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Boys Write, Boys Read

Outdoors5
With the beautiful weather around here, I always look forward to days of open windows, doors, and natural lighting. During writing and reading workshop, students are free to read/write in or out of the classroom (I station myself at the door to see both areas clearly). I was not surprised to see all of my boys head outdoors. The outdoors, along with other things, can become your venue to reading, writing, loving boys.


Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Ralph Fletcher
Boy_writers

As I type this I am looking at my son play outside. He is playing with the soil in a large barrel by the door. He is pretty much a mess and will require some hosing down before he returns in this house. Personally, I can't relate with how much fun this mess must be, but I think this is a microscopic cataclysm of what happens in the classroom in regards to working with boys. We can't relate (assuming you are a female reader). And some of us don't know where we went wrong.

Which probably explains why I purchased Ralph Fletcher's book (2006) the day it came out. I noticed early on in my teaching career that "teaching" girls to enjoy reading and writing was a walk in the park. Boys, on the other hand, took some convincing. Some, I noticed, didn't want to drink my reading and writing Kool-Aid at all. What was a women to do? According to Fletcher, he cries, "Let the boys be boys!" Let them write about farting, burping, and wars. Let them write outdoors and/or where they feel comfortable. Be generous with their humorous writing style and encourage them to find other authors who write in the same manner. And I couldn't agree more. Here are some of the things Fletcher recommends in working with boys under the literacy framework:

  • Boys need an audience. In our classroom, this means daily reading and writing share time. I honestly don't know when the boys swap out their writing to each other but every time a boy says I am going to read-insert silly title here- I hear a murmur of, "Oh, that's a good one." Audience is everything for the boys.
  • Boys need to feel at home. This usually means reading/writing in a corner, on the floor, or outdoors. The level of focus is really high when my boys write outdoors. We have a large collection of milk crates from the cafeteria that we store right under the portable. It becomes an outdoor classroom of boys each sunny day.
  • Allow your boys to have a "Private" section to their writer's notebooks. This writing, not meant for public consumption, allows students to write freely. This is how you can value that love for war stories that involve some gore.
  • Don't automatically outlaw stories with weapons. Especially if you live in the south like I do. One of my students wrote the most fascinating hunting story that involved being caught up in a storm with his father while hunting. If a ban was in place, this story would have never been told.
  • Look for the humor underneath the violence you may find in your boys' writings. For my boys, one in particular, violence seems to be mixed with flatulence and/or weddings. It's really quite funny, if I am being honest. And if I am being even more honest, I have laughed so hard that tears come out of my eyes a few times. Each time, those stories have come from the brains of a boy.
  • Connect "humorous" writing with published authors. My favorite is Jon Scieska. It might sound like this, "You know, Zach, this writing sounds just like Scieska's work. Have you read The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Stories?" That's all it takes. Trust me.
  • Instead of "humor" think "voice" and instead of "silly" think "satire."
  • Give more wait time for boys to talk about their reading and writing with you.
  • Create some boundaries on language and use of names. For example, in our room you may not include the name of another student without explicit permission (the student needs to know their role in the story).
  • Embrace a more visual definition of writing that includes sketches and drawings. Fletcher also calls this, "Sketch to compose."
  • Consider creating a mini-lesson that models specific drawing techniques when writing (e.g. Max's Logbook by Marissa Moss).
  • Portray writer's notebooks as a space to collect weird facts, feathers, leaves, and interesting snippets of information. This may resonate more with boys that perceive writing as journals and fiction stories.
  • Explore many genres. Boys tend to read more nonfiction and really seem to enjoy writing nonfiction as well. As a result, I try to focus on reading and writing nonfiction quite closely throughout the year. Keep your library stocked.
  • Finally, just let them read and write. Boys are all about doing...give them time to just do it!

Outside
One minute after writer's workshop begins....

Outside1

Three minutes after writer's workshop begins...
Outdoors2
This isn't rocket science...girls like to write outdoors too!

Outdoors3
Milk crates being put to use.

Couch_read
These girls opt for the couch instead of outdoors...
Read_carpet
Location counts. My preference at home is sprawled out on the couch or bed. Location does make a difference.

Authors Who Cater to the Boys

Guyswrite
Anything by Jon Scieska...this book in particular. One true account of peeing on an electrical fence will never be forgotten in my mind. While that may make you go, "Eek," that is exactly what makes the book get glued to your student's hands.

Baseball
Donald Graves, founder of the workshop approach, wrote this beautiful book of poems. Topics range from stealing, lying, and getting in trouble. I can't think of another serious book where boys enjoy the poetry. They really connected here.
Spinelli
Jerry Spinelli is usually well-received by my boys. I usually get students acquainted with his style through Maniac Magee. The title above is Spinelli's autobiography. I'll admit that this book has not been read by any of my students this year.

The Royal King...

Paulsen
Gary Paulsen has spread through our room like wildfire. Select any book by him, and you are bound to have success. At this moment, five different titles are being read in my room right now. All boy readers. When I read My Life in Dog Years, the boys were hooked. Here is an excerpt from one of my boy's books, Guts.

What do you do when you're being charged by a red-eyed furious wall of brown fur that is an insane moose? How do you make a weapon with your bare hands? How do you sneak up on a grouse or a rabbit, kill it with a well-aimed arrow, and cook it over a fire--without a pot? All this and lots more is essential learning for Brian Robeson, the young wilderness survivor in Gary Paulsen's classic novel Hatchet. In writing that book, Paulsen was determined that everything that happened to Brian--the survival techniques and the physical and emotional traumas--would be drawn closely from reality and his own experiences. In Guts he reveals the stories behind Hatchet, as he lived them.

Questions? Comments?

Let me know and post a comment below.

And with that, I am going to go claim my son for a quick run around the neighborhood. Well, that is, after I clean him up a little so he can get dirty all over again. Anyway, enjoy your weekend and have fun.

Comments

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Angela

Kathy,

That would not be a problem at all. I am always willing to share with others. I would also give credit to Ralph Fletcher and his great work. He has some interesting statistics at the back of his book regarding special ed., retention, suspension, etc. They are worth looking into.

And congratulations on presenting on a national level. That is quite impressive!

Much respect,

Angela

Kathy

Angela,
Your comments and suggestions about boy writers has been very helpful. I would like to use your ideas (with your permsission) at a National Writing Project conference in Pennsylvania. I will give you all the credit! Please let me know if you are willing to share these ideas with other teachers.
Thank you!

Victoria

"Well behaved teachers rarely make history!" Now that's a new teaching philosophy to follow!

As for the attendance person, she is a published author (her book is on Amazon.com). She LOVES coming to my classroom every year with her writing club. We can talk for a long time about writing, so we sometimes have to keep our conversations short! Here is a bio I found about Judy online-

Judy Cyg makes her living as a secretary, but has been a museum's songwriter, a laser show operator, and a proponent for the mentally ill. She works at an elementary school in Florida where she annually leads a team of fifth-graders in the adventure of creating a fantasy novel. Judy believes that there is truth in fantasy, not in the settings or plots, but in the lessons gained from meeting goals as a team and sharing personal gifts.

Here is an article with her (three of my former students, Hannah, Matthew and Giannette, are in the picture)- http://www.sptimes.com/2008/03/06/Hernando/These_kids_are_real_c.shtml

Angela

The attendance person conducts a book writing club? That is awesome. Talk about working together for a common cause!

Continue working outside of the box...it reminds me of the saying, "Well behaved women rarely make history." It's sort of the same thing. Continue trying out new things and creating students that are excited about learning...for life.

Angela

Victoria

I agree with what you wrote. When they said fourth grade was easier, I was a little confounded at first. I was thinking, "Did third grade teach you about factors and multiples, long division, divisibility rules, etc.?" Yet then I thought maybe they thought fourth grade is easier because I don't "overtest" them in the traditional sense and we learn our material in a variety of ways. Not all teachers go out of the box, though sometimes I am seeking how to go out of the box more!

The book publishing project really brings out the best in my kids, particularly my boys. I remember an ESE boy three years ago who despised writing at the beginning of his fourth grade year and loved the project at the end of the year, writing a spectacular fantasy story. He then came to me in fifth grade saying he was writing his own book and he was joining the book writing club with the attendance person in the front office who leads the group of 5-10 fifth graders every year. He soared very far, and I see this with my advanced students now, also!

Angela

All good thoughts Victoria...we completed a mini-unit on magazine writing together in class. It totally helped students incorporate nonfiction features more in, not only writer's workshop, but for class notes! I am actually writing a post on nonfiction shortly and was surprised to see the results of asking students to read with a partner a social studies book with a partner and create an organized system of notes. That was it for my directions. They used side bars, headings, photos with captions. It was amazing!

And, the reason your kids are saying that 4th grade is easier is because you make them feel that way. I believe 4th grade is also known as the "4th grade slump." It is such a hard transition keeping up with the content standards and level of independence expected. Supplying and discussing nonfiction a lot, as well as providing time to write independently solves that problem.

Keep on doing what you are doing. You sound like you are doing a fantastic job!!!!

Angela

And Joe~ Great observation on your books. Buy the books before your wife puts you on a budget (cough cough-like me).

Victoria

Currently, my students are authoring their own books. I have several boys enraptured by war this year, so they are writing historical fiction accounts of being in the Vietnam War, World War II, and other important war events in history. This was not my first time having boys this excited about historical fiction, yet I am thinking of how I can embrace this more in the future and expand their schema.

One of my boys is excited about Avi's The Fighting Ground. Before this, he read A Boy at War and The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins, which is a Dear America book.

These five boys who are excited to write about historical fiction are writing accounts, yet they are including factual snippets of information throughout the book. It is exciting to hear boys saying they are working on writing "sidebars" in their books.

This is something I definitely want to improve on in the future, though, perhaps finding new, creative ways of introducing voice and getting students interested in writing about specific genres at the beginning of the school year.

With writer's workshop, my students have a tremendous time. It's kind of interesting, though, how they often say some of their teachers did not encourage them to write about what they wanted in the past...

They equate this to fourth grade being easier, but perhaps there is just more freedom and they can get excited about topics that interest them.

Joe Pendleton

Angela and Amanda,
Thank you for the book recommendations. I just got back from the Amazon site where I ordered the books you both recommended. I had to order them when my wife was looking the other way. She hasn't put me on a budget yet.

Angela, when you wrote about your classroom library a little while back I sent you a post and you shared some places that you by books. Your conversation about a well rounded classroom library pricked my heart. I checked all the books that lined my shelves and discovered 99.9999999% were fiction. I have changed those dynamics a little by shopping on ebay for nonfiction. I have found some good bargins.

As always...thank you for your advice and support.

Joe Pendleton

Angela

Joe,

Let me direct you to one other book. I say this not to make you poor but because you too have the mandated basal issue.

Smart Answers to Tough Questions by Elaine Garan. This is my educational "Cliff Notes"....it answers why federally funded research doesn't support things like Dibels, basal instruction, AR, and isolated grammar convention and vocabulary instruction (to name a few). What I LOVE about the book is that it quickly references the most accepted, federally supported research. And, book or not, when Lucy Calkins says that basal instruction does not bring results...you have to think, Calkins knows her stuff. BTW- I spent a day with her in Memphis. 5 pages of notes people. 5 pages of notes. :)

So, with all this rambling...I recommend a multi-block approach like the Daily Five, if you can swing something like this with your team. This way I can teach the "skill" of the week required through your basal, while teaching units of study by Calkins, try out lessons found in wonderful books (like Keene), and throw in a little spelling, word study, and everything else under the literacy umbrella while I am at it.


Best,

Angela

Angela

Amanda,

Thanks for helping out. I haven't read that one, so now I am off to do an Amazon search myself.

And on to writing. I am just timely like that I guess. :) I just remembered the last story that made me cry from laughter. One of my students wrote this totally hilarious story of a wedding gone bad. It involved her having some gas issues during the walk down the lane and during the exchange of vows. It was so well written, and I literally had tears coming out. You are so right on. I think one of the things I failed to mention is that if you are working with a units of study approach, it balances out this type of writing with the required focus of the unit. I think that really helps push boys forward AND help them love to write.

It so sounds like you have your act together...you are doing great things and keeping up with professional literature. Way to go!!!

Farts and burping prevails...

Angela

Amanda

Joe,

I read your post, and I wanted to let you know that if you like Mosaic of Thought, you will most likely enjoy To Understand which is also written by Ellin Keene. It builds on the topics presented in Mosaic of Thought. I am only on the third chapter, but so far, it's been worth my time. A few of my colleagues were able to see her in a conference last year, and they refer to the book as their "teaching Bible", so of course, I just had to see what it was all about. I'm sure that if you look it up on Amazon, you will be able to see an overview and preview a few of the pages to see if it's for you. Good luck!

Amanda

Joe Pendleton

Angela,
Next year I am going to teach 1 block of Math (1 hour) and 3 blocks of Reading. Another team member will be teaching writing.

Can you direct me to good information about lit circles and reading workshop. I am also married to a Basal (district epic). I am very interested in readers workshops.

I have been reading Mosaic of Thought...other reading suggestion would be appreciated.

Joe Pendleton

Amanda

Angela,

I don't know how you do it, but once again, this is very timely. I read your blog yesterday, and I spent quite a while reflecting afterwards. I wasted no time ordering the book (and a few others) from Amazon!

Two weeks ago, my classroom had a Readers' Coffeehouse. It all started with an Ohio research project that snowballed into a newscast for a video-conference and ultimately led to our literacy night. The students shared their newscast with their parents highlighting much of the research they had done, and they also shared their own creative writing. The students wrote adventures, poems, autobiographies, plays, mysteries, informational texts, reviews, science fiction, and realistic fiction peices. The students, particularly the boys, flourished when allowed to combine humor, movement, and teleportation into their writing. The idea that they would be able to put on a show for their parents totally took them to a new level, which is great because nearly 80 people showed up to support our young authors!

I had no idea I had so many comedians in the classroom! It was amazing. The boys created stories about bullying, Cotton Eyed Joe, and the Unsmart Super Nerds of the Past, just to name a few. Cotton Eyed Joe, for example, was a story about a lost man wandering in a ghost town. After doing the Cotton Eyed Joe dance, he was invited to a party by ghosts that he couldn't see. Then, Joe rescued an artist and a pirate from a trap. Once he figured out the ghosts were to blame, he teleported to the "party" using his transforming robot. Cotton Eyed Joe turned the robot into a sweeper (regional dialect) and sucked the ghosts up in to whirling vacuum. At the end, he sang "Oh, I've been traveling down this road too long (too long), just trying to find my way back home (back home). I'm lost and I'm dead and gone." Ha-ha! Sure, he borrowed the song from Justin Timberlake, but nonetheless, the stories were delightful and entertaining. They also evidenced thoughtful consideration and creative flair!

Currently, one student is writing a composition about a psycho killer who overthrows the president. Actually, for this coup, he literally throws the president out of the window. In the pictures, the oval office is transformed. The presidential seal is replaced by a skull and cross bones. One White House staff member runs out screaming "Mommy!" The author approached me today saying, "Miss McVay, I have an idea for a story about a psycho killer, but I promise, I won't make it really violent. There won't be too much blood. I'll make sure it's school-appropriate." It's comical, detailed, and creative. I can't argue with that. I trust them!

THANKS FOR WRITING THIS ARTICLE AND FOR SUGGESTING THE BOOK! KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK! :) YOU'RE AN INSPIRATION TO ALL OF US...


Amanda

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