Small Group Writing Instruction That Works (Part 3 of 3)
I’ve been talking about my writing instruction and in particular, the small group instruction that works for me. You can see the first post here and the second post here. Today, I would like to share with you how I use the formative assessment data from the small group instruction and observations in class to move my kids forward in their writing development. I also want to share with you some tips for helping the writer with special needs in my classroom. (For tips on the reluctant writer, click here.)
As I am running a small group writing lesson, the rest of the class is writing too. They are usually writing with a partner and therefore, any questions they might have, they can ask their partner. My usual rule of “ask 3 then me” is there which allows students to seek out help from others. This allows me to focus on my group fully. Of course, these whole class writing lessons and routines have been taught ahead of time and students know the expectations. You do Daily 5? Well this is a perfect fit for your Daily 5 lessons. While you may usually take a guided reading group for the read to someone aspect, the read to someone can also be a partner. The work on writing center can be the work on writing with the teacher center. 🙂 When I do this, I may decide to pull a reading group at silent reading time.
In the small group, I am looking for signs that students are understanding the mini lessons that I have taught on certain curricular aspects of writing. I assess as I go along because formative assessment is the most powerful assessment tool we can use to inform teaching. This is especially true if we share it with our students. For example, if we are working on narratives and today’s focus was on using good describing words (word choice trait), my assessment might look like this:
You can see that not only have I observed and assessed her word choice use but I also noted specific things at the bottom that I could do to move her along right now. If I was writing a report card at this time, I would use this data that was now ready to go as a snapshot of where she was at, but I am also able to quickly pick up and move her along. These formative assessments are fluid and keep changing so I would file this under her name in my assessment binder (preferably with a sample of her writing that matched this assessment.) This assessment would not be done every time I met with groups but about every 2-3 weeks. My on-going notes and assessment might look a little like this.
As you can see, I make notes about many different things including what interests the students. I also note things like strengths and difficulties. Sometimes I look at these and decide to pair students up and other times I make note of students that could use a certain mini lesson.
Students will also take time to assess their own writing and that of their partners. Self assessment is very important in all areas of school. It helps students build the growth mindset that they need.
This small group writing instruction can also work with PRE-writing activities such as brainstorming word choice or venn diagrams where you want to give intense instruction (and attention) to writers that sometimes are either distracted and/or have a hard time getting going. Sometimes I pull a group after an interactive writing notebook mini lesson and work with students on that particular page.
In my classroom, students with special needs work on the same things that the rest of the class works on but often in a different capacity that will allow them to be successful too. If I am lucky enough to have an assistant, we work together to adjust the task so that the student can do it too. As teachers know, special needs and learning disabilities can take so many different shapes and forms. Adjusting your small group instruction and lessons to help your special students involves identifying their needs and adjusting accordingly. I will often take the time to plop the laptop on my lap and type out the student’s story as they tell it to me. I may not be able to assess their conventions but I can certainly assess their current level of thinking and move them forward from there. I also carry a stack of sticky notes with me at all times. I use them for scribing ideas and having students copy out their ideas with proper conventions onto their own paper. Some students need this and it helps them to learn how to construct a proper sentence. There are many computer programs that help students with their writing by using their speech. I once had a student share their story by using the computer to read it out as we all listened.
I hope I have given you some starting points for using small group instruction as a spring board for further learning and instruction in writing. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you below.
Some of the assessment ideas and examples I have showed you come from my Ultimate Literacy Assessment Guide. Check it out by clicking on the picture.