Some of the Best Ideas Come Unexpectedly

The end of the year brings with it a laundry list of tidying up chores. Tidying up the classroom or office falls way at the bottom (which is why it sometimes feels like I spend half a summer at school). First we clean up the reading assessments, the data, the placements for next year, the intervention recommendations. We want to know before we put the last book back on the shelf that our students will be all settled for next fall.

In my school that means that our Interventionist (code name for amazing all around instructional leader, child and teacher advocate, and leadership whisperer) and I meet one on one with each teacher to discuss and celebrate the growth of each child who received intervention, to think carefully about whether they’re ready to fly on their own or could benefit from a bit more support in the fall, and to consider any other little friends who hadn’t been getting official support but whom we ought to keep a close eye on. It means three long days in a room, but the celebrations are heartfelt and the concerns bring out the protective mama bears in us. They’re all our children after all.

Near the end of the first day of meetings, we had time scheduled with one of our second grade teachers. Except she had no intervention kiddos this spring. After working hard all day to fit in the many conversations we needed, this was a welcome, if unusual, change.

Instead of cancelling and sending her off, we chatted about how her year had gone. She started talking about what she wished had been better this year for her students. Let me put this in perspective. All of her students except one ended the year reading at least one level above benchmark, but many of them as much as a year beyond. Her writers were all “in the green” except for two. Her math data looks beautiful. But here’s a teacher going beyond the numbers to the story of her actual classroom and kids. (Another kind of heartwarming.)

She shared that the sophistication of their writing relative to the sophistication of their reading feels lacking. And she wondered aloud, what she could have done differently. My coaching ears perked up.

We gently probed to learn more.

–What is their oral language like during morning shares?

It sounds like their writing does. Here, her face froze. We saw the lightbulb. They were writing the way they spoke–in simple constructions with limited elaboration. They reported their morning shares instead of storytelling.

Together, the three of us tossed kernels of ideas into the air.

Maybe we could try…

–Coaching into morning share with writing craft moves for their oral language

What if we started with strategies from 1st grade writing lessons (rich verbs & adjectives, unsticking the character by making them move, adding dialogue, etc.)? Maybe we could build (or borrow from 1st grade) a chart. Maybe it would have sentence starters…or…

–Carving out time for oral storytelling as a whole class

We could teach them to play ‘Can You’ (a storytelling game from my childhood roadtrips and bedtimes with Pepere). And if we do whole class storytelling, maybe that would transfer into storytelling partnerships or clubs!

What if they record their oral storytelling with Flipgrid (or some other tool) so that they could share it with others? Or students who get stuck in their writing could listen back to their story to hear how they developed and elaborated on it when pencils and punctuation weren’t getting in the way.

We could find mentor storytellers. Then our storytelling clubs could try telling a story like Mem Fox or someone else with a distinctive voice.

The conversation bubbled. By the end we’d committed to an action research project for next year. The teacher was eager to try some of these ideas and I was happy to partner with her. And how appropriate, that a day that was really about ensuring the best possible learning outcomes and experiences for children, ended with a rich exploration of what might provide better learning experiences for all second graders?!

After the meeting, driving home toward weekend schedules and responsibilities, I held the bubble of ideas close a little longer.

Let’s not just wing it, I thought. Let’s create a 2nd grade speaking progression, a kind of speaking curriculum to accompany the rest of our literacy work. Alas, it’s an area that has taken a backseat in curriculum planning. It’s still an add-on the way writing used to be.

What would the right sequence of experiences be? What would the transfer be to their writing? Where could we borrow minutes from other classroom commitments?

Anyone want to try it alongside us next year? We’re going to give it a go!

5 thoughts on “Some of the Best Ideas Come Unexpectedly

  1. This was a great reflection! I am hoping to find a classroom teacher t do some similar work next year. I just read Teaching Talk by Kara Prinkoff. Many of the ideas you outlined were mentioned in her book. Can’t wait to read more about this and share experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. collaboration is one of the wonderful parts of being a teacher! you learn from someone else’s experiences and knowledge, and once the ball gets rolling, you are just bouncing ideas back and forth. glad you could help her out!


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