When we first started school at home, I was looking forward to the time at home to get to work with my own kids as readers and writers. I imagined jumping right in where they likely left off in the classroom, setting up quiet time to read and write each day. This lovely image was quickly shaken after our first week of distance learning. Adi, my kindergartener, whined and cried through every writing session. “I can’t do this….It’s too hard….I can’t spell that…” Even though I was asking her to do the kind of writing I knew she had been doing in her classroom, we were back at square one.
This quickly led me to wonder how this writing thing was going for other families with young kids. What were they seeing? How were they setting up their kids for success? Did they even know what writing workshop could look like? My own experience with Adi helped me to wonder with the kindergarten and first grade teachers at our school. “We need to show them what this looks like,” we agreed really early on. From week three of distance learning, our teachers were creating videos to share the vision, even before videos were rolling out in the rest of the district. The need was real.
As teams were sharing with families and working to recreate writing workshop virtually, I kept working with Adi. I learned that we had to establish routines at home. I abandoned the routines that her teacher was suggesting, answering a question a day on a page. I brought Adi back to rehearsing her ideas across the pages of her booklets. I’d prepare her the night before, casually suggesting an idea for writing away from our kitchen table, our new makeshift school space. I’d be brushing her hair after a bath or sitting with her before bed and mention a possible writing idea. I’d know pretty quickly whether or not we could run with the oral rehearsal or if I should hold off for another time.
Usually, I got Adi to engage in a conversation that would lead to me saying something like, “Hey! We just wrote your book out loud. Let’s practice saying it again. Then you’re all set for writing tomorrow. How lucky!”
Each day, I create a post-it to-do list for each of my daughters after checking their Google Classroom and list of assignments. Early on, when Adi saw writing on the list, it pretty much derailed the entire day. She’d get anxiety about getting the writing done, the task completely overwhelming her.
Now, before we even make the day’s post-it, I can usually engage her in writing. As soon as I can tell she’s about ready to get started on some school work, I’ll remind her of our oral rehearsal from the day before. “Why don’t you just go get that writing done now? You’re ready!” I encourage her. There have been many mornings that I’ll be getting ready or cleaning up from breakfast, and Adi has gathered her writing paper and materials and has written an entire book without a word from her. She is prepared.
Now that we have a writing routine that is working, we’ve moved onto adding more to each page. On Adi’s second day of writing now, I’ve introduced post-its with ideas for adding more to her stories. She has a post-its for talk, thinking, feelings, and moving. We spend some time rereading her book and thinking about places she can add some of these elaboration moves to her pieces. After placing the post-its on the page with her plans for revision, she’s once again off to write independently. She is growing and so is her writing.
This shift and growth has been a proud moment for both of us during this time. Adi’s face lights up as she bounds into a room, her writing held proudly above her head like a trophy. “I did it,” she often proclaims. I’ve also learned so much from this experience. I’ve always known that oral rehearsal is important, but now, I know it is necessary and something I hope to think about and explore so that we can continue to find ways to make it a regular part of our writing process across grade levels.