A Magical Place

In visiting a fourth grade classroom recently, I found some students under their desks, some sitting at their desks, others lying on their stomachs on the floor. They were all writing. The teacher had announced they would write for 20 minutes. When time was up the students begged for more time. Realizing the students were focused and totally engaged in their writing, the teacher gave the class more time. An hour later the students were thrilled to share their stories. How could 4th graders possibly write for so long? Why were these students so involved? Here’s what I think.

Students had the choice of how or where they could write. Would you prefer to write in a comfy chair with your feet up or sit at a desk? Most students chose places other than their desks.
The teacher respected the students’ desires to continue writing. Imagine what it would have been like to put their writing away then get it out again the next day? So much time and creativity would have been lost.

Some of the bright fluorescent lights were turned off and the Eiffel Tower was projected on the screen. This teacher uses Google Earth to find famous landmarks, tourist attractions, statues, etc. and talks to the students about it, displays a picture on the screen, then students write. This helps create a warm, relaxing environment and exposes students just a little more to their world. Music related to the picture is played softly if available.

If these fourth graders felt threatened by their classmates or their teacher, would they have excitedly asked to share their stories? Of course not. They had learned by late fall that their classroom was a safe, non-threatening learning environment where students are encouraged to take risks.

Charles Whitaker notes eight strategies in his book, “Best Practices in Teaching Writing.” The first of the eight strategies is to create a positive atmosphere. This consists of an inviting classroom with respect for students, their ideas, backgrounds and interests. In this type of classroom, teachers share his/her writing and make expectations, procedures, and routines very clear. This teacher successfully created a positive atmosphere for students. This is the kind of classroom students love to be a part of, the kind of classroom I want my children in, and the kind of classroom I love to visit. Great job Kris!

Adapted from “Best Practices in Teaching Writing” by Charles Whitaker, Ph.D.

By Mary Frazier

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