This past spring, a teacher in our building came to me with a simple question about how to enhance the reading group experience for some of her more savvy third grade readers. She wanted to talk about how setting affects a story. So we chatted about a few nuances of setting and its role in a book. About a week later, she approached me with a few follow up questions for her process. At that point, I merely chalked it up to a teacher growing her practices for delivering and leading an excellent reading group experience for her students.
Not too long after that, the teacher came to me to share the fruits of her work with her students. Her third graders developed multi-paragraph literary essays explaining how three types of setting: natural, manufactured, and cultural, were important to the short book they had read together. Needless to say, I was blown away by this game-changing example of student writing. In a time when we are reviewing and growing our writing program, this work represented the possibilities that exist when an already established, successful teacher sees opportunity, asks questions, trusts her students, and has a skill set to make accessible seemingly “too advanced” material.
I shared the samples with teachers across the continuum as exemplary work done in third grade. Ultimately, I had the “aha” moment that the student work was not the most important take-away from the process. What was most impressive is that a teacher made this process accessible to her students, guided them through scaffolded instruction, provided a model, and gave actionable feedback.
Not only was the product fabulous, but the soaring confidence also made the process fun for the kids. Ultimately, this is what great writing teachers do- they make accessible even the most challenging processes, content, concepts, and material, lead students to success that breed a sense of accomplishment that evokes joy in the composite experience.
Not to rest on any laurels, the same teacher approached me late in the year in the hallway with a simple question: Do you have a copy of the compare-contrast strategies? Apparently there was a shift in schedule and she had a free block. Spontaneously, she took the strategies for developing a writing piece using this rhetorical mode, applied it to current classroom content and led her whole class on a successful journey to create an essay comparing and contrasting the book they read and the movie based thereon.
The following week, I got a call to visit her room as the kids were completing the process. The energy and pride in the room was palpable- students gathering around teacher to enthusiastically share their work.
This is what great teachers do.