My mentor and friend, Leah Mermelstein said something recently that really stuck with me. She explained that when thinking about the gradual release of responsibility in writing workshop, we tend to spend lots of time modeling and then jump to independent work time. What is missing is that time for doing the work together or when thinking within the “I do, we do, you do” framework, spending time in the “we do” stage.
This thinking guided my work in a 4th grade inclusion classroom yesterday. The class is in the middle of a literary essay unit; one that has proven to be challenging for its more fragile writers. After co teaching a lesson on using micro stories to support claims about characters, the cooperating teachers and I transitioned to small group instruction rather to independent work. This space in between modeling, a quick try-it out during active engagement, and independence proved to be an essential step in meeting the unit goal of deepening students’ thinking about texts.
What our small group instruction looked like
The group I met with was studying one of my all time favorite short stories, “Stray” by Cynthia Rylant from her collection, Every Living Thing. They had read and discussed the story together and came up with claims about the main character, Dorris. On this day, their teachers and I encouraged them to try out telling a micro story to support their claim that Dorris is respectful. To support them in this work we engaged in a shared writing of a micro story. Students identified a scene that supported their point, we brainstormed ideas and the composed the micro story together using elements we studied during the mini-lesson. I recorded their ideas on a piece of chart paper displayed prominently in the corner of the room where we gathered.
From there, students worked on writing their own micro story. Since I noticed that this was still a struggle for them, I asked that they tell it to their partner first. In some cases, the students wrote the micro story together moving from whole class to small group to partner work. Finally students were ready to write the story on their own. I conferred with each student and constantly referred back to the shared text we created to anchor them in their work.
I am happy to share that all of the students wrote thoughtful micro stories that supported their claims. One student who struggled to grasp the concept at first, and copied quotes from the text rather than tell a story, was able to write a story by thinking through how it supports his claim. Another student was brave enough to articulate his confusion about one of the steps of story writing. Still another completed the story and then revised on his own. Finally, a student wrote a second and third story. All of the students were courageous writers and left the group with increased confidence in their writing.