Saturday, May 25, 2013

Building Literacy Bridges as We Close The School Year

The end of the school year is always a bit painful...A bittersweet mix of joy, dread or denial, celebration, anxiety or excitement...We have grown so close to our students...We know each other well...Our workshops are running smoothly and productively (Well, most days, right?).  We have become a true community of learners ready to share, support, and strengthen our thinking with one another.  But then there is the good-bye, the letting go, the right of passage for our students to journey to their next grade level.  And we have to do this when everything in our classrooms is in such a lovely place of independence, investment, and flow...and just when everyone is so on fire as thinkers, readers, writers, learners, and collaborators!

Of course, working our way out of job is the goal of our work.  We want our students to grow and progress.  From our thoughtful efforts, this is possible.  But, like having to brave through the empty nest when our own children grow up and leave our homes, we can celebrate everyone's growth by engaging in just a few more lessons with our students as we let go and they move on.  For me, I focus a lot of my end of the year work on helping my students build literacy bridges


Building literacy bridges is all about giving kids the tools and the heart to continue their daily rituals of reading, writing, and thinking. 
    Help all your students know and name favorite authors.  Encourage the kids to read widely from their favorite authors over the Summer.  This may include doing a bit of research together to develop a list of "must reads."  And talk with your students about continuing to view the authors they read as key mentors in growing their lenses as writers.
  • Immerse your students in books in a series, especially with a goal of having a good number of the texts "still to go" so that the kids will pursue the rest of the series over the summer break.
  • A key exit ticket for my students was giving each of them a brand new journal.  Sometimes I was able to scrap together some funding to purchase these from the dollar store.  Other times, I made them myself with a book binding machine.  I like to offer students a variety of styles, sizes, and colors or covers so that each child can chose one for himself/herself.  These journals may be extensions of our Writer's Notebook rituals or become something new and different - a science journal, a travel log, a diary, a place to collect favorite thoughts, ideas, or quotes, an album for beloved treasures and captions.  I offered my own students a great deal of choice in why and how they would use these parting gifts.  But I was open and passionate in sharing a key message about their journals - the importance of writing, writing, writing everyday. A new pen or special pencil is a lovely companion present, too, if possible. 
  • Make sure every student has a library card.  If they don't, work with your public library and students' parents so that by the last day of school every growing reader is a card carrying library patron. 
  • Send kids home with any extra or "about to be thrown out" school supplies so that they have resources to continue their own writing, reading, and research.  If your students are young, wit these resources, it can be edifying to nudge kids to play school and create their own literacy workshops at home.  If your students are older, encourage them to develop their own book clubs and writing collaboratives just as they have done with you this year.  *My husband Dave and I have belonged to book club of cherished friends for over 25 years...Here is one of gatherings from last year when we read a book Dave authored - The Cloud of Fire. 
  • As antique as it may sound, engage your students in letter writing as you close the school year.  Create or provide note cards and stationery for your students to take home.  If fiscal resources make this impossible, ask (or beg) for your PTA group's help or a local business to provide your students with notes, envelopes, and stamps so that students can experience the delight of receiving and sending mail. Enlist your students' parents and grandparents in this effort so that the kids gain receptive and answering letter writing partners. I often send my graduating and my new incoming students at least one postcard over the summer to connect with them and to extend and kick off a study of this increasingly rare but oh-so-beloved genre. 
  • Encourage your students to create a family blog or travel blog with their parents or caregivers. As you know well, students urgently need to keep writing over school breaks. Tap into the ways students engage in text as writers, readers, thinkers, artists, innovators, emerging scientists, social activists, etc. outside of school and legitimize these energizing literacy bridge vehicles.  Some from my own students and family have included blogging; song writing; earning Scout badges; fixing cars with an Uncle; scrap booking; pet care business ventures; summer camp experiences; captioning family photo albums; and creating a detective club to find lost pets. 
  • Send every student home with peer-authored text.  I made multiple copies of some of the books my kids authored each year.  I kept one copy for my classroom and distributed the rest of the copies to my students so that they would have a summer reading library.  Our student authors always give us permission to make copies of their work :) and, even with the cost of duplication, this is often the most affordable and delightful way of making sure every student will have "good fit" and very inviting texts to read during their break. I often set out these texts on one of the last days of school so that they kids can shop for books - and gain author autographs, too!
  • Teach your students how to play word games.  If possible, create games with your students and send them home with your kids on the last days of school.   My grown-up son Tim and I still play word games and he names these experiences as a chief reason was his was a early spelling bee champ of our school district :) and his love of writing - A skill he uses in his news reporting every day.) Word games like Scrabble, Upwords, Hangman (which we turned into "Build a Bird House" for a more non-violent version), and Scattegories help kids fall in love with words.  And having fun should always be a big goal for summer literacy bridges just as joy fuels our literacy workshops during the school year. 
For all of you who have guided students to live literate lives, to voice their thinking boldly, to become bigger not only in brain but hope, too...
I wish you a joyful Summer season full of all you love...
[I sincerely apologize for the long delay in completing my series focused on Synthesis.  The last few moths have been full of crushing challenges within our extended family but we are finding our way through these painful days to stronger places within ourselves.  Additionally, my treasured laptop crashed and, even with terrific cloud storage tools, retrieving files and reorganizing my writing are taking many hours - Time I just have not had with the fullness of end of the school year responsibilities.  Thank you so much for your kind patience and caring support and for not giving up on me!]

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