Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Into the Classroom

My sole purpose for this job is to get to the students - to create an interest in, if not a passion for expressing themselves through writing. After the all-school write, I didn't really have a plan for next steps. Lots of options but no plan.

So, when I entered The Write Place last week, I was surprised to find a social studies teacher waiting for me. I greeted him and he sort of sideways asked for support for his 7th grade students who were going to be writing historical letters situated in the period of The Civil War - in 5-paragraph essay form. And then he was gone! With that little bit of information, I began to think through how I would introduce this genre - definitely I would use a model of some sort. And I would ask students to identify the characteristics of the model letter. I also would want them to identify typical contents of the letters of the time. I dashed off these ideas to Mr. W. who responded enthusiastically and we negotiated a date when I could come into his classroom and work with students.

I began to do a little research on Civil War Letters and found some great websites. is a site that houses various types of MN historical artifacts including letters and diaries. I used letters written from White Bear Lake, Minnesota in the early 1900s to acquaint/remind students of the trivia included in personal letters. I also found a Civil War letters site that offered love letters from The Civil War as well as ordinary soldier's accounts of life on the front. ( Another valuable piece, in terms of letter writing is "Making Sense of Letters and Diaries" by Steven Stowe. From this source, I solidified my thinking on what I wanted students to look for in the models that I gave them.  (

I ended up with a 6-slide Powerpoint presentation (attached) that I estimated would take about 45 minutes with an intro, student reading, and student writing sections.The lesson went reasonably well - it is always difficult to step cold into the middle of someone else's unit. The students were fantastic. Glitsch's: 1) wrong adapter for my computer (it's probably still on my LCD at home) - no problem because I emailed the pres. to the instructor who brought it up on the SmartBoard. 2) Inadequate space to record student thinking - should have anticipated this one - will bring chart paper next time - ended up using a corner of the whiteboard that the instructor erased immediately at the end of the lesson. 3) Disconnect between what the instructor wanted students to write and what it means to write an historical letter. The 5-paragraph essay with an adequate introduction is not the same as an historical letter. I offered to come back another time to talk about essays and support them.

It would be great to follow-up this lesson with students - When they left class today, most knew their role; some had decided on their audience (who they were writing to); most had 3 historical facts to include in their letters; I'm not sure if they saw the need to include mundane details in order to make the letter seem real, and I'm definitely not sure how they will include an "introduction" at the beginning of the letter as Mr. W. is requiring.The student teacher explained that the introduction would summarize what they were going to be talking about in their letters - Who does that? She also gave them the word of the day, Epistle, pronouncing it E-pistol "not to be confused with guns." She suggested that the letters they were writing would be "E-pistols," Hmmmm.

I'm anxious to find out how the next hour went. Mr. W. felt he could handle that one alone.

I know the PowerPoint attachment is not showing up correctly - 1/2 the words missing - How can I fix this ?