Back in January, when we returned from Christmas break I had some important decisions to make about how to best have my students participate in the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge in March. I agonized over whether or not to make slicing homework or not.
My students are solid with home reading as it is a routine that is established in kindergarten. But, a regular home writing practice? Not at all. In the past, I have tried having home writing be a regular expectation but it quickly became more about compliance and less about writing so I abandoned it.
Given our ambitious flow of writing units for the year, I knew that I had to carefully consider the amount of time I dedicated to the Slice of Life Challenge in writing workshop. I eventually came to the decision that I needed to have students work on this writing at home. I knew Slice of Life writing would help my students better see the stories in their every day lives but worried I would find myself focusing on homework compliance.
I carefully planned our kick off. I had many examples to share: slices from my own blog, slices from previous 5th graders, and Facebook posts from Cynthia Lord and Patricia Polacco that are really slices about their writing/everyday lives. As we looked at the posts, we could see the comments left by readers. This was the hook. When I explained that they will be part of a far-reaching writing community the writers seemed surprised and intrigued. While I can’t say they embraced the idea of writing homework, they were motivated by the idea that students and teachers from around the world might read their writing. I think this cut down on the moaning that might have normally accompanied the introduction of regular home writing expectations.
Prior to February vacation we had quite a few snow days and disruptions to our writing routine. I felt caught between finishing up our prior unit, beginning a new unit and fitting slicing in around the edges of time. Most students were figuring out how to fit slicing intro their home routines. Some students were dragging their heels and causing me worry.
Just before vacation we had some time with the lap tops and the chance for students to kick off their blogs. Students who had drafts of slices were well prepared and ready to go. They excitedly started their first posts. Of course, we ran out of time. I sent the writers off on vacation with open-ended expectations for writing. Many students don’t have computer or internet access at home so I couldn’t assign anything. But, I encouraged writers to try typing some slices over the vacation if they have time.
I was thrilled as a few students bravely submitted their first posts during vacation. I got a kick out of reading their encouraging comments to each other and was touched by the fact that they did this without any coaching from me.
When I arrived at school this morning a few students who are in the before school child care program, bounded up to me and asked if they could come into my classroom to work on their posts. Hmm… I thought that is surprising and exciting. They set themselves up and settled right into typing needing few reminders to be independent and stay on task.
Later in the morning I had all 30 of my fifth grade slicers gathered together for a pre tech time pep talk. I reviewed the expectations and reminders of blogging and the slicers were quickly ready to go. As I circulated around the room, engagement was high. Students were busy tapping away anxious to get their slices posted.
I realized that by enabling students to see they are part of a wider community of writers, they become intrinsically motivated to write their stories and share them.