Contests used to scare me. It takes bravery to put yourself out there! But the contests in the Kidlit Writing Community are a blast no matter the outcome! I can't wait to read the many outstanding stories, highlighting the bold spirit of Valentine's Day. You can find out more about Susanna Leonard Hill here, and, below, you can check out my entry:)
The Brave Little Conversation Heart
By Laken Slate
Word Count: 211
Stuffed in a box,
there were lots of candy hearts,
with plenty to say.
“Wink, Wink” said a pink.
“Be True” said a blue.
“Just Right” said a white.
But Little Purple Heart was blank.
The others didn’t understand.
“Hug Me” said a green.
But Little Purple Heart said nothing.
Soon they were shouting in anger:
Their words were sweet, but the tone was sour.
They wanted Little Purple Heart to leave.
She squeezed out of the box,
and onto a shelf,
in a dark grocery store.
The next morning, a man grabbed the box of hearts.
“A treat for my valentine!” he said.
“Oh, no!” thought Little Purple Heart. “They’ll all be crunched if I don’t move quick!”
She toppled from the shelf,
bounced off a bag of grapes,
and landed on top of the candy box.
When the man went to check out, Little Purple Heart tumbled onto the counter.
“Uh, oh! Looks like this box is open,” said the man. “I’ll go pick another one.”
The cashier placed the candies behind the counter.
Out popped a blue that read “Thank You!”
Other hearts cheered:
Little Purple Heart didn’t reply,
But they knew she loved them too.
I look back to the many times in life I felt my success celebrated: winning student of the year, getting "Employee of the Month" at McDonald's (they spelled my name wrong on the plaque, but it's fine), the several after-season parties with soccer teams in elementary school. Celebration feels great. Celebration prompts reflection. Celebration is important.
I've posted before on the value of feedback, and celebration is a major component of feedback. When children feel celebrated, they are proud of the work they've done, and propelled to move on to even greater projects.
I experienced this propulsion last week. I had the honor of being featured as one of Amanda Davis' "Rising Stars in Kidlit." Leading up to the feature, I felt anything but starry. I had been doubting my writing and wishing I knew more of what was sought after in the publishing industry.
It felt so nice to re-read my interview, last week, because it was written at a time I felt more hopeful. I had so many kind responses to the feature, from the amazing writing community on Twitter. Just a simple celebration of the progress I had made, motivated me to make more. You can read the full interview here, if you'd like:)
When I return to the classroom, I will remember how much this celebration meant to me. I can't wait to help students see how far they've come, so they can lift their chins and charge even further!
I've had a lot of questions on grading writing assignments in the early grades. When I began teaching, I thought: "It's not about the grade! It's about the expression, the learning experience, the CHILDREN!!" I now understand that those are the exact reasons for "grading" student writing: to celebrate the expression, to extend learning, and to support the CHILDREN.
The mindset change came when I realized that a "grade" doesn't have to be a number or a letter. In fact, it absolutely shouldn't be just a number or a letter. I've learned to wield rubrics and checklists and to share data in a manner that's valuable to students.
A pre-k rubric might have simple components like: Did the student write their name? Did they write the focus word from the board? Did they write their own words? Did they illustrate their writing?
A kindergarten rubric might extend components: Did the student write a sentence with the focus word? Did they illustrate the sentence? Did they remember to use capitalization and punctuation? Did they use/ spell sight words correctly?
I would explain these rubric components to students before handing out journals, so they knew what to expect. I would monitor their writing, compliment their thinking, and give reminders of the rubric components. This way, students were assessing themselves as they worked. Wylie and Lyon (2013) found that self-assessment “provides students with an opportunity to think meta-cognitively about their learning” (p.43).
As an adult, specifically an adult who wants to learn to write, I live and die by feedback. I trade work with my amazing critique partners and constantly seek input. People outside of the writing community may be surprised to learn that aspiring writers even PAY for professional critiques. WE LITERALLY PAY PEOPLE TO TELL US HOW BAD OUR WRITING IS!
This year, I've been lucky enough to win critiques from generous, incredible authors, and the critiques I've purchased were worth every penny.
I've even entered contests to win critiques from professional authors, illustrators, and agents. I'm currently participating in #FallWritingFrenzy and #PBCritiqueFest (<Which is still in full swing, and you should totally check out!!!). Contests like these offer opportunities to work one-on-one with industry giants! Prizes like that are priceless for writing hopefuls, because feedback is valuable.
And that is exactly what "grading" should be: Feedback. Feedback that students can use to extend thinking, improve core subject skills, and tap into creative sides they didn't know they had.
Wylie, C., & Lyon, C. (2013). Using the Formative Assessment Rubrics, Reflection and Observation Tools to Support Professional Reflection on Practice. Formative Assessment for Students and Teachers (FAST).
The Green Cauldron
By Laken Slate
Trixie’s aunt plunked a cauldron and a book of spells in the clearing.
“Now I can double my potions,” Aunt Mangle cackled,
“You’ll slave in the sunlight as I sleep."
Trixie had only the shade of her hat as she worked.
She gasped at the many recipes requiring frog legs, lizard tongues,
and parts of other poor beasts.
Trixie toiled and troubled
but couldn’t find artificial ingredients.
She tried vegan incantations:
“Abracadabra, Ala-Tofu!” –
with no luck.
Finally, she stirred the cauldron chanting,
“Fire burn so carefully! Make this substance cruelty- free!”
Something remarkable happened.
Trixie’s cauldron bubbled with full, living clones of the animals.
At twilight, Aunt Mangle crept near.
“Look at all those pets!” she screeched.
“Bring them to me, so I can mix my cursed elixir.”
“Yes, Aunt Mangle,” Trixie whimpered.
She couldn’t bear to harm her creations.
The thought swirled in Trixie’s mind.
She realized her own power.
Aunt Mangle lurched away to her wretched workshop.
Trixie quickly cast levitation spells on her darling designs.
Then, she conjured something her aunt would never allow her to touch:
Trixie escaped in the moonlight,
with her living inventions,
never to be found by Aunt Mangle.
I adore picture books for many reasons, but today I'll focus on one: the pictures:) A picture truly is worth a thousand words, and they help children make meaning of stories, long before they can read. This natural image interpretation makes "Picture Prompts" especially engaging in the early grades.
I always loved showing the image below, when my class studied habitats. Students would instantly giggle and offer expert input on all that was wrong with the picture. My critical thinking questions naturally surfaced from their discussion: Why can't the cow live in the ocean? What does the cow need?
After lots of silly discussion we would go to the tables to start "Writer's Workshop." I would write "Wrong Habitat" on the board for students to label papers (according to their level on the writing continuum.) I was blown away by their hilarious responses! I so wish I still had pictures. I remember one student drew a goldfish living in a toilet! One student drew a bear on a beach:)
Writing was my favorite subject to teach, because it was always my favorite subject to learn. I had so many incredible educators, from elementary school to college, who encouraged me to write and made me feel confident. Even now, when I lay my little boy down for naps, I gather resources and try my best to become a better writer. So, when I noticed a "Picture Prompt" writing contest for grown-ups, I had to jump at the chance.
The contest starts on October 1st, and it's called the Fall Writing Frenzy. It'll be hosted by two incredible authors, Lydia Lukidis and Kaitlyn Sanchez. Lydia chose a fantastic assortment of seasonal and spooky pictures to inspire writers. We were given a limit of only 200 words to respond to a chosen image. I picked an adorable picture of a witch with a smoky green cauldron. I included my story in a separate post, and I hope you enjoy it! I had so much fun brewing this one up:)
Looking back on my years teaching, I notice it didn't always matter what we were writing about, but what we were writing on. Even as an adult, if someone were to hand me poster board and a pack of markers, I would instantly want to start writing or drawing (partially attributed to the distinct obsession teachers have with office supplies). Below, I've listed a few of the activities I recall with unconventional mediums. These activities seemed to especially engage students and kickstart creativity!
I used a class set of these dry erase sentence strips for four years, until I moved to a new school. These boards were in the top three most used tools in my classroom.
Students are exposed to so many more words when they copy from a fully written word, rather than have an adult parrot each letter, one by one, to help them spell. Similarly, students learn SO much more about forming letters when copying a word, than connecting dots to trace letters on worksheets! The dry erase strips were perfect for helping students physically write the words they dictated and, if you can't tell already, I highly recommend buying a set:)
How is this even a blog post? It’s not at all a unique thought! Picture books beg writing responses. Why draw kids in with the best story without inviting them to create like the authors and illustrators of the story? You don’t even have to work hard to “hook” students. Just read the book!
I’ll start with a few books that specifically prompted writing, in my Pre-K classroom, but there are a million more, and I will make other posts when I find other activities, pretty much every time I read. Ha!
Baby is waking up from nap, so that’s all I have time to share for now, but I will post more ideas soon!
I am currently out of the classroom, as I move around with my husband (in the Navy) and raise my ten-month-old cutie. As I reflect on some of the coolest writing activities of my former pre-k, kinder, and first grade classrooms, many of them had one thing in common...food!
Engaging senses is great start for writing, and learning in general! I once attended a conference where the instructor asked everyone to introduce themselves and give their favorite scent. Everyone in the room instantly smiled. Rather than hear each other list grade levels, school districts, and number of years taught, I heard about favorite flowers and grandmothers who made the best apple pie.
I wish I had time to dive deep into the research behind motivation and project-based learning, but I will have to save that for another post! All I can say is that food is an incredibly engaging, motivating subject. I wanted to give a quick list of some food-related writing activities:
1) This kind of writing will make kids...hungry! Make sure activities like this are done around lunch or snack time, for your own sanity!
2) This one is serious. I once had a student who was born in a stark situation, and remembered the trauma of not having food available when hungry. As a result, she suffered from something I had never heard of before her mother mentioned it to me: food anxiety. While she LOVED writing about food, and her independent journal was filled with stories about cupcakes and candy, I had to be very careful about offering food in the classroom. For instance, if students were told they could earn a snack prize, but only if ___ happened, and ____ didn't happen...this little girl would be completely thrown and go home in tears. If you notice a child is uneasy about the topic of food, make sure to address the concern properly.
With the cautions in mind, I hope this post helps you engage the sense of taste in your writing instruction! I will add more ideas as they come:)
I was a Junior at the University of Central Oklahoma when Dr. Higa unknowingly made a comment I would never forget:
My name is Laken Slate. I was an elementary school teacher for six years, before becoming a mom. I am set to graduate with a master's in Curriculum and Instruction in 2021! Someday, I would love to be a picture book author. Writing is my favorite subject to teach and to learn:)