This year, instead of a publishing celebration with food and a stage for students to stand on while reading their writing, I tried out a new approach: the Whole-Class Poem. The gist of the celebration is that each student chooses the best line (best can be defined by the teacher, by a rubric, or by the students) to add to the whole class poem. We begin by sharing the lines. Then we read the poem aloud. Students offer changes to the order of the lines, and we read through it again. We repeat the order-adjusting step until we all feel satisfied with the sound of the work. Then, we do read in unison.
For the first full week of school, my students read “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros. Together, we analyzed the text for meaning, structure, and style. After, I modeled how to brainstorm ideas for each of the three sections in the piece, and then brainstormed about their own names and drafted a My Name piece with three sections.
Students then draft their pieces based on their brainstorms, and I have writing conferences with each. This gives me a better pre-assessment of where their thinking is and where their writing is, so I can problem-solve around closing the gap between thinking and writing, and push both forward. We revise and edit, using the same structure as Speed Publishing Week. Then, we celebrate!
My goals for the celebration were:
- Every student reads aloud at least one sentence.
- Every student reads the finished pieces of four other students.
- Our class experiences the draft-revise-final writing process in real time, together.
To begin, the desks and chairs, usually situated in groups of four, were rearranged into a large circle. Each student found the desk with their name on it and sat down with their final draft, reading it silently in their heads.
After three minutes of silently reviewing their own drafts, I taught them about the post-it compliments that we use to praise one another’s writing. All students wrote their initials in the corner of five post-its. I introduced students to three sentence stems they could use to comment on one another’s writing.
Community Reading + Compliment Post-its
We practiced writing two compliments together for a selected piece of student writing–I chose one that had a few mistakes, and we practiced pulling out the positive. Then, each student moved three desks to the left. They had four minutes to read work and write their compliments. We rotated through four different drafts. Students could use their fifth post-it to write an extra compliment for a draft when they had extra time. Finally, students returned to their own drafts and read through their compliments.
Whole Class Poem: Drafting
In the second phase of the celebration, we created a whole class poem. The title of the poem was “Our Names” and the byline was the class’s cohort title. First, each student used a colored highlighter to highlight the most descriptive line from their writing. Many students were guided by their peers’ compliments. For example, “The most descriptive part of your writing is…” stem supported students who were not as easily able to choose the best line for themselves.
After highlighting, the whole class stood. I asked students to raise their hands if they thought that their line would be a good start for our whole class poem. That student read her line out loud and I typed it into a google document that was being projected in real time. After reading, that student sat and the student on the left of her read her best line. We repeated this pattern until every student had contributed a line to our whole-class poem.
Whole Class Poem: Revision
Once the poem was drafted, we moved into the revision stage. One student volunteered to read the poem aloud, and other students were prompted to listen for lines that could be moved to make the poem flow more naturally. As the student read, other students were tracking with their eyes and making mental changes based on the projected poem. After the read-aloud, four students suggested changes, and I copied and pasted in the google draft to accommodate their recommendations. We repeated the read aloud and revise process one more time to get a final draft.
Once we had a final draft, we did a choral read of our whole class poem, and the next day it was posted on the bulletin board for the whole student body to read. Each student contributed a piece of their writing to the whole-class work, and each student could proudly explain the content of the board and how the work was created. Not only had students completed one piece of writing in the first two weeks of school, they had contributed to two, framing writing as a large part of the work that we will do together throughout the seventh grade.
At the beginning of each school year, all teachers have the responsibility to build a classroom community that is a safe place to learn and grow, to make mistakes and take risks, to make new friends and try out new sides of oneself. I find that I come to know students better as whole people by engaging them in writing tasks that encourage them to share dimensions of their stories and identities. What’s more, when the time for celebrating finished pieces of writing arrives, students have the opportunity to learn new things about one another, to ask questions, and to find similarities and differences that encourage an empathetic classroom. This sets us up for a year of productive learning and growing as a community.