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Joy Write Question 2

The series of posts for “Joy Write” refer to the title of the text our new Summer Institute participants are reading. This is a fabulous book that examines writing instruction, published in 2017 by Ralph Fletcher. Our SI participants are going to comment on the questions, but any reader is welcome to contribute (whether you have read the book or not).

 

From Chapter 2:

What are the things that make the energy level rise in your classroom (what Fletcher calls the “swimmies”)?

What makes the energy level drop (“sinkies”)?

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tammy #

    The energy level in classroom rises when we have “true” dialogue around an issue or interest of choice or an issue or topic that intrigues students. Student driven versus teacher driven topics seem to carry more weight causing for deeper discussion. Students enjoy the opportunity to express themselves and reveal their personal opinion on the matter through dialogue within partners, groups, whole class, or one on one within conference style with me…these powerful moments when “true” dialogue is unleashed are swimmies. Whereas, teacher driven topics for discussion are sinkies that do not promote “true” dialogue and become mere check-ins to make sure students have answered the question, prompt or adequately discussed/or written about the topic.

    Choice versus structure in the writing workshop should be balanced. This is difficult to do but somehow teaching students a structure for writing delivery for a mandated testing situation where the required organization for writing is necessary to show competency but allowing them to see that the formulaic essay is not the creative essay that proves their exceptional writing skill. They must see, know and understand the creative flow of language cannot and should not be impeded by a formula. I believe creativity of style and voice ultimately are the high scores on AP Literature and Composition exams due to the strength of writing response that shows the tester knows literature and is able to take a chance with organization to express themselves and demonstrate their competency on the subject/topic.

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    May 18, 2019
  2. Meg #

    I (sadly) feel so much more focused on “sinkies” on a Friday night in mid-May 🙂 My biggest frustration is that too often I have no control over the things that suck the energy out of my class — my students come in upset about a Math test or stressed about a Chemistry project or mad that the disciplinarian took their phone. At least one days that I know we are not doing something super engaging (testing, etc.) I can plan for it. Besides that, it’s definitely tough trying to engage high school juniors in pre-20th Century American Lit (my required curriculum). Literary analysis tends to be quite a sinkie, too (more of a very heavy anchor!)

    For “swimmies” I agree with what many people said about choice. After reading 180 Days this summer, I did work to add more choice in both reading and writing. We added school wide SSR, as well as SSR in my class and I was able to purchase a nice collection of YA books which has all contributed to much more interest in reading among our students. Most of my students seem to enjoy the choices they have in various writing assignments as well — from informal Writer’s Notebooks to choosing topics for argumentative writing,

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    May 17, 2019
    • Tammy #

      Hello Meg,

      A definite sinkie is when my HS seniors are having a bad day.. A break up with a girlfriend or boyfriend and/or some disciplinary matter, etc. Plus, my clientele in Coatesville Area are not interested one iota in Old English, Medieval Period or Renaissance Literature which we spend the bulk of our time on to cover British Literature which is required for Grade 12 English along with the heavy anchor of literary analysis (which I agree with you too is quite a sinkie). I echo your stance that their needs to be reading by choice with a broad range of YA books that today’s students are interested in reading which will heighten enthusiasm and joy for reading and writing. I can see argumentative writing coupled with titles like Quayme Alexander’s books- “The Hate U Give” or “He Said, She Said.” Thanks for getting me thinking about how to inform my instruction next year in this regard…

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      May 18, 2019
      • Ah, ‘required curriculum’…that is a sinkie for me too! I wonder, what if teachers spent quality PD time really examining what is required and why? And, maybe push even farther to say, ‘by whom’ and for what purpose? Is there value in students examining Old English or would we be better served to engage them in contemporary issues? Really help them become lifelong readers and writers about things that they actually care about!? I think we do a disservice when we have students ‘fake reading’ and/or just going through the motions of the school. But, that conversation’s for another day 🙂

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        May 23, 2019
  3. Dan #

    The “swimmies” for middle school students are the lessons, assignments, projects, etc., that they find authentic and meaningful. I mean, isn’t that the engaging part for anyone? I often use Pixar shorts to teach different skills to my students before we go to the text, because kids these days are extremely visual–they have constant access to visual content via Instagram, Snapchat, etc. By feeding into this, it creates buy-in, and they actually enjoy learning, writing, and reading.

    The “sinkies” are any and all the things they can tell are connected to state testing. I dare you to even say the word TDA in my class and not get groans. Ya know what they don’t groan at, though? The word essay. The phrase thesis statement. Because they know these are the terms they are going to utilize in high school, college, and beyond. Because they see what the benefits of these are. Do they see the benefits in writing a TDA after reading a short story about the American Gold Rush? You betcha they don’t.

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    May 17, 2019
    • Meg #

      I agree with your stinkies. I have taught high school juniors for many years, and I try to include SAT prep work because most students won’t prep on their own. They know the test is important for them, but the groans when I start talking about tips and strategies!

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      May 17, 2019
  4. Sandy Shacklady-White #

    Hello!

    When I was teaching my middle school students in my small group ELA learning support class, the ‘swimmies’ were choice to a degree and structure per their needs. They responded best to having structure and guidance. I would use aspects of Write Traits to show them models of writing and allow them to analyze the models using their insights. This gave them a sense of being “smart” as they dug into some one else’s writing vs their own as most of the kids found writing painful. In most cases the kids were identified as having reading and/or writing disabilities. The Write Traits was used as applicable t o their needs and adjusted accordingly. After the analysis time, we’d practice certain skills together as a class (usually 6-9 kids) and with my writing their input on t he over head (yes, I am old…). This allowed them to ‘write’ with out t he physical act if writing that is so hard for many with disabilities. I would give an array of ideas from which to choose once we were done our analysis. Some students needed the ideas and others would use the ideas to springboard into other topics. In this way they all got to have choice- some within the task and some external to the ones given. The ‘swimmies’ allowed all students to have their needs met and to feel some ownership of their knowledge of good writing and of their ability to choose that which they wanted to write.

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    May 17, 2019
    • Sandy Shacklady-White #

      Oh, and I meant to add my ‘sinkies’. My energy level in the classroom is KEY to keeping things going. MY motivation and enthusiasm must be evident to the class- whether with the students I taught in secondary levels, as adjunct faculty at a college or as a professional development educator at PaTTAN now. I have to perform even if not feeling up to it as fully as my usual. A friend of mine, also a teacher, often said that teaching allows one to forget the troubles of one’s personal life even if just for 45 minutes at a time (middle school schedule) and by showing energy and enthusiasm for the content AND the kids, one typically end the day feeling better than when they arrived at 7:30 AM! I know I 110% agreed with her and still do!

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      May 17, 2019
  5. My ‘swimmies’ are moments of collaboration for my preservice teachers; since they are just learning new strategies and lesson planning, it’s helpful for us to work in moments where they get to ‘try out’ their ideas on peers.

    Like

    May 16, 2019
  6. Abigail #

    Choice choice choice! The best swimmy there is! Kids engage fully in something they feel they have ownership over. I also love to have shoulder to shoulder writing conversations to keep them afloat. When I can see the lightbulb moment or can praise the work they wanted me to see, it’s like adding air to their swimmy. As for sinkies, grades can do it. If I just give written feedback, they are more likely to read the comments and use them the next time. When I highlight something that worked well, they are likely to repeat it in the future. Grades seem to end the process of writing.

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    May 16, 2019
  7. Mark Schmidt #

    I agree that choice is an important aspect of student buy in, but there are good choices and not so good choices, right?! So the challenge is in creating meaningful oportunities that are student directed. This can be particularly challenging if you are a content area teacher; how on earth math teachers manage it, I’ll never understand! So writing can come into play here. Having students write something from the perspective of an actor in history, or in my case illustrating an aspect of psychology can often successfully blend student choice with content.

    I get mixed results with direct instruction. Often it is circumsatnces outside my classroom that impact how engaged my students are with lecture. Time of day, weather, other events happening in school all have an impact. By the way, I do not view lecture as always bad; some of the best classroom discussions I have had were spurred during lecture.

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    May 16, 2019
    • janiceewing #

      Interesting point about “lecture.” I think the word has taken on such a negative connotation that some teachers think it is to be totally avoided. I agree that it can lead to rich discussions and follow-up, if used intentionally and flexibly.

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      May 16, 2019
    • Sandy Shacklady-White #

      Hello. I feel there is a need for balance with the modes of delivery so that one can meet the needs of all learners. Some kids need more guidance and Direct Instruction than others. And direct instruction is not just get up there and lecture. It is a framework that supports students as they learn and practice skills with varying degrees of scaffolding. The process allows for discussion, choice, questioning, partner work, small group work and independent work at any level of ability.

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      May 17, 2019
  8. Kelly S. #

    I second these statements! My “swimmies” are free choice and sharing published pieces with classmates. My students light up when they get to share their reading aloud or during a “gallery walk” of finished pieces.

    My class “sinkies” are text-dependent short answer responses from the PSSAs! 🙂 They feel the responses are rigid and feel restrained as to what they can write. I’ve tried some things to liven this up, but in the end students know why we practice this skill.

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    May 15, 2019
  9. Just like you guys are saying, whenever there is a choice of topic or genre, they are much more engaged and tend to stay afloat. I find that narrative writing and poetry tend to be hold their attention and confidence more than expository writing and research-based essays. When they are confronted with daunting assignments that involve outside research and more constraints, they tend to shut down.

    Like

    May 15, 2019
    • This is Sam by the way. I can’t seem to change my username on here.

      Like

      May 15, 2019
  10. Agreed, Jason. My students swim along swimmingly when they have choice and autonomy of their topic and genre. They definitely sink when it’s mandated writing, such as benchmark assessments. They do need to know how to do this sort of on-demand writing, so we need to find a floating balance that keeps us engaged, but also meets requirements. This is a difficult balance to maintain.

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    May 15, 2019
  11. Jason #

    The “swimmies” in my class are the engaging and personal moments. Especially in my writing class, I find the swimmies to be the moments when students engage using their own personalities, experiences, and identities in class discussions. When students feel a sense of ownership or control, they are more engaged and alive in class.

    On the other hand, anytime the class reverts to the “sage on the stage” model (creating passive learners) or anytime there are mandated activities (especially writing), the energy level dives. Students begin to feel disconnected from the material, from the class, and from me. Even my own energy drops when I am teaching required content and assignments.

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    May 15, 2019

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