In an era of increasing personalization, it’s critical to remember the value of the shared experience.  While it’s critical to remain student-centered, it’s also critical to remember that we are here to enrich the whole-child.  Part of this whole-child experience entails teaching children how to think, learn, and feel in a social setting.

In fact, I believe that a great deal of whole-child learning happens in a whole group.

It’s easy to say that conducting whole-group instruction is easier on the teacher, but in some ways, conducting a whole-group lesson, meeting the needs of all children, and meanwhile keeping them all engaged is a rather artful task–one that requires lots of skill, lots of intention, and lots of practice and reflection.  And few whole group lessons are more conducive to individual growth than those that incorporate shared writing.

Recently, my teaching partner and I noticed a common struggle amongst many of our students:  A lot of them had difficulties inferring the central lesson of the story.  They would take the lesson extremely literally, to where one student, in particular, kept telling me that the author was trying to teach his readers to gather food for the winter so people wouldn’t starve once it get’s cold.

Clearly, we needed to go “outside the box” a bit, but simple reading instruction wasn’t making the cut.

While this defies all of the logic of Bloom’s taxonomy, we decided to go straight to fable writing, hopping up the taxonomy all the way to creation.  In Making Thinking Visible, they actually challenge the conventional understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy, arguing that it is not as linear as the original model intends, and that Bloom’s varying levels actually can support each other, rather than build upon each other in a step-wise fashion.  If you think about it, through the task of creation, we learn new definitions and applications for various disciplines.  And by beginning to write fables, I thought that maybe–just maybe–we’d be able to learn more about universal lessons.

We argued “The Ant and the Grasshopper” from the angle of responsibility and preparedness.  The author, Aesop, was trying to show his readers that it’s important to be responsible and prepare for the future, rather than literally prepare for the winter by gathering food. In order to make this idea of universal lessons more visible, student-led, and emergent, we decided to have the kids construct fables surrounding these themes.  These more personalized experiences, however, where students are infusing their own ideas and creativity into the universal concept of fables, would be remiss if not for the shared experience.

In this instance, the shared experience was a shared writing.

Shared writing is a rather common practice where all students and the teacher work together to construct a piece of writing together.  While the power of the pen lies in the teacher’s hands, students contribute ideas, the teacher modifies them minutely to provide the necessary supports to create a salient writing piece, and students are involved in a collaborative and lively discussion around writing.  In this experience, in particular, I chose two characters: Polly the Parrot and Carl the Cockatoo.  I had already revealed to them that the lesson would surround preparedness and responsibility, and that they had to come up with a problem that would help the two learn that.  Here was the result:

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Yea, our walls are whiteboard. Puh-retty cool. I know.

From this experience, not only did we have an awesomely weird story about two fighting fowls, but we also had an anchored experience–one which we could draw upon for personalization later on.  After, students engaged in shared writing in pairs, where they were able to construct stories with a buddy to support them.  It was amazing, once again, to see my students’ ability to adapt and engage within this shared experience.  In fact, I felt that same feeling during the design project–the one where I felt like I wasn’t having to redirect kids and engage them–not necessarily because they were all working on something they chose and preferred–but because they enjoyed the experience of being creative and working together towards a common goal.  Check out this (unfinished) example below:

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