What if kids were exposed to writing in the same way a trailer exposes us to a movie that isn’t out yet? How do we create that feeling of anticipation, so that rather than force-feeding our lessons, we are quenching their thirst to communicate?
At the Brennan Rogers Magnet School in New Haven, Daron Cyr sits with her twenty-five kindergarteners on the rug, gazing up at a Smartboard image of Renoir’s painting The Umbrellas. Daron says, “Remember, we read a painting like we read a book.” She tells them to take a Think Minute: “Our eyes are on the painting. I want to know what you see, but also tell me the story that you see. Put your thumbs up when you’re ready.”
The children take turns sharing their thoughts about the painting. They focus on the weather, the characters, the details, what’s going to happen next. After a while Daron asks them to get their sketch journals. They make choices about where to sit, what art materials to use, and whether to copy the painting or make a picture of something the painting made them think of from their own lives. There is no scribbling, there are no blank pages, and the noise in the room is from the kids talking about their pictures, sharing and building vocabulary: pre-writing at its best. I record their quiet chatter in my own journal: “These are the ladders on the playground, and this is where the water goes down the slide.” “It was raining and I saw a rainbow.” “She’s wearing her party dress.” At the end, they share their work by having a Gallery Walk.
If you’ve tried this kind of lesson – especially with a challenging class of 25 four- and five-year olds – you may know how easily it can fall apart (I certainly do). Afterwards, my burning question for Daron was, “How did you introduce their journals to them?” She picked up her own journal, saying, “I started by sharing mine.” Before giving her students their own, Daron spent weeks enthusiastically showing her kids pages of drawings and writing from her own journal. She also uses her journal in class, to scribe what her students say to her, often reading their words back to them. By the time Daron gave them their own journals, “they were so excited. They knew how important they were.”
By sharing her journal with her students, Daron is teaching the most important message to children about writing: that their thinking can be captured, recorded, and shared. This is giving her tiny students the most important ingredient for writing: the desire and anticipation to be a part of the writing world.
Do you have experiences with a sketch journal to share? Please post in comments!