As a kindergarten teacher, I am witness to many funny quips and comments from the little learners I share space with day after day. One minute I am hearing about their latest video game marvels, followed by a detailed play-by-play of what happened to their puppy when it got stuck under the couch. Colorful stories are always sprinkled with the unique perspective that only a 5 or 6 year-old can have.
Today I was completely taken by surprise by sweet John, and bright young boy in my class. Since the first days of school, John has kept me on schedule; his watchful eye to our daily routines never allow a single thing to slip by. Every classroom needs a John!
Last Thursday we launched into a mini unit on information writing. Specifically, the kids were going to put on the hat of researcher, and write about an animal of their choice. I have an amazing TCWRP classroom library with a great variety of nonfiction titles, and animal books are in abundance. I gathered the kids together, and explained to them that they were getting ready to do BIG things as writers.
I decided to use an analogy of swimming to help them understand that this day’s lesson would simply be to choose an animal book they wanted to use for their research. We would spend our time looking at our books to begin our first day of research. I asked them to think about this writing adventure as if I were taking them to the lake and preparing them to swim for the first time. Today, we would simply be dipping our toes into the water of research writing.
Honestly, I completely forgot about my analogy. Friday came, and I excitedly gathered writers in small groups of 4 or 5, and modeled how we would be using four different colored post-it notes to search for specific facts about our animals in their books. The blue post-it would be what color their animal is, pink would be where it lives, green would be what it eats, and purple would be a fun fact of their choosing. Away they went! These researchers took on this task with gusto, and by the end of the morning, everyone had their post-it notes done, and were ready for the next day’s lesson.
Monday I again worked with them in small groups, and brought out special lined writing paper, modeling how they could lay out their post-its in whatever order they wished, and write each of their facts on one piece of paper. Again, they went to task. Furiously writing, with a little editing here and there, my research writers completed their pieces with great pride.
Today we gathered once again for our workshop time, and I announced to them that today they would be illustrators! I reminded them that many of the books we read have one person who writes the words, and another who draws the pictures, and that today they would be illustrating a picture of their animal for their research piece.
I looked out at their faces, full of anticipation. Suddenly, John raised his hand.
“Yes, John? What is your question?”
“Well,” he asked, “where are we in the water now?”
It took me a second for his question to completely register. Of course! I last left them tiptoeing in the water, so now where were we?! A fair, and marvelous question to ask!
I laughed. I high-fived him. I was utterly on the spot with what I would say to answer his sincere question, and had to think quickly about what I would say. I repeated his question to the rest of the class, because I had a feeling a few of them perhaps had no clue what he was talking about. I affirmed to them that yes, last week when they began looking at their animal books, we were just tiptoeing in the water.
“But, boys and girls,” I continued, “on Friday when you started writing your post-it notes, I sort of picked you up out of the shallow water, walked you to the end of the dock and dropped you right into the water! I had a feeling that you were in fact ready to jump in and do the real work of research writers!”
Their eyes lit up with excitement as I went on to explain. “Research writers, you did some very BIG work on Friday as you researched, read, and wrote about your animals on those four post-it notes! You were swimming in very deep water, and you were amazing!”
So, back to John’s wondering: Where are we in the water now, Mrs. Burtsfield?
“As illustrators today, boys and girls, we are all just swimming and enjoying the water together! Today you will continue your journey as researchers by looking carefully at the photos of your animal in your book, and illustrate with great detail for your readers.”
The rest of the workshop was full of sketching, erasing, experimenting, and more drawing. Today was their first go at illustrating. Tomorrow we will get out the “real” drawing paper and they will draw their masterpieces.
I might ask them tomorrow where they think we are in the water now. My guess is they might declare, “The water is great! Come on in!”