Immersion: Extending the Experience for Writers
I recently met with a group of kindergarten teachers to think about what reading instruction will look like for the rest of this school year. Throughout our time together, the conversation began to evolve into talking about writing. I think we can all agree that this year has been challenging, but in my discussion with this group of teachers, we talked about how writing felt the hardest to teach in a remote/hybrid setting. Teachers felt disheartened that students were not experiencing the magic of developing, revising, editing, and publishing an idea. Teachers felt frustrated that they could not see what students were writing. Teachers worried that if student writing happens on the computer, young writers lose essential skills like pencil grip and letter formation. We decided for our next meeting, we would think through how writing instruction might look different to fit our current educational settings and meet the needs of the writers in our classrooms.
As I logged off of our Zoom time together, I was thinking about what would be the best way to support beginning writers this year. In reading and writing, I found success in the power of immersion at the beginning of a new unit. Typically, I plan two days of immersing students in the genre before beginning to teach. I read aloud or show an example, giving students a small foundation for the genre before writing. I don't know that I have ever really understood the true power that immersion can have until this year.
I began to think more about what it means to immerse myself in something. Merrian Webster defines immersion as "instruction based on extensive exposure to surroundings or conditions that are native or pertinent to the object of study" and "absorbing involvement." In reflecting on the definition, what stood out to me was extensive exposure. Is that what young writers need this year to help build knowledge of a genre before writing?
I rediscovered Katie Wood Ray's work. Katie says that writers need to understand the big picture to understand the writing that they will be doing. In her book, In Pictures and In Words, Katie suggests that initially, young writers need to experience:
Reading like a writer
Articulate what we noticed
For me, Katie's words translated into:
Read it-read aloud a few different types of texts within the genre
Watch it-videos that support the genre
Try it-a sensory experience within the genre
Write it-shared writing experiences within the genre
These four components would give writers time to experience the structure of a new genre, the language of a new genre, and the support of writing within the genre. Writers would have a variety of ways to be immersed in the genre before beginning to write independently.
The kindergarten teachers that I was working with were getting ready for a How-To writing unit. In our next meeting, we planned a week of extended immersion. We found books to how-to books and articles to read aloud in the first few days of immersion. Then we located videos where kids demonstrated how to do something. We thought about potential anchor charts that we could make with writers to help them notice the structure and language of how-to writing. We also planned for shared writing that could become mentor texts within the unit.
Here is our plan:
Read it- 2 days
How to Babysit a Grandpa
How to Make Slime
Watch it- 1 Day
How to Put on Your Coat
Try it- 1 Day
How to Draw an Ice Cream Cone
Write it-2 days
· Writers share idea
· Focus on the:
After reflecting on our plan, I know that kindergarten writers will be better prepared to write How-To Books independently. They will have a foundation that will better support the strategies that teachers in this unit.
I have always thought that immersion is an integral part of a new unit of study. I now know that spending some more time giving students ample experience at the beginning of a unit will make my teaching more powerful and help students hold onto strategies taught within the unit.