Friday, September 26, 2008

Do mini-lessons make a difference?

Sometimes we wonder if the mini-lessons that we teach make any difference. The Mall-ards (Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard) actually show the difference that mini-lessons make by showing student work "before a mini-lesson" and then the results "after the mini-lesson."

This first example shows the change one student made after a mini-lesson that included the teacher reading the great beginnings in Mem Fox books that had time, place and orientation. This student was able to improve on his story openings.

Before: When Jack came to my house, we had lots of fun.

After: One Saturday morning it was Jack's birthday. He invited me to his party.

In this next example, the student's writing benefits from a mini-lesson about using a question as an introduction to a story.

Before: In this story the student just jumps into the action of the sotry, beginning the story without an introduction. First we went between the cones. Then some people knocked down the cones...

After: In the piece written after the mini-lesson the student begins the story by engaging the reader with a question. One really hot day, I had a soccer game. Have you had a soccer game before?

In this example the lesson was simply about using the red line of the notebook paper to line up writing on the left side. The mini-lesson on the following day was about rereading and editing a piece by adding and deleting words.

Before: This example clearly shows a student whose writing habitually slides down the page.

After: Not only does the student move his writing over to the red line but also rereads and edits his paper by adding missing words and changing words to make a better choice.

Other examples of mini-lesson that are memorable are the TD's lesson comparing how to build an ice cream sundae the same way that you build a narrative story. As a student told his story to the class, he got a scoop of ice cream for each event, an M&M for each character and sprinkles for details. A little whipped cream came at the end for a good ending to the story. The memory of this mini-lesson is likely to have students licking their lips as they write.

Another memorable mini-lesson was Cathy Daniels teaching children to s-t-r-e-t-c-h their story while staying in the small moment. As the student told her story during the mini-lesson Mrs. Daniels stretched a piece of yarn until she and the student were on opposite sides of the room. Every student wanted a chance to s-t-r-e-t-c-h their story when they went into the work session of the Writers' Workshop!
Do mini-lessons make a difference? Not every mini-lesson makes a difference to every single student, but our thoughtful lessons do make a difference in the way that students write, how they think about their writing and how they reread and edit their work.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for letting us "peek" into Writers' Workshop in the primary grades! I am always impressed by the talent of our teachers and students. As the lead ELA teacher in an intermediate classroom, I often rely on informal surveys and observations to get a sense of what my students have been taught. This post shows me the strong foundation my students have received and gives me direction on which to build my own Writers' Workshop. As always I am in awe of primary teachers!
Cheryl C.

Suzanne said...

Well planned succient 4 part mini-lessons make a huge difference in students' learning. You can tell when you see them apply the learning in their writing pieces, or hear them use a strategy in reading that has been modeled. The key is short and to the point so they have time to practice in the work period.

Thanks for sharing.

Mrs.Mallon & Mrs. Dillard said...

Sometimes teachers may feel as though they are short-changing students if the lesson is not long. But I have found that it is the short, focused lessons that make all the difference. Like in reading, scaffolding lessons helps to build strong, confident writers. Don't you agree? :)

The Lipsky Team said...

Terri Lehane and I were talking about the differences we see in our students during the work period after we walk them through the "active engagement" portion of the mini-lesson. When we skip the active engagement (which almost never happens) our students have so many questions! The active engagement might take a couple extra minutes but it gives our students a chance to fix any misconception they might have had before we ask them to read independently.