The importance of closure
My writing- or reading-lesson time consists of 3 parts: (1) minilesson; (2) writing (or reading) time; (3) closure (exit circles). Without all three parts, students write (or read) more, but the writing (reading) doesn’t get better. When I get in a rush, the first thing I cut out is closure. It is a decision I always regret.
Teaching through the students
Pick students during writing time to share during closure time. For example, I moved from table to table mini-conferencing with students in kindergarten. The first three students I came across busily buried their heads in their writing. I recorded what they were writing, asked them if they needed help to which they replied a quick, No. I’m fine, and I moved on.
I came across “William.” He was writing a booklet. He had drawn a beautiful picture on each page. The first picture was of a lion and it he had written JLIINS. The second page was of polar bears, POLR BARS. The third, TIGR; the fourth, ELUFIT; and the fifth, DUEUK. When I asked him what he was writing, he said he was done. Wanting to challenge him a little, I asked him to find a book about animals in the classroom. He reached behind him and grabbed one off the shelf in just a couple seconds. I asked him to look at the book with me.
There was a lot of writing on each page in the book he had selected. In his writing, he had written a label or title on each page. We glanced back at the mentor text together. I grabbed the opportunity to ask, what would you write on each page if you had the chance to write a sentence? “Well,” William said. “I could write lions have manes.” I said, “Ahhhh. So you’re going to tell me what you know about each animal? That would be great.” I sat with him as he wrote the first sentence. I left him writing polar bears live in Antarctica.
During closure, I asked William to share this experience he had in writing time. He explained what he learned perfectly. I complimented. Writing a title on each page like William had done was something that many authors do. However, we found a book where the author wrote more than a title. I thanked William for being open to that possibility.
Sometimes I forget to ask the Williams to share what they learned as writers. As a result, for writing I want to feature, I write the child’s name on a clipboard. That way if I forget what I wanted to teach, then the papers I noticed during the hectic writing time are not forgotten.
In second grade, we were trying to divide our stories into parts. On this day, we were adding more detail to the sparse parts. Luckily, when I pulled the students together on the floor to reflect on what they’d learned that day, I had penciled several notes on my clipboard. As a result, one child shared that she had a single sentence buried within her writing without any details to support it: I fried an egg. She had 6 or 7 other, more-detailed parts to her story. “Alicia” told her classmates what she had done as a result of our conference – she took out the egg part and developed the others.
Another child found that she had 2 stories in one paper as we talked. I encouraged her to try dividing her story into parts, like paragraphs. She agreed even though at first she told me she didn’t want to throw out any of her writing. When she came back, she was stunned to report that she’d found 7 or 8 parts in just the first page of her story. If she were to work with the second page as well, she would have maybe 16 parts to develop! I looked at the story and assured her that the second page was a whole story all by itself that she could write another day. She was relieved. She liked her first story and liked the idea of writing the second one when she had time.
The third child found that dividing his story into parts was easy. The first 1/2 page was his introduction. The second part started with the words, at first; the third part, later that day; the fourth part, the next morning; and the ending, now. I explained to him that often stories divide up easily around time. I explained to him and he explained to the class.
Important time to learn
So, in a matter of minutes, in that all-valuable closure time, that time that I often cut out, we discussed several habits that authors use: (1) Writers take out parts when they don’t want to write about them; (2) Writers often find one, two and even several stories within one story. They focus on one during revision time and save the others for another time; (3) Stories can be divided into parts by time-transition words. That’s one way to organize a story.
What’s powerful is that these discoveries came from the writers in the room. So make this resolution this month: I will not squeeze out reflection time! I will use just a few minutes to think through what I taught and make it explicit for the students before I move in a rush to other things. It’s absolutely essential if the 3-legged stool is to stand on its own: (1) minilesson, (2) writing/reading time, and (3) closure.
NEXT: A teacher's thoughts on the power of reflection