As budgets tighten, and supplementary materials are low priority, our "TIME for Kids" magazine is a real luxury. Thanks to the "End of the Year" gift from a thoughtful parent the year before, I'm again able to give each child a copy of this resource each week. It's a weekly dose of informational text in the form of current events that kids can relate to. Still, any routine activity can become stale. As I reflected on this while watching the kids reading in trios one day. I came up with the perfect idea. I decided to combine student empowerment with problem solving through persuasive essays. If I gave the students the opportunity to tell me how they'd like to use the magazines, by writing it in a persuasive essay, I'd receive useful feedback and they would practice W.5.1 at the same time.
As I crafted my plan, the kids continued to read in their trios. They didn't suspect that anything would be different, but excitement was building for me because I knew that they were going to love this opportunity to contribute their own options to the "conversation."
Moving the intended follow up worksheet from class to homework, I put a new plan into place. Once the reading was complete, each student had to write a persuasive letter to me convincing me to conduct the "TIME for Kids" sessions they way they thought was the best.
Students generally aren't enthused with the idea of writing essays, no matter how brief, but this was something different. As soon as I explained the persuasive writing assignement, and the reasoning behind it, there was audible excitement in the classroom. Because they knew exactly where this idea came from...the fact that some weren't happy with a common method of reading the magazines, we were all on the same page of understanding, and everyone was enthusiastic to see what fabulous ideas were forthcoming. With this writing assignment, they actually had the opportunity to give me their opinion, write persuasively, and persuade me to agree with their ideas in order to effect change. They immediately pulled out notebook paper and began writing. What I want to see is each student stating an opinion through their persuasive writing, and then backing their opinion up with evidence as to why others should agree with it.
Relevant writing opportunities are around us when we're open to them. If ALL writing could be as timely, our students would reach proficiency on an easier path. Although that's not realistic, there are many ways to involve real world issues to motivate our kids with writing, and help them see the relevance. Knowing they'd influenced the direction of the class was definitely empowering and led to excellent writing that came from the opportunity of having a voice.
After all the papers are turned in to me, I group, then tally the methods written by the kids:
Reading Alone: 2 Two Votes for Reading Silently
Reading Whole Group: 1 One Vote for Reading Whole Group
Reading in Small Groups: 16 Voting for Small Groups
"Unique" Ideas: 3 Not Fitting Regular Categories
Reading these was such a great lesson for me! I've varied our "TIME for Kids" reading methods all year, but often, we read it whole group. It may seem obvious that they'd want to read in small groups, but I never expected the whole group option to come up with one vote.
Due to this outcome, I look forward to showing the kids that their opinion DOES matter, and we won't read that particular way again this year. This kind of change isn't a big deal, and will go far in empowering kids about their ability to make decisions, and use the pen to influence ideas. At least one sample from each of the four categories is read out loud, and it's obvious that the "unique" ideas are a hit. I also respect the kids who prefer to read independently because it can be distracting to read in a group, and I intend to give them that opportunity depending on the activity. I can evaluate these persuasive letters in two ways- by keeping tally of persuasive language and techniques as in a standard evaluation process, but also through the opinions of the kids. They will vote their opinions after hearing the persuasive letters.
I put the Persuasive Essay data on the Smart Board along with the sentence starter, "In the future..." (Original Votes/New Tallies/Comments) I call the students to come forward row by row to write a comment and/or change their vote by writing a tally mark next to the new idea. (Giving Opinion on Smart Board)
After hearing the persuasive essays, and discussing the possibility of change, it's been decided in my group that Whole Group is out, and Unique Ideas is in. I told the kids that the next time we read a "TIME for Kids," I will choose one of the ideas from the "Unique" category. There was a cheer and applause, and they are REALLY excited for our next TFK issue. The only silly idea within those three was Dancing While Reading. The essay itself was good, with persuasive statements, and I intend to give them this opportunity. I just think I'll wait until after Standardized Testing next week...