Tag Archives: EL Writing

Combining our writing and thinking on what we’ve learned from teaching EL students to write.


I think I’ll just do my job and manage the work flow – more like the work tide — as best I can and stay detached because, I’ve been an interventionist a long time, and I should retire in a year or two. I get that distance and remove and then I start assessing first graders.

Today I brought J. in, unsure whether he would read with me because he was a pre-reader all through kindergarten.  He was known more for his behavior demonstrations than his learning.  And J. comes from a broken family.  Nevertheless, we were talking as I walked him to my classroom.

As he sat down, I introduced him to the dog puppet, “Chili Dog,” who loves to listen to kids read.  J. told me he had two cats, that are kittens.  And two hamsters but they are dead.

I showed him the list of sight words and he picked out a few, very few he recognized. When I urged him just to try some of the others, he clued me in, “I don’t do words.”

So, I got the level A nonfiction text and introduced it.  He “wrote” into the story using the pictures and I asked him to point at the words.  He seemed surprised there were only three on the page.

The record went on like that a few pages, kind of rocky, but he was drawn into the park and the playing in the text.  When he got to “I can jump,” he stopped after can.

“Wait a minute,” I said.  Your name starts with that letter!”

“I don’t know my letter sounds,” he corrected me.

“Um, you can say your name, so you know the sound of that letter…”

He reread the line and said, “I can jump.”  I clapped.

Then he read the rest of the book without hesitation.  Interesting.

As we chatted while I was returning him to his classroom, I learned that J. really likes to paint.  Like loves to paint.  “I do, too!” I told him.

“Will there be painting in this room?” he wondered aloud.

“We’ll be drawing a lot!” I countered, and that’s a kind of writing you know.  Painters need to know how to draw.  Then I pointed out the print of Red, Blue and Yellow and said the picture was by a man named Kandinsky.

“Oh, I’ve heard of him,” said J.  I suppressed my incredulity.  I just think that, even though he’s starting at kinder level, I can teach this guy to read.

And that’s when I get hooked.  It’s the kids.  It’s not the program. It’s the kids.

Writing with Third Grade EL Students

Slice of Life #10

Today, after school I got to go over to a neighbor school in the district and give a model lesson with one of the third grade writing intervention classes.  (See http://wp.me/p3cml8-De  for photo essay).  I was nervous for several reasons, but also happy. The nerves come from not being with those writers daily (or even weekly) and feeling out of touch. Not knowing what exactly has been taught and what they’re ready to do next.

These are snapshots of 5th graders working with the checklists (student facing rubrics) to set goals for their writing.  I hoped to do that with the third grade, but they didn’t have them in folders yet.

I started the mini lesson with a brief, “Here’s what you’ve been doing so far.” To get a sense of what they were doing I asked them to popcorn out their bold opinion statement.

“Yay,” I thought, “they are doing personal opinions and care about their topics they chose.”  I had a picture on the board of glasses under the base word, ‘vise’ and wrote the prefix in a different color.  I made the  teach point that writers revise.  And one way they revise is by saying more.  They can say more by using ‘for example.’

I asked the dozen sweet writers sitting with me if they knew what ‘revise’ meant.  “Have you ever heard of revision?”  Heads shook negatively.  I was not surprised.

“Well!” I ventured, “revise means ‘to see again’ and it is what writers do when they reread their work, thinking, ‘how can I make this better?’  Revise is to rewrite, or write more to make your writing better. [note – I know that technically this skill is elaboration, but I am instilling a new, general idea — these writers have not had workshop or process writing until this month.  And revision strategy # 1 might be considering your audience, but they weren’t there yet.]

We stood and held an imaginary pen in the air.  “Listen,” I said leaning in.  “If you wrote something that sounds kind of blah blah, and you said something over and over — it happens to me when I write — and you didn’t like it.  You know what?  You don’t have to fix it up.”  I made the editor’s sign for delete in the air and said “delete!”  I briefly showed on the board how I could cross out stuff I didn’t really like.

They sat back down.  And here’s what we will try today: I modeled from my own writing (on why student should have choice in their writing) how I can revise by saying more.  “Revising is rewriting.  You can say more by finding places in your opinion drafts where you can write, ‘for example,’ and write in that paragraph.”  I wrote in the air my try at an example in my reason.

“Writers, can you look at your drafts now and see if there is a place where you want to write more by putting in an example.”  They began reading and marking.  I asked them to talk with their partner to explain what they would like to try out today in their personal essay.  “And give me a thumbs up when you are ready to go try that revision.”

They wrote.  The teacher and I conferred with writers and the time flew. I loved getting in close with the writers.  One was writing about how his family vacation was the best time ever.  He had to explain some phonemic spelling to me.  “Oh!  Jet skis!  I pantomimed and asked, “You rode on a jet ski?”  He smiled and nodded.

At mid workshop, I asked them to read aloud their work today to their partner and tell what they thought of their revision. And switch.  They needed a model in how to have the listener put his folder behind his back and the reader read her work like gold.

As usually happens when they hear their work, they rush back to their desk to say something else or change something. They had ten more minutes of writing and I closed with showing them the checklist, explaining how I had used it for my writing assignment today – from the elaboration line– and how  I use it to see the next thing is I want to work on.  I really need a conclusion for my piece.

Supporting two after school programs on opinion writing  has a story thread to it.  In addition to my learning curve, my narrative with colleagues and leaders has a theme.  Let students be authors and decide what to write!

RS gr 5 checklist 1








Writing Works

Slice of Life #1

My mother is 87 and has lived with me over a year now.  We call her the Big D, not only for Dolores, but for her grand person.  Establishing her medical team down here in the South Bay after living for years in San Francisco has been a huge challenge.  Since November she’s suffered disabling back pain and needed a referral to a local spinal doctor.  And, so far, all we’d gotten accomplished was better neural pain medication.

For Leap Year,  I went to bat for Big D again, by sitting down at my keyboard and writing. Just the facts.  Who sent what letter when.  The number of times she has left voice mails with the new doctor asking him to contact the MRI team.  The dates she got her x-rays done and when the labs were taken.  Naming the lab and noting the phone calls and letter asking her to do her labs.  To summarize here, I asked why it has taken a month to get her MRI scheduled so that she can receive treatment from the spinal specialist.  My writing project took me about an hour to piece together all the dates, contact info and details.  Off went the email, with an HMO plan PR person copied on it.

The Big D got a phone call this morning at 9 a.m. from the spinal specialist’s office and the MRI appointment by 10 a.m. I was talking to her on the phone checking in about bringing home take out or not for supper.

As she listed the results, she exuded, “Laura, you must have given them heck.  I can’t believe how fast everything got done this morning.”

“No, Mom, I didn’t give anyone heck.  I laid out the whole picture so they could understand it.  And I said we’d appreciate knowing why you weren’t getting your appointments.”

“Oh.” she said.

I was thinking nobody wants to be given heck.  “Didn’t I copy you on the email?” I asked.  “I did say at the end that if we didn’t get an immediate reply I’d take the day off teaching school and drive you in to the office to talk with them.”  Mom laughed.  This quest had taken a total of three months.

So now she has Outreach, the senior ride service, lined up and will, finally, tomorrow get her MRI which is the ticket to treatment with the specialist.  The suffering has beaten her down. Sigh….

This is a small echo of the writing project I had to do when the locals at her SCAN HMO kept denying her the primary care physician — whom she had visited when she first moved down here.  They sent rejection letters, told her to see other doctors who weren’t taking new patients, and inhuman paperwork-driven nonsense that made my brave, strong mom eventually cry.  Finally I wrote.  To the corporate offices in San Diego.  Not giving heck.  Just laying out the events, and making the case for some sensible action by asking the question.

That got a phone call the very next morning, too.  And the PCP the Big D had requested was signed on for her.  Only took five months.

Writing.  Thoughtful, truthful writing works.






Your Words Can Change the World

Be bold -- not kind of bold.

Young writers in after school classes at my local ES are writing strong opinion speeches, letters and essays. Five brave teachers are learning the writing workshop, process approach as we adapt the best of grades 3 and 4 from Lucy Calkins UOS for Common Core writing into one unit.


Our work features the workshop strategies EL writers that best support them.

Working with “down drafts” in which they write “fast and furiously” frees the students from worrying too much about correct written English while they get their thinking on paper.  We are excited to see the volume of writing they are already producing with the shift from error correction mode.  (Later we will revise and edit.)


The principal gave our opening session a huge boost, by asking teachers their opinion about a school change she know would matter to the students.  What do you think of the idea of allowing students to wear jeans with their spirit shirts on Fridays? 

 Teachers are modeling “boxes and bullets” to give students oral strategies for exploring their opinions and support, and showing them the basic structure that essayists and speech writers use to plan while they think. Students “write in the air” and rehearse aloud with a partner.  The great thing about these strategies is that students do a lot of front end revision before they’ve even written the first draft.

Boxes and bullets is part of “essay boot camp” in the UOS, designed to teach the general structure of essays, without forcing student writing with formulaic lessons.  Students write personal essays on topics that matter to them and learn to revise them to persuasive arguments.


Students enjoy the social interaction and the creative, club-like atmosphere teachers have established. 

 Students are collecting their own ideas and being encouraged to write “flash drafts” from their basic box-and-bullets plans.  They have looked at their school through two lenses:  what is broken that I’d like to suggest fixing — and what is beautiful that I’d like to call attention to.  Giving students choice gets buy in.

Teachers are brave and bold as they read new curriculum and try out new strategies every Monday and Thursday, in addition to their busy regular classroom assignments.  Teachers are introducing student checklists, (student facing rubrics) to show students how to set goals for their own work and move themselves up the continuum of the Common Core learning progression for opinion writing.

We’ll find out on Monday if the principal was persuaded by the video speeches and written essays.

Next post, we’ll continue to build build stamina and volume with free writing. Students will be exploring addressing their audience, categorizing their reasons, balancing support, revising while writing, and creating powerful introductions and conclusions.





Why Everyone Needs to Know How to Write. Everyone.

Tonight I am having bubbly with my Mom, with our grilled cheese sandwiches, to celebrate getting her cards from her HMO granting her a doctor of her choice she visited in December.  Yes, we got to talk to a person who could do something, because I wrote.

Here’s the email I sent last Sunday:

Dear SCAN,

My mother, Dolores R Brown, moved to San Jose last November from San Francisco, where she had enjoyed medical care provided by your SCAN doctors and staff for several years.

She looked up a PCP who is also a specialist in nephrology, Dr. Suzanne Austin.  Since Dolores (my mother) did not have her senior transit pass because she needed the form signed, we arranged for my daughter to drive over from Capitola and take grandma to Dr. Austin.

My mother was delighted with Dr. Austin (and forgot to have her transit form signed).

However, she received a SCAN notice that Dr. Austin was not contracted and could not be her PCP.  She was referred to another doctor as a PCP.  This doctor’s secretary rejected her on the phone call.

Then Dolores went up to stay with her younger daughter for the summer in Ashland, Oregon.

I received her mail here.  A card was sent to her with the rejecting doctor’s name on it.  I spent 45 minutes on the phone with your customer service trying to figure out why my mother could not see the doctor she wanted and needs.

I was given 3 names.  Mom called them from Oregon and was directed to a doctor in the south valley, about a $40 cab ride each way.  (My daughter’s car transmission died meanwhile)

Dolores went to the doctor and was rejected for a visit because of the name on the card, even though she had been told by your office to make an appointment with a different provider.  She was very tired and very upset when I came home from work.

Did I mention that Dolores is 86 years old and a kidney transplant operator?  She deals with many physical issues, and seldom complains.

Honestly, when I tell people what she has been put through they call it “senior abuse.”

So Dolores went back to the doctor after her card was cleared Sept. 2.  We are going on almost a year with no satisfactory health network in place.  She needs to see a podiatrist.  I’m shuddering to think what will happen when she calls the one I looked up online this morning.

Dolores had been told that if she went to the distant primary care provider the plan named, then she would be referred to Dr. Austin.

The letter authorization # 2015090822276849 from DCHS denies Dr. Austin, but did provide a different nephrologist.

I have attached your website search.  Dr. Austin is clearly a PCP and a specialist registered with DCHS.  And I got this information from your SCAN website.  Yet, P.S. yesterday DCHS sent Dolores a letter denying her referral.

I feel that we are being given the run around.  I am a teacher who works overtime to make ends meet.  I cannot sit on your customer service line for hours at a time.

I have watched my mother feel so rejected and frustrated, that she is still waiting for her senior transit from the city and still does not have the specialist she was told she could request.  Last night, since she is in pain, she just rolled her eyes when I suggested she calls your office.

Your customer service people are VERY sympathetic on the phone, but unable to solve problems.  What I need from you is a clear directive and a better plan than your website provides to get my mother’s health services lined up here.

I will be calling DCHS on Monday because I think they denied my mother’s doctor’s referral to Dr. Austin as a nephrologist in error.

Without your assistance, our only alternative is to enroll in a different HMO during November open enrollment.  Is the difference in service between what Dolores got in San Francisco and what she is “getting” here in San Jose that you really don’t have a strong group down here?

Very sincerely,

Laura R Brown

And teacher readers, salut!!