I initially titled this post “Teaching ALL Writers,” because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing in schools these days, right? We want all of them to write. We plead with them to write. We offer incentives, rewards, and praise for writing. But are we forgetting to teach our writers the true purpose of writing?
When I set up the classroom this year, I made sure to provide many different places for children to write. I covered tables with paper and set out paper and writing materials in many areas around the classroom. I stapled paper into booklets — big ones and small ones. I taped paper onto the backs of shelves and left the whiteboard bare with dry-erase markers available. I rolled out paper on the floor for children to draw and write on.
My teaching partner and I have noticed that the children are at many different stages in their writing. Some are still experimenting with mark making — making lines that curve and wind, or are dotted, or go into different directions. Some children are making letter-like forms with circles and short sticks, and curves that protrude from the lines to the left and right. Some write their names or random strings of letters. Some attempt to sound out words like mom and pink and school.
In order to reach every writer in our classroom, we need to create a classroom environment that provides opportunity for EVERY writer. Now, you may be thinking, “EVERY writer! There’s no possible way to do that!”
Here’s where UDL or Universal Design for Learning comes in. UDL is about designing the environment and what you plan for children in the classroom so that the children at the edges are both able to learn. Watch this video for a quick explanation of what I mean by planning to the edges.
So, we know we have children that are just beginning to draw or write. We’ll need to include something for them in our design that will allow them to see the purpose of writing and what writing is used for. So, we’ll need to model writing for them and then let them see us share that writing as a way to express ourselves or communicate. We’ll set up a bakery this week in our dramatic play area. We’ll provide materials for children to make signs with pictures of cookies and prices. Playing bakery is one thing but we plan to offer them the opportunity to make real cookies and sell them in the school. We’ll need to model letter writing as we ask our principal for permission. We’ll model some more writing with the whole group to make an advertisement for our sale. This is a great opportunity for some shared writing as well.
We’ve planned to offer play dough, sequins, beans, and different coloured paper for children to make pretend cookies. We’ve got some letter cutters so children can make their own names out of dough. When we make our real cookies, we’ll help children put their own letters or names on their cookies.
For the children who are ready to encode, that is, sound out the words they want to write, we’ll provide card stock for signs, labels, and perhaps ask them to write the recipe for the cookies. Maybe some of them will offer to make the big sign for the pretend bakery or a big sign for the real cookie sale.
In addition to this, we’ll sing songs like “Who Put the Cookie in the Cookie Jar?” and “C is for Cookie”. We’ll model writing the letters in COOKIE and talk about how C and K make the same sound in COOKIE. We’ll look at objects and figure out which ones start with the /k/ sound and which do not.
We’ll do these things because we’ve considered what the beginning writers need as well as the ones that are well on their way. And guess what? We’ll reach all the ones in the middle as well, because these activities are rich enough and experiential enough and AUTHENTIC enough to meet the needs of all our children. In fact, we’re not limited to what we think will happen. Activities like these allow children to learn what they need to learn AND offer them opportunity to exceed our expectations.
I’m going to add some photos to the blog throughout the week so you can watch as the children learn through these experiences. We’ve spent September getting to know them and now we’re ready to provide our writers with what we think they need to learn. We’re excited to see if we can REACH them all, wherever they are on their journey as writers.
AND we plan to have a whole lot of fun!
The children wrote a letter to the principal today asking for permission for their sale. Her response is waiting for them in an envelope tomorrow. They set up a place to cook playdough cookies today and a store with shelves to display them. Some made signs and we talked about what to call their bakery. After some responses like “artichoke” and “LEGO shop”, we’ve decided some frontloading is necessary before we proceed any further. So tomorrow, we’ll watch a short video about a visit to a bakery and I’ll show some photos of bakery storefronts. They made chocolate chip and letter cookies today. Tomorrow we will encourage them to make their names. We also noticed that the creation of the cookies and the making of signs and labels were what they seemed most interested in. Tomorrow, I’ll bring some different colours of playdough and provide some beads and sequins of different colours. We are curious to see if they begin to understand that the language used in labels and signs is descriptive language. We also noticed that there were several children who did not participate in the bakery at all. We are hoping to pull them in pairs to see if they are interested in making a sign for the real cookie store. Perhaps they would help dictate a list of ingredients as well after searching the cupboard for the ingredients necessary. I’ll bring a copy of the recipe to read with them.
Here are a few photos from today:
Well, well, well. As usual, things went better than expected. That’s something about UDL that you may not know: it usually goes better than you expect. Once, you start focussing on providing experiences that EVERYONE can learn things from, the learning EXPLODES! The pictures will tell the story of the learning these past 3 days.
In the past 3 days, nearly every child in the class has attempted to write for a purpose and a real audience independently. They’ve written letters and notes and received notes and letters back from their principal, they’ve started to make cookie books, CLOSED and SOLD OUT signs, and made price signs with words and numbers. They’ve found words on bags of sugar and chocolate chips, read numbers in recipes, followed directions, cracked eggs, learned patience, asked for turns, talked about effective advertising. They’ve ran a real store, handled real money, learned about change, about germs, about proper hand washing. They’ve learned how to do dishes, how to set a timer, made multiplication arrays with cookies, and learned to use a calculator. They’ve worked together side by side to accomplish something they were invested in and went home exhausted. They’ve encouraged each other, gotten better at communicating with each other, and learned to self-regulate their behaviour and emotions. They’ve shared their experience with their families, and with the other children in the school.
What happened these past few days was authentic, joyful, and provided opportunities for every single child to learn new things. We could never have accomplished so much if we had started with trying to cover outcomes. Instead, we started with children’s interests and designed experiences that allowed many outcomes to be uncovered authentically. We considered what the children might do as we went along, reflected on the learning as it happened, and were responsive to their emerging needs and interests.
Looking forward to next week!
Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy