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Showcasing Penny Lowe and "A Week in the Life of..."

About ten years ago, a visiting teacher from Germany stopped in to see Penny Lowe's fifth grade classroom and voiced an interest in writing, especially in having students write under authentic conditions.

Penny Lowe lends a helping hand to students as they work.

"She shared a book with me that described different assignments, including having the children keep a journal on a regular basis," recalled Lowe. "That started me thinking, and I began to experiment with an A Week in the Life of... assignment. It began strictly as a journal and has now evolved into an assignment that also incorporates the skills and practices we learn and perfect in class."

Each Friday, Lowe's students at F. J. Dutile Elementary School in Billerica, Massachusetts, are required to hand in two or three paragraphs describing events in their lives that occurred during the week. The focus and requirements for the assignment vary according to what the class is working on in their writing lessons, but they might include using complete sentences, discussing events (not simply listing them), using similes, writing compound sentences, and more. Students are encouraged to type their assignments, and they must create appropriate illustrations to accompany each paragraph.

"This assignment is a standard homework assignment, due every Friday, although we sometimes write about special programs, performances, or trips we've taken as a class, too," said Lowe. "The children have a 'sticky label' in their homework assignment notebooks that lists the requirements currently in effect, and they receive new 'sticky labels' as we add new ones. They also have a copy of the sheet that I use when grading their papers. I try to read every assignment each week, but I only grade them about once a month."

Massachusetts fifth graders track the year through writing.

The students sometimes read one another's papers and identify the necessary elements for the week. After the papers have been read and/or graded, they are placed in a special folder in the students' portfolios. The paragraphs are dated, and at the end of the school year, the students put them in order and bind them into books that chronicle the fifth grade year.

"Many of the children really enjoy typing the assignments, and they are very descriptive in their writing since it is about them," Lowe explained. "The parents seem pleased with the work also. They like seeing the progress their children have made throughout the school year."

To see if this kind of writing works for a group of students, Lowe suggests that teachers write a sample A Week in the Life of... assignment to show students what they're looking for. Then the students might write about an event in school and compare their final products. It's a good idea to start with just a few target areas for evaluation and add others as students gain experience. Also, be sure students (and parents) know what you want to see and how the assignments will be graded. Having students complete some writing assignments in-class will allow you to see what they can do without help from home.

"I realize this sometimes sounds like a contrived writing piece, and in some ways it is, but I find it easier for students to write about things they know and what they enjoy doing while practicing what they've learned in class," Lowe told Education World. "The weekly practice and review is invaluable to their learning, and they love the finished product."

Lowe has been told that her students' A Week in the Life of...... books have become treasured mementos that parents have kept for their kids over many years, and some of the books have become part of the students' writing portfolios, traveling with them throughout their school years.

Photos courtesy of Penny Lowe.
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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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