Several amazing teachers at my school have been attending a VCOP training this year. VCOP stands for Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, and Punctuation. I have NOT attended VCOP training, so I don’t presume to be an expert in it at all. However, through discussions and PD with our staff, I have learned a bit about some of the VCOP methods. I want to share about The Big Talk and The Big Write, because they have become AMAZING parts of my classroom.
One component of VCOP is to develop students’ writing skills through talk. There is SO much evidence to suggest that children that talk – productively and as participants in real conversations – are more proficient writers. So the first part of the process is The Big Talk. We select an interesting image each week to use as our stimulus. You can really choose anything, as long as you believe it will prompt your students to talk. Here are some of the images we used this term:
I begin by showing the image and giving my kids a chance to talk to one another about anything that comes into their minds. We then alternate back and forth between group sharing and discussion and partner conversations. I find that the kids ALWAYS come up with ideas and lead the discussions in ways that I never could have predicted. We talk for a while, a question comes up, and I give them some time to discuss amongst themselves about their thoughts. Then we share ideas and continue talking. The purpose is to verbally share as many ideas and words as possible. Because vocabulary is one of our school focuses this year, I also try to encourage or model interesting vocabulary words that apply to the picture. Talking is the job for the day.
I then send a copy of the picture home with the children that night. Again, their job is to talk. I explain (via a letter that goes home on the backside of the picture each week) that I do not want the children to write anything at home. I just hope that the family continues the conversation. They can talk in the car, around the dinner table, before bed, etc. Our whole infant team (grades prep – 2) sends the same pictures. This means that if there are siblings at the school they rarely have two different pictures to talk about. Instead, the FAMILY can complete this homework together.
Of course, some families don’t talk about the pictures at home. However, because we have already talked so much at school, these children have had some of that rich language stimulation.
Then, the following day at school is The Big Write. It is important that this writing experience feels a bit different than our normal writing times. It does not matter exactly how that is accomplished, as long as the kids understand that The Big Write is something special. In following the footsteps of my colleagues, I light candles in the classroom and have a meditation candle playing on the white board. I have music on (usually Mozart) in the background. I also have special “Big Write Pencils” and”Big Write Erasers” that we ONLY use for the Big Write. All of this helps the kids to really focus.
I give each child a paper that has the stimulus picture on it, and I send them to write. The results have been amazing! All of my students are writing more interesting pieces that have more fully developed ideas. Because they have done so much thinking and talking beforehand, the writing flows. In fact, my students are writing so much more! And my reluctant writers are all putting ideas on paper because the struggle of idea generation has been removed.
After a couple of weeks I decided to add “The Big Write Hall of Fame” to the scenario. Now the children know that up to four pieces each week will be recognized. I read their work and select students that used interesting vocabulary words in their work. I highlight their “wonder words” and I post their work in the Hall of Fame for the week. I also send a letter home to their parents telling them the great words they used, and that they were inducted into the Hall of Fame. This has been SO motivating for the kids. I now have students intentionally planning interesting words with their families that they can use in their work. I am reading so many more powerful words, and the kids are competing, gently, with one another to use the most interesting words! Your criteria could be anything, and next term I might switch the focus to punctuation or connectives. Regardless, the kids’ awareness of these writing features has elevated measurably.
My VCOP journey continues, and next term I plan to explore how to have the children set tangible goals for their Big Write pieces and then provide and receive constructive feedback. Stay tuned…
In the meantime, give it a try! Even if you just do the Big Talk once a week, your students will benefit so much! Does anything else out there use VCOP? What are your experiences?