Reciprocity Blog

Thoughts on Approximation.

Reflecting on the first few weeks of the school year, I find myself grappling with the work that constitutes our Curriculum Framework which is summoned by PA Core. In appreciation of the depth and rigor that the PA Core standards bring to our teaching and learning environments; artfully designing engaging, thought provoking, spiraling, and rigorous lessons that are all-encompassing when it comes to teaching reading and writing across the content, has me advocating for differentiation in a new light: approximation.

This week, we start KidWriting with our Kindergartners, who for those of you in the upper elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms may not remember…these are 5 year olds-writing. 5 year olds who often come to school not knowing how to properly button their pants after pottying, tie their shoes, open their milk cartons at lunch, or successfully be away from their loved ones for an extended period of time without having a mini-meltdown of tears. These mini-meltdowns often require a follow up trip to the guidance counselor, a conference or pep talk from the teacher, a drink from the water fountain and a cool, damp paper towel to freshen their face, or a motivational high-five or handshake from the principal to get them through the day. With all of this being said, these are also the same children who will begin to write…yes write, in their very own writing journals this week.

To put this into even better perspective for you, most of these students are just learning how to master an ergonomic pencil grip that will last them a lifetime, identify all upper and lowercase letters (in and out of order, and on paper, not just in the song they know by heart), mimic the formation of letters when printing, and utilize all the concepts of print including: left-to-write progression, good spacing between words, beginning each sentence with a capital letter, using punctuation of any kind to end a sentence, and most importantly…stretching words to hear the varied sounds that each unique word possesses, otherwise known as phonological awareness. Having these 5 year olds begin to write and write well across all three modes of writing at this young age is a phenomenon that cannot quite be put into any other words than: it’s remarkable…they are remarkable.

Now we all long for things that do not yet exist, or at least that is the case for me. I bring these Kindergarteners to you in this context as a prime example of something that does not yet exist for them, but they are immersed in immediately as they begin their career as a student: Writers Workshop. However, the potential, the dream, and most importantly the ability to approximate on both the students’ and teachers’ part is there. The youngest of writers can actually out-write themselves as readers for a very long time mainly because they know so many words orally that they don’t yet recognize on paper. By fostering approximations of spellings for these words, 5 year old Kindergarten students can write much richer texts than they are able to read independently.

So as we work to interpret and design lessons that will afford our students the opportunities to meet the rigorous standards set forth by PA Core, let us remember to support approximations of our students’ work as they progress to meet the standards. In other words, resist the urge to give students at any grade less well-written texts simply because they are easier for them to read independently. By exposing our readers and writers to rich, well-written, complex mentor texts, in a supportive environment where Close Reading is unfolded in a dialogic community of learners, we are promoting student growth as readers…as writers. These texts are critical to their reading and writing development. Continuing to teeter between the notion of “these standards are too hard for my students,” and “my students are just not there yet…,” will only result in falling short of what they can really accomplish through a supportive approach and a whole-hearted philosophy to promote, nurture, and celebrate approximations.

So go for it! Give them the rich diet of texts that they long for and reap what you sow in terms of the writing that they will produce and the vision that will carry them through any immersive unit of study.

Approximation: the most authentic way to practice differentiation while affording all students the rigor they deserve.

How have you designed instruction that promotes differentiated approximations of learning targets and standards students engage in each day?

6 thoughts on “Reciprocity Blog”

  1. I maybe starting with the same Scholastic Scope article about garment workers for seventh and eighth grades, but in my classes, what is done with that article is vastly different. For one group of seventh graders, the quick writes and pre-testing writing has taught me that what they need is structure. They need to know how to read a prompt, how to develop thesis statements, and topic and ending sentences. So, that article becomes a springboard for a response to it in the form a business letter. They responded in amazement that their letters were actually being sent to the companies to demand better working conditions for garment workers. My eighth grade found a personal response in the article to learn the varied means of organizing a compare/contrast essay. Their pre-testing showed that the needed help in expanding their ideas. The mentor text provided a rich source of information to support their writing! My other seventh graders will learn about cause and effect from the mentor text and then move onto a much richer one – If I Give a Mouse a Cookie. They will then be far more creative in modeling a writing piece in this venue to stretch the idea of cause and effect!


    1. Assessment that informs teaching… priceless! The pre-assessments you utilized were obviously given to inform your instruction. The use of mentor texts have your young writers answering the question, “What have you read that is most like what you’re trying to make?”

      Sending their letters to real companies – brilliant! Writing for a real audience breeds engagement. The world is such an interesting place. The more our classrooms mimic the world we live in, the more engaged our students will be! What a lucky bunch of writers!


      1. Love this multi-use of the same article in different contexts. 🙂 I gave that article to the 8th grade Civics teacher because it fits perfectly with a lesson she teaches. She has students writing all of the time! They explore the laws related to the garment industry, supply/demand, etc.

        Good stuff!


  2. I am loving having this to read so that I’m keeping up with what everyone else is doing. There’s one thing that I don’t like about learning new things, and that’s when you’re sent off to apply what you’ve learned, and then there’s no follow up! Thank you! I’ve been lucky enough to work with great people in my district and I asked my principal if I could meet with all 3 – 5 staff to discuss Writer’s Workshop in my building (I am 3rd grade). I stole (borrowed :)) your schedule of events, Val, and presented a very basic schedule to them, explaining the basics of Writer’s Workshop. Some said exactly what you’re saying “my kids couldn’t possibly do that” and ‘we have too much already’. Others since have joined me on the Writer’s Workshop Bandwagon, and I am so pleased! I’m taking ‘approximations’ to mean that we have successes bit by bit. That we push them to have higher expectations, and acknowledge their accomplishments, small step by small step. My most favorite lesson so far, although I’m not sure if it accomplished differentiated approximations was when I taught a small lesson about what a simile was all about. Then, we listened to Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock”, with the lyrics in front of them. We pointed out the similes. Then, they had to describe themselves in a similar paragraph, writing what they were ‘like’. Some of these paragraphs were phenomenal! Some of my ‘lower’ kids wrote the coolest similes, re-writing their personalized ‘Simile Song’. Just had to share..hope this is on-topic, as I think I understand what approximations means??


    1. As any new initiative unfolds, we must remember to pay attention to promoting passion and energy to the work that we are advocating for… without these components within us, our cause will fail. With that being said, you are on fire! Keep it up. Making it a point to reach out and share instructional best practice strategies and approaches in regards to Writing Workshop with your colleagues is a huge step! However, what is even more influential is your pursuance of instructional expertise in your own classroom! Sometimes modeling your enthusiasm through the work that you engage your students in everyday is the best way to sway others into trying something new… different… and completely student driven.


    2. I LOVE this idea! I may steal it!

      I, too, am thrilled with the way that I am incorporating Writers’ Notebooks into my classroom, although I still have a lot to learn, LOL. The students are responding well, and it is hard to believe that it is mid-October! I used the poem “On Turning 10” with my students (7th grade) and then gave them the framework of the poem, having them write their own “On _____” poems. They were so wonderful! And, it was an excellent segue into a discussion of the characteristics of poetry as they navigated line breaks, punctuation, etc. I wrote mine “On Drinking Coffee” – it was so much fun.

      I like your concept of approximations as little by little, one success at a time. It makes it a much more manageable way to think about the huge task we have to take on as we differentiate for so many students.

      Love it! Thanks for sharing.



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