Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to Spark Student Motivation - Daily Writing Notebooks

I commented in my October Currently post that I really needed a new phone and then again in my Five for Friday post that my super hubs won me a new phone, now I just need to patient and wait for it to arrive.
Being without a phone means I do not have any pictures to add to my posts, which I fear makes them too wordy and somewhat hard to follow when a picture would really help illustrate what I am trying to say. I promise, you will have tons of pictures to sort through, once I have my phone back in action!

I am excited about linking up with Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching for How to Spark Student Motivation. Check out her post for other great motivational techniques. It is truly amazing what we are able to learn from each other!

In Georgia, during 5th grade, students take a writing test that is promotional. They feel stressed about the test and the teachers feel stressed about the student's performance. I am convinced that the test is one of the (many) reasons that people do not prefer to teach 5th grade. It is a tough responsibility and one that can be massively intimidating for all parties involved. 
I admit that my first year I was a little nervous and always get anxious around the time of the writing test. It is silly to still feel anxious because time and again the students perform well and if admin did not think I could handle it, I would not be teaching 5th grade. Every year, we work hard to improve our techniques, lessons, and (somewhat to my dismay) the scores.
Last year, I stumbled upon a writing notebook while perusing Pinterest and it sparked an idea in me. Teachers use reader's response notebooks to improve reading, why not use a writing response notebook to improve writing? Ding Ding Ding! And with that my Daily Writing Notebooks were developed. 
It is a simple concept. All students have a Daily Writing Notebook, and in it they write daily. To help ease the anxiety over responding to prompts on the writing test they receive a daily prompt to respond to. 
To avoid burning them out I vary how they have to respond. Some days it is a pre-write planner or graphic organizer, some days it is a paragraph, and some days it is a quick draft. 
Some teachers use a monthly calendar and have the kids respond daily referring back to the calendar. I instead prefer to glue a daily assignment in each day. There are a multitude of reasons: I know they have the assignment, if they skip the assignment the prompt is there and I can have them go back and respond, no one can claim they lost the calendar, they know exactly what the assignment is, and most importantly I can differentiate the assignments and tailor them to the students' writing needs. 
For example I recently assigned an elaboration prompt in which they needed to revise a basic sentence. The prompt asked for a paragraph. Some only responded with a sentence, so the next elaboration assignment had "5-7 sentences" added to the directions to remind them that paragraphs are longer than 1 sentence. 
Many of the prompts I use are related to the lessons we are working on in writing. The Daily Writing Notebook prompts are a great place for students to practice and apply what they learned in class. I also have them respond to science and social studies topics, and when we are reading novels they write literature responses. 
Some of the prompts are taken to full length papers, others are quick replies. 
Last year, I implemented the notebooks as a trial and saw great success. Students grew as writers quickly. They were able to look back at earlier papers and compare their responses, observing their own growth. I was also able to give a lot more feedback, and the amount of personal feedback they received increased as compared to when I was conferring about full papers. I knew my writers more because I read more of their writing
The notebooks are also great portfolios. You have 1 notebook full of samples to share with parents at conferences. You can highlight great writing and/or point out weaknesses. I had some students who simply would not write, so imagine the impact of my conversation with their parents when I pulled out a notebook filled with prompts and little to no writing. Parents quickly joined in as assistants at home as well. They were more aware of what we did in writing and many would read the responses conferring about the process/grammar/spelling/handwriting. 
Because I saw how successful it was last year, I implemented the notebooks the very first week of school this year. And guess what? It is still a huge success. Students are writing more. They are more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They are more willing to try things, they are aware of the importance of writing, and the need to practice. 
Not all of the responses are worth shouting out about, but more often than not they are writing at a higher level than my kids did when I did not use the notebook. They are less panicked about responding to an unknown prompt, and are better at receiving feedback. Parents are also more aware of what we are doing. Some even asked me questions about my expectations in regards to responses. I almost leaped across the table to hug one mom when she asked if her son should write a full page and edit for spelling. She reads his writing nightly and has him fix the errors. Yes, he is by far my best writing student this year. 
When I read great writing samples I read them out loud to the kids. They love when their writing is shared. Because they know I might share their writing, I have found that they try harder. They also look back at the feedback I leave in their notebook. They also talk to me more about their writing.
It does take time, something that is always short on a teacher's end, but it really is worth it. Students hand their notebook in first thing in the morning, I check them during arrival and my morning planning time. While checking, I mark on my writing checklist who completed it (check if done, + if it is exemplary, 1/2 for half effort, 0 if not done on time - they have to make it up) and then add quick notes. I do assign a grade for the notebooks, but it is more of a completion grade (usually after 12 assignments I score them - count number of checks out of 12 and score accordingly). After checking notebooks, I add the next assignment. Student could glue their assignment in themselves, but if I do it then I know it is done and do not have to worry about the kids who lose assignments. 
Last year I used a rubric to score the notebooks, but as time went on I found that my method of #done/#assigned worked out at about the same average. 
I also have a little reward worked in to my notebooks. About every 10-12 assignments I surprise the students who have 100% completion with a special note in their notebook in place of their assignment. They receive a note thanking them for their effort/hard work and a little prize of "take the night off from writing". They love to find it in their notebook. They do not know when I might spring the reward so it motivates many to get their writing done nightly. Students who have not kept up or are not putting forth effort receive a writing assignment. 
You always hear that readers only become better readers if they read more. Well, the same applies to writers. You become a better writer when you write more. The daily writing notebook certainly is helping my students become better writers and motivating them to try new things before that scary writing test. 

Phew, that was a long post! I wish I had pictures to show you, perhaps I will write a quick follow up to show you once I get my phone. 
If any part of it was confusing or I managed to leave anything out feel free to ask, I will certainly follow up. 
Don't forget to check out the other great ideas at Spark Student Motivation.     

1 comment:

  1. Love your post about your writer's notebooks! So detailed and you can tell how excited you are about your students' writing! Our big writing test in Florida is in 4th grade (that's what I teach) and I feel the same as you... most teachers try to avoid this grade level! haha Thanks for sharing a great idea and linking up!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching


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