I have dozens of grammar books - you know the worksheets I'm talking about - the ones that the students race through, often perfectly, then receiving excellent scores on the quizzes that accompany them. Sounds good ... right? Well, something's wrong with that picture because even though in isolation my students seem like they've mastered the concepts, they just aren't carrying this knowledge through to their own writing. I can sit with them one-on-one in writing conferences, point out where they have made a mistake, and usually they can correct the mistake right away. So then, WHY aren't they writing correctly the first time???
Something had to change in my program. In our planning meetings at the beginning of the year, we had already decided that writing would be our school improvement focus. However, at a recent meeting we decided to sharpen our focus to conventions in writing - something that seemed to be lacking in our students' writing across all the grades.
I spent days thinking about HOW I was going to engage the students in their grammar lessons - really get them to take ownership in their own writing. And then it hit me - they love the hands-on aspect of their Interactive Math Journals, and are constantly referring to their journals during math classes, so why not try something like this for their grammar lessons. And so, the Grammar Journal was born.
We started our journals last week. A typical math journal entry takes us a whole math class and we usually complete one per week. I didn't want this to be the format for our grammar journals. Instead, I want them working with their journals for about 15 minutes a day - during the Word Work block of time as part of our Daily 5 schedule. So, a typical journal entry could take us a few days to complete - which is perfectly OK with me as they will be going back to the same topic for consecutive days, hopefully increasing the retention of the topic.
I decided to start with parts of speech. We've already studied them quickly this year, so I thought it would be a good confidence builder. The first entry was a HIT! We made Noun Wheels - so much fun. For this entry, students had two different circles - one divided into eighths for the bottom wheel, and one with one piece cut out for the top wheel. Students had to come up with eight different nouns (at least 2 syllable nouns for my grade 5 students, and three syllables for my grade 6 students). They also had to write the definition for noun on the top of the wheel. They glued the bottom circle to the right side of the page, and attached the top circle with a brass fastener to create the wheel. Just like our math journals, we also added our learning goal to the top of the page (in the curriculum language).
We complete the left-side of the page a little differently from our math journals. At the top of the page they will write the definition of the concept studied in their own words. Just under that, they rewrote the learning goal in their own words. For the proof section, I had a small comprehension check ready for them. They completed it quickly (the key to these journals) and then we took it up just as quickly. For their reflection I gave them two options: 1) write 3 different sentences, with each sentence containing at least 2 nouns, or 2) create a noun alphabet - one noun for each letter of the alphabet.
I think these are going to be a hit - they were excited to start our second entry today (I'll share with you next Tuesday). This could be a very good thing - I don't think I've ever seen my students excited to work in their grammar books before. This will be a big project for us for the rest of the year, but I'm looking forward to it!