Monday, January 12, 2015

Promoting Writing Through Immersion

"As teachers it seems we have to spend a lot of time fighting against what our own educational histories have taught us  to believe. We were not taught to learn to write from writers." Oh, in high school and college we analyzed the texts of brilliant (if not mostly dead) writers, but we always did it as an end in itself. No one ever said to us, "Hey, you could try and write like Robert Frost if you want."
                                                                                                                    -Katie Wood Ray

With the shift to adaption of the common core and PARCC assessments, many educators have been talking about how to increase meaningful writing instruction in the classroom. Last week I worked with a literacy coach and our conversation was driven by writing instruction and the power of mentor texts and immersion. This week I wanted to focus on the immersion process and highlight a few resources I find helpful when educating and promoting this instructional practice.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, immersion is defined as, "Deep mental involvement". Applying this definition to literacy is exactly what the common core is screaming and what many teachers are now trying to do. In the writing world, this translates to immersing our students in literature and to authors in which they can learn and be inspired to write. Immersion provides students with an model to follow and think about. One of my favorite books to bring to elementary students in the writing workshop setting was Ezra Jack Keats, Snowy Day. Together my students and I would study Keats craft moves with a focus of what made his writing so interesting. Through our work together, students began to do just as Katie Wood Ray would suggest; they began to think as a writer. Only by doing this were they then able to internalize craft moves and try them out in their own writing.

Leah Mermelstein, a literacy consultant who came out of TC blogged about the "Top 5 Reasons to Begin Your Writing Units of Study with Immersion". What I love about this compiled list is that it quickly generates conversation and promotes the immersion process. This would be a great, quick promotional tool to bring to a professional development or PLC.

Another great resource I have come across is from the Noyce Foundation titled, "Genre Studies in the Writing Workshop". This 9 page article (don't let the 9 pages fool you, it is a quick and easy read) breaks down the entire writing process, really diving into the immersion phase. Additionally, it discusses different approaches to immersion such as "best guess gathering", "sifting and sorting" and "building a definition". Each section provides knowledge and information for what these practices are and how they can translate into the classroom.

If you had to purchase one professional book focused on student writing, I would highly recommend Katie Wood Ray's book, Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Ray's easy to read book focuses on stories from the classroom, and student writing samples to help explain in practical terms how students can learn to become better writers through reading. Terms such as "reading like a writer" and "craft studies" all present themselves in this book. In addition to the research and philosophy behind Ray's work, the book offers practical advice from how to set up writing workshop, selecting mentor texts and information on writing conferences in the classroom.

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