kevin who were highly engaged since the read aloud ended. I asked them each where they got their ideas:
Kevin – “I got my idea from the seedlings picture”
Simon – “My idea was making flowers – a flower pot and flowers. I was thinking about when they were seedlings before they grew into these flowers” he points to his flowers.
As Simon was talking, Kevin looked up to see his work. He added “Wow, we both got our idea from the same part in the book.” I continued on “and look, look how two ideas that have the same starting place look so different.” They both stop their individual work and look at their collective work.
Quinn had come up to me shortly after the class was settled. Her eyes were lit up with the excitement of an idea “I’m going to make a baby panther with the panther from the book!” “Great idea – go for it.” Quinn set off to work. I checked in with her later and she pointed to her picture and explained “this is the panther in the book when it was a baby and this is it’s mother and I wrote “Once there was two hearts together.”
I look around the room each Friday, and without a doubt, these writers are always engaged. We’ve actually done engagement inventories to document student engagement during Journal Time. As a researcher, the engagement alone is only a piece of developing these children as writers. A writer needs to know that their process is valued and every idea is worth playing with. Over the past three months, we have given the first graders opportunities to observe, copy, sketch, draw and choose all in the name of developing the thinking habits of a writer.
This week, as I reflected on Ava, Kevin, Simon and Quinn I was reminded of the importance of getting to know kids through their ideas and choices. I learned that Ava and Kayla are reading partners and they enjoyed a nonfiction book on the rain forest recently. I also learned that Ava and Kayla are the kind of reading partners that really talk to each other about their reading. Simon and Kevin, I learned they were both inspired by the seedlings page. I learned that with a little comment from me, they were able to see their thinking, their story as a piece of a larger story. Finally, Quinn taught me that a writer can read and find an idea – the panther. Then transform that idea through her own thinking – that same panther, but as a baby, with his mother (who wasn’t even in the book!) and write sentence packed with feeling.
I will continue to hold on to my questions and stay alert to what the children will teach me.