The Power of Shared and Interactive Writing

I recently heard Kathy Collins call interactive read-aloud, “The great equalizer.”  It allows all students to think deeply and involve themselves in quality book talk regardless of their reading level. The teacher does the work of reading the text and frees all of the students to reach a high level of comprehending,  cultivate their thoughts about the text, and engage in meaningful discussion. I believe that shared pen and interactive writing are the “equalizers” for our primary writers.  Just as interactive read-aloud provides a foundation for successful independent readers, shared pen and interactive writing provides a foundation for successful independent writers.

Teachers and students compose texts together during shared writing.  The teacher acts as a scribe.  The teacher will often scribe on a chart tablet, using a document camera, or on a SMARTboard.  The students contribute the words of the composition and reread it many times.  The text becomes a model, example, or reference for student writing and discussion.  It provides students with the opportunity to develop their writing skills through active scaffolding by the teacher. This technique scaffolds students’ learning and the teacher can choose what will be modeled based on the students’ zone of proximal development. The teacher can model and discuss all aspects of the writing process. The teacher is able to make their thinking explicit to the students. The teacher can model brainstorming ideas, leads, the development of ideas, revision, the use of mentor texts, effective use of punctuation, using sensory language, writing tricky words, and much much more! The teacher can model using a shared pen during her mini-lesson and then send the students off to try exactly what has been modeled in their own independent writing.   This technique can be used in a whole group or small group setting depending on the level of differentiation needed to meet the needs of the students. It provides an example that students are able to refer back to much like an anchor chart. The key to keeping students engaged is to keep the lesson mini and the time short.  This authentic writing experience can be extremely motivating to students. I recently spent several weeks modeling the technique in a first grade classroom.  Together we wrote our own class Texas fractured fairy tale.  Simultaneously, the students wrote their own fractured fairy tale during independent writing.  The information that I gathered during writing conferences with them guided my discussion choices and what I modeled by thinking- aloud during our shared pen mini-lessons. We turned our Texas tale into a video using Photostory and published it into a book using an online publishing site.  It is undoubtedly their favorite shared reading experience. The students were so enthusiastic about their own stories that their writing stamina soared!  They couldn’t wait to publish their own stories!

Interactive writing proceeds in much the same way as shared writing.  Interactive writing can be embedded into a shared writing experience or it can stand alone.  The difference between the two is that during interactive writing the teacher turns the pen over to different students and invites them to contribute a letter, part of a word, word, or even sentence to the text being written together.  Like shared writing, it provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to scaffold student learning through modeling and thinking aloud. This technique is best used to model stretching and spelling words, grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and vocabulary development.  It is a great technique to use in cross-curricular writing.  Using interactive writing to create a statement of what has been covered during Science, Social Studies, or Math can help students to solidify their thinking.  This technique is especially supportive to ESOL students who are trying to master content language and  reflect on their learning. It can be hard to keep the whole class engaged during interactive writing activities. Keep the activity short.  Writing one to three sentences is more than sufficient to recap what was covered during a lesson.  To keep all of the students engaged while one student at a time is contributing to the text, have the other students follow along on dry-erase boards, in a notebook (We call our content notebook that has a tab for Math, Science, and Social Studies our Book of Knowledge.), with air writing, or even by writing on their partners back. Make sure that the sentences are student created. This ten minute activity provides a whole lot of bang for its buck!

Have a fantastic week of Reading and Writing Workshop!

~Alice Terwege

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