Tag Archives: Doug Fisher

#SOL17: Goals and Technique Cards Reprise


one-percent

I’m still reeling from the information on goals in Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’s post about the 1% of the population that set goals and regularly review them. It’s a short post. Go read it here. The numbers are staggering and the consequences for learning are dire if teachers are NOT setting goals in their classrooms.

Let’s Review:  How important are clear learning targets for students?

Hattie, Fisher and Frey say that their effect size is .75 for “Teacher Clarity”. Teacher clarity could easily transfer to deeper student understanding of the desired learning target. Clarity in knowing what the target looks like would make the target  easier to meet..

What kind of goals should teachers be setting for writing instruction?

“Teach the writer,  not the writing.

Teach strategies for elaboration and development.

Teach for transfer.

Teach for increased student independence.”

What could goal setting look like?

One way it could go is through the use of the goal and technique cards from this post. As a writer I could pull out the techniques that I have already taught for the writing types this year.  I could list them in descending order by the frequency with which students are using the techniques.  Then I could check the on-demand writing for the new unit and see which techniques are present. This is one example of using data to determine goals.

Another way it could go would be to set up an inquiry study.  Students could have the technique cards and could self-assess their use and / or understanding of the writing techniques.  Then these students could use the goal cards to set some writing goals for themselves.  Maybe the goals will be about structure, development OR transfer!  Maybe students can begin to be “better than the 1%” if they have:

choice

voice

and time

to practice using the techniques

and goal-setting to improve writing across the text types.

Win/Win in Student Goal-Setting and Teacher Clarity!

narrative-goals-and-techniques

20160930_091010

Are goals for the day, month, or year?

Won’t there be a variety of goals and time lines?  Perhaps there will be an over arching goal that all students will love to write that will have its own steps or mini-goals. Perhaps it will be to improve the quality of the students’ narrative writing during this unit. Perhaps it will be the goals for this week.  But without clear goals . . .  what learning path are you on?

How could you use the techniques cards, goal cards and teacher clarity of work to improve your own writing and/or student writing?

slice of life

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

 

#DigiLitSunday: Conferring


digilit

Because Margaret’s daughter was married yesterday, today’s digilit linkup is over at Julieanne Harmatz’s blog “To Read To Write To Be” here.  Check out the other links.

digilit

Trust me, Conferring Carl is so right.  Conferring is the whole cake, the whole enchilada, the whole meal because it’s already the combination of many great ingredients in a flavorful mixture designed to entice the consumer!

One goal of conferring is to move the writer to effective and more deliberate practices across multiple pieces of writing.  The goal is NOT to just make this piece of writing better by fixing it.  It’s about going for “big ticket items” that will help all future writing be better.

“How on earth do I do that?”

“Please say more . . .”

Conferring does seem to resemble coaching.  I have been working with coaches lately and I know there’s also a part of coaching  that involves a specific teaching point.  Dana’s post here about teaching points in writing is so spot on.  It’s about:

 

“Writers  (insert a skill) by using (insert a strategy) so that (insert a purpose).”

There’s a part of conferring that requires the teacher and the student to have clear targets and end goals about writing.

Why?

Hattie, Fisher and Fry say it best with this finding from John Hattie (millions of kids in the data pool) about teacher clarity in their book Visible Learning for Literacy.

20160930_091010.jpg

Teacher Clarity has an effect size with the equivalence of almost two years of growth in one year of instruction. That’s what the 0.75 means.  A d= 0.40 means one year’s growth. That’s why the 0.40 is often used as the “cut point” for choosing effective strategies.  (Mini-stats course/refresher)

So what do clear teach goals look like?  What are the possiblities?

Here is an example of one way a class is looking at “leads” for organization in narratives based on checklists (Calkins and colleagues, Units of Study in Writing).  If a student identifies that “leads” are the area of “trouble” that he/she wants to work on in a conference, a checklist like this may have been used.  The student would not just be saying, “This story is not good or this lead is not good.” Instead the student would be saying, “I need to work on leads because my readers have commented on the last two stories that it’s hard for them to get right into the story.” This student may have self-identified that most of his/her leads were only a “one-star” lead according to a chart like this.  The goal might be four star leads.

20160923_125713

Reality Check

The long term writing goal for this student may be about volume, it may even be about stamina, but for now this student really wants to focus on better leads so

the reader

will continue

to read

and not stop reading

because there is no hint of

what might later become a problem for the reader.

Do you see langauge that might lead to a teaching point?

Teachers don’t need a “new and different” list of resources to confer from. They are working with the lessons that have been taught and/or looking for those next step items that will strengthen student writing across the rest of the year.  Leads are important in narratives, informational writing, and opinions/arguments.

Is this the only concern in a narrative lead for fourth graders?

Of course not.  But this use of checklists in goal setting (Calkins and colleagues, Units of Study in Writing) helps students (and teachers) who are not yet expert writers with some common language that can be used for teaching points within a conference to improve all future pieces of writing.  The student made some choices about his/her own writing and made a conscious decision about what to work on.  That’s a win/win.  

The writing conference needs to be about moving forward.  There are many ways to move writers forward throught conferences that are shared in many books (and Conferring Carl’s books are awesome)!  How’s It Going? is a must have for your professional collection and has this review:

“This is by far the best writing on the conference I have read. It is a book that is far superior to the other texts-including my own.
—Donald M. Murray”

But the work ultimately needs to be done by students and involving them in this process and honoring their own goals/wishes/needs is critical. A conference like this with a writer allows the student to continue writing and may well set them up to be able to show peers and parents exactly how personal work with leads has improved his/her own writing.

Who knows?

This student may well be able to teach other students exactly how and why to do this with their own writing. More writers who know why and how . . . that’s a reason to invest time in writing conferences.

Don’t worry about perfect conferences!  CONFER!

What’s your next “Conferring” step?

 

 

 

 

#Digilit Sunday: Function


digilit

Twitter connections are so fabulous. Via Twitter today I found out that the focus of #Digilit Sunday was function.  Check out Margaret’s post here. The part of “function” that I have been thinking about a lot lately is “executive function”.

executivefunction2

It’s close to the end of this school year, but how can students still be increasing their own level of executive function?  Isn’t this where deep learning and even transfer live? Isn’t this the whole point of moving beyond “surface learning”?

visible-learning-for-literacy-John-Hattie-Fisher-Frey-slide-460x400

Fisher, Frey, and Hattie

And of course, the most important factor in executive function, in my opinion, is that a student has had plenty of opportunities to “do the work”? How do teachers ensure that students are doing the organizing and the self-talk?  They must “say less so readers can do more” and demonstate over and over that they really can do the work with panache and  confidence!

work

Burkins and Yaris

For me, the connections from this post all began years ago during TCRWP Writing Institute with a conversation between Allison Jackson and myself about this book.  That conversation grew into a book study, Twitter chats and actually meeting the authors. Completely life-changing . . .

wrrd

Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse

The function of learning is that students do the hard work of making meaning. That students actually dig into surface, deep and transfer learning.  That teachers are like the conductors on the train.  Recognizing the signs, making them visually and verbally apparent, but that ultimately students are really the ones who need to be in charge of their learning. And that learning should always, always, always be JOYFUL!

Unfortunately, this Mark Twain quote may still be true:

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

-Mark Twain

But I can learn in spite of or even despite my education!

Is learning the FUNCTION of your work?

How do we know?

 

#SOL16: What are you planning to read?


New professional books in the field of literacy are headed your way this spring from the following authors: Stacey Shubitz; Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris; Kate and Maggie Roberts, Dana Johanson and Sonja Cherry-Paul; and Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie.  Get ready for some amazing learning!

Stacey, Two Writing Teachers, has this book out from Stenhouse this spring:  Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts.  Stacey blogged about her book here.

stacey

Jan and Kim’s book (available May 2nd from Stenhouse):

Who's doing the work

Kate and Maggie’s book (available April from Heinemann):

Do it yourself

Dana and Sonja’s book also available in April from Heinemann :

flip your writing workshop

And from Doug, Nancy and John (March, Corwin Press):

visible learning for literacy

Coming later this year a new book from Vickie Vinton . . .

Waiting is so hard . . . sometimes waiting on “new friends” is harder than waiting on Christmas.

Where will you start?

What books are on your professional reading list?

Do you share “your reading plans” with your students?

(*Truth: I have some 2015 books to finish soon to clear the decks for spring break reading!)

Addendum:

slice

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.  Get ready to share your writerly life in one week with the March Slice of Life Challenge!

 

#ILA15: One Week and Counting!


This summer is a FEAST of professional development for me.  I had the great fortune of being accepted for two weeks of learning at TCRWP for Writing and Reading Institutes. (You can check out my public learning log under the “Recent Posts” at the right.)  Next weekend I will be in St. Louis for ILA.

How are you preparing for your learning?

preview

What information do you need to KNOW before you look at specific sessions?

Do you look for specific PEOPLE?

Do you look for specific TOPICS?

Here’s the link to the 16 page preview guide pictured above.

I used the search tool to create a DRAFT LIST of those I know that I MUST see.

Chris Lehman –  Sunday, Writing from Sources is more than. . .”The Text Says”

Jennifer Serravello – Sunday, Accountability, Agency, and Increased Achievement in Independent Reading

Nell Duke – Saturday, A Project-Based Place

Lester Laminack, Linda Rief, and Kate Messner – Saturday, The Writing Thief:  Using Mentor Text to Teach the Craft of Writing

Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller – Sunday, Complex, Rigorous and Social: Fostering Readerly Lives

and then added in others previously marked in the program:

Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan – They are authors of the book Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers.

Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul – Preconference Institute – Friday, Reading with Rigor:  Interpreting Complex Text Using  Annotation and Close Reading Strategies

Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins – They are the authors of Reading Wellness. Check out a bit of their work here.

Kylene Beers and Bob ProbstNotice and Note and Nonfiction version to be out in October.

Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey – Many, many ELA texts involving Gradual Release of Responsibility

Other faves that I hope to see at ILA15 include:  Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse – What Readers Really Do; Dr. Mary Howard – Good to Great; and ANY and ALL TCRWP folks!

And?

Any Two Writing Teacher Slicers? – please say hello in person!

Any #G2Great chatters?

Any #TCRWP afficionados?

I’m ready to rename ILA15 as “Gateway to the STARS!” as I look at this line up of literacy greats.  What great learning opportunities and I’m still at the pre-planning stage.  (Maybe I will find Hermione’s secret so that I can be in at least two locations at the same time!)

Who would you add to this list?

#SOL15: Generative Writing and Word Study


I was back in some classrooms this week and I was continuing to think about generative writing, in particular with younger students.  See this earlier post for the nuts and bolts about generative writing.  I continue to believe that it’s a powerful strategy not only for writing but also for formative assessment.

I saw students working with tubs of objects based on the vowel sounds of the words.  The tubs looked like these.

vowel tubs for phonics

These first graders were using the tubs to name the objects, write the words and / or use the words in sentences as part of a focus on Word Work during Daily 5 rotations.  Students could choose the vowel sounds tub that they wanted to use.  Some students were writing words, others were writing sentences, and still others were filling a page with sentences that clearly demonstrated their understanding of the items in the tubs.

How did I know the students were learning?

At first glance it seemed that students were working on many different levels of writing.  How could I capture that information?  My mind was buzzing.  What did I see in front of me?  How could I capture that information and make it usable as well as “teacher friendly” so that it could be one piece of formative assessment that was used to guide future instruction?

What if I created “messy sheets” to “sort the work that students were doing?  See Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan’s blog (@ClareandTammy), “Organizing and Displaying Assessment Data so We can Use It” for an explanation of messy sheets (or check out their book here).

Here are my drafts of two types of messy sheets (student names would surround the ovals – initials are shown for the first two ovals on the left): one for volume of writing and one for quality of writing. (Do note that I did not have a complete set of classroom data and I was operating on the basis of what I saw students doing at that point in time.)

Volume Messy Sheet

writing quality messy sheet

What do I know about a writer who only uses the “word” as the last word in a sentence (thinking back to the previous post about generative writing)?  Which “Messy Sheet” helps me better understand these writers?  Is it an either / or?  Do I have to choose one? My questions continue on and on.

word-focus-300x300

Take a deep breath.

Remember my “OLW15” (“One Little Word”).

Can my questions guide my continued study of the student writing?  If yes, then I might also consider adding ovals or even a third “Messy Sheet” for conventions.  From this writing sample, I could gather data about the “transfer” of learning from one writing activity to another.  Which students consistently have capital letters at the beginning of their sentences?  Which students consistently have end punctuation?  (I don’t need to give students a prompt.  I can use this “data” to add to my picture of each student as a writer!)

How could a teacher use the information from the “Messy Sheets” to guide instruction? 

In order to determine the need for additional small group or whole class explicit instruction, I could develop instructional groupings! Here are three examples:

Use generative writing in small groups to work on missing skills in writing for the students.

Tape record instructions of generative writing for students to complete in small group with a leader in charge of the recording. (interactive white board with picture and recording or ipad)

Revise and expand generative writing in a mini-lesson during Writer’s Workshop. (ie. Work with revising sentences in writing pieces to further develop sentence fluency and/or to show word meaning when deepening word understandings)

Additional Word Work:

Let’s consider the “long a” tub that is open in this picture.  It contains the following miniature items: snake, scale, whale, bacon, baby and a cage.  Students can practice naming each of the items and can record those words on paper because they are listed on the under side of the cover.  Additional activities that involve sorting could be combining items from the long a and short a tubs and sorting them  into columns based on the vowel sound, the location of the vowel sound, or even the number of syllables in the words (or even the spelling patterns that are used for that particular vowel sound – How many follow the cvce pattern?).

How might you use generative writing in the primary grades or to teach the writer?

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsy for creating a place for us to share our work.

Generative Writing as a Formative Assessment


Last week I was working with a group of pre-service teachers like I do every semester.  I lingered on the writing examples, techniques and goals in the genres, mentor texts, and specifically generative writing.  As I presented to this group, I literally wondered “aloud” why I had never written about generative writing.  I believe that the power of generative writing lies in its ability to replace tired, ineffective DOL practice with meaningful, relevant writing that can also be used as formative assessment tasks.

So what did the pre-service teachers do?

They wrote a sentence where “writing” was the first word in a sentence with at least 10 words.  And then they wrote a sentence where “writing” was the last word in a sentence with at least 10 words.  Finally they wrote a sentence with “writing” as the fourth word in a sentence where they could choose the length (but it had to have a minimum of five words so “writing” was not the last word).

And then we had a conversation/discussion with a few focused questions:

  • Which sentence was the hardest to write?
  • What made it hard?
  • What strategies did you use to help complete the task?

The majority said that the sentence with “writing at the end” posed the most challenge because it was the complete opposite of the first sentence.  Some said that the first two were basically easy because it was about “flipping” the words in the sentences and that the third use of “writing” as the fourth word was harder because “you had to think about what could go before it”.

Strategies that they used were counting words on their fingers, oral rehearsal, drafting and scratching out, drafting and then counting, and checking with a partner. This was meant to be an introduction, that in a classroom would include oral practice, study of mentor texts, and examples of vocabulary words used in various positions in real published work.

What is Generative Writing?

Generative Writing is a term used to describe instructional strategies that provide students with parameters for their writing. These factors define boundaries for writing at the sentence level.

  • Providing a word to be used

  • Defining the word’s position in the sentence

  • Specifying the number of words in a sentence

  • Limiting the number of words in a sentence

The model described above comes from Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Scaffolded Writing Instruction: Teaching with a Gradual-Release Framework.

scaffolded writing

What are the effects of  generative writing?

  • Build sentence fluency
  • Build word choice
  • Deepen understanding of content
  • Deepen understanding of vocabulary
  • Use writing as a tool for learning
  • Write in a variety of genres

I think that sentence fluency, word choice and writing in a variety of genres are already covered in many writing workshops at a variety of grades.  However, I believe that using generative writing in content areas to deepen understanding of content, vocabulary and even as a tool for learning and assessment are previously untapped areas of formative assessment that could be guiding higher-quality targeted core instruction for ALL students.

So how would I use generative writing as a Formative Assessment?

I would use this with departmentalized content-area teachers who have all of their own content standards as well as a responsibility for reading and writing ELA standards.  Asking a science class to use “photosynthesis” as the first word in a sentence will probably result in a definition.  Here is an example of how the work may be sorted as well as the plan for using a second generative writing after some re-teaching.

science

 

How did I plan for the generative writing at the top of the page?

I am a firm believer that I must “practice what I preach” and complete writing tasks in order to increase my own understanding of writing.  So of course I actually wrote some sentences.  Here are some examples of sentences that I generated during the planning phase for my work.

Writing is one of my favorite ways to express ideas because my artistic and musical talents are limited. There are some days that I feel like the most important part of the day is when I have time for writing. Some may argue writing is just one of many skills that students need to develop, but I would suggest that totally divorcing reading and writing is an exercise in futility.  “Show don’t tell” and “Teach the writer not the writing” are my two most favorite Lucy Calkins’s quotes about writing.  What are your favorite quotes that you use to encourage writing?

The tasks I assigned myself:

  1. Use “writing” as first word in a sentence with at least 10 words.
  2. Use writing as the last word in a sentence with at least 10 words.
  3. Use writing as the fourth word in a sentence as well as somewhere else in a compound/complex sentence.
  4. Use writing as the last word in a sentence using quoted text.
  5. Use writing as the last word in a question.
  6. Develop a cohesive paragraph during this generative writing exercise.

I believe I met all 6 of my tasks; what do you think?

How might you use generative writing?

Slice of Life 24: Maximizing Instructional Time


(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)  Special thanks to the hosts of the Slice of Life Challenge:  StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.   More Slice of Life posts can be found at  Two Writing Teachers .

How do teachers maximize time for student benefits?

Tip One:  Increase talk time of students in order for them to solidify their learning.  A very specific tip was shared by Lucy Calkins at the Spring Saturday Reunion at Teachers College.

Image

Five minutes.  Find five minutes for students to talk after they have been reading.  No cost.  No text dependent questions. No quiz.

“TALK!” – Lucy Calkins

Chapter 1 “Why Talk is Important in Classrooms” from Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Content Area Conversations will give you additional ideas about the value of talk including “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.”

*

Tip Two:  Maximize your use of small groups across the day from Shanna B Schwartz.   “Weave small groups across the day, through reading workshop, writing workshop and word study periods.”  Use small groups to help students meet targets and accelerate learning!

Image

Another source of information about “small group” instruction is Debbie Diller’s Making the Most of Small Groups:  Differentiation for All.  In this book Diller also explains the difference between guided reading groups and small groups working on such skills as comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, etc.  The goals of the group are determined by the data upon which they are formed!

 

How do you use TALK after reading to improve comprehension?  How do you use small groups across the day?

Slice of Life 9: #EdCampIowa and “Can Do” Prep for Writing


(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)

What an historic event yesterday!  #EdCampIowa was held at five locations across Iowa.  A phenomenal bunch of educators gave up their Saturday freedom to participate in a day of collaborative learning.

Not familiar with an EdCamp?  Official information from the EdCamp wiki can be found here. Additional information about #EdCampIowa can be found here. And Shira Leiboweitz wrote a great blog post about “Why I Hosted Two EdCamps?”

I was fortunate to attend the “Central” location organized by @JamieFath and held at #SEPolk which is 1.5 hours from my home.  Many came from the Des Moines metro area, but others came to our location from Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

The call for sessions filled pretty quickly, newbies were encouraged to tweet and make new friends and the talk quickly centered around student learning.  The sessions often were posed around a question or two:  What about those students who struggle?  How do we know students are learning?  Is it about reporting the learning (based on the standards) or is it about the grades?  And in the ensuing conversations, I loved the fact that MANY people from a variety of districts were discussing instruction in terms of the “Gradual Release of Responsibility.”  Google docs allowed group participation in note-taking with many listed/ linked articles and resources.

Were deep, thoughtful answers a result with 20-25 people in a room and a spirit of “conversation” not presentation?  

I am not sure.  One particular question stuck with me as I drove home.  A second grade teacher had students that were having difficulty writing paragraphs and limited “evidence of thinking.”

How can we create success for ALL students?

It was the last session of the day.  The room was full.  Many people wanted to talk so monopolizing the conversation was not possible. Questions immediately came to my mind. How many students were having trouble?  How did they respond to Questions, Cues, and / or Prompts – guided instruction phase of Gradual Release of Responsibility (Doug Fisher/Nancy Frey)?  I needed additional information about response to instruction. Even the questions, “What did instruction look like?  How many “models” of writing by the teacher? How many collaboratively by the students?”  In hindsight, I might query, “Do the students talk in paragraphs (more than one connected sentence on the same topic)?  Do the students ask questions?”  or in other words, “What can the students do NOW?”

 

What do I wish there had been time to share, demonstrate, and practice?

Writing is often the “end product” for our youngest learners after much talking with a partner. What has to happen FIRST before students can or should be asked to write?  I love to see students tell a story across their fingers, a la Lucy Calkins.  No graphic organizer needed.  What happens in the story at the beginning (touch index finger), the middle (touch 2nd finger) and the end (touch ring finger)?  The student can orally rehearse the story as he/she literally tells the story by individually touching a finger for that all-important sequence development.

I would also consider the use of communication lines with students. Again these tie in nicely with Gradual Release and Quality Instruction as well in the productive group work phase. It’s also a chance for the students to get up, move, and refocus.  Have you used them?

Typically a class is divided in half with two lines of students facing each other with about six-10 inches between the faces (Students 1 and 13 from chart below).  Students in the same line are at arm’s length between each other so they can clearly hear their own two-part conversations (Students 1-12). The first chart below shows what those two lines might look like as the two “partners from Line A and B face each other” and take turns telling their story.

Then for round two, the students in Line A move three spaces (persons) to the left while students in Line B stay exactly where they began.  Each partner group of two students facing each other again take turns sharing their own story with the new partner.

Round three is the same process with students in Line A moving three more spaces (persons) to the left and the students in Line B still do not move.  With 24 students it is possible to do a fourth round depending on whether the students need the extra oral practice.

Image

How do the conversation lines help?

All students have at least three opportunities to “tell” their story to a peer.  They also have heard three different stories.  The teacher has just increased the likelihood that ALL students will be able to write down the story that they told or that they can modify that story based on whether they want to “borrow” any details from any of the partners!  Will it work for 100% of the students?  No.  But guess what? When a student gets “stuck” remembering their story, the teacher can redirect them to their last partner for further conversation. The students are less dependent on the teacher!  Having partners share their written work at the end of the writing time also allows the partners a chance to “hear” how the stories turned out. (A video small group demo of conversation lines with ELL students is here.)

Why is this critical?

Students with IEP’s, struggling students, ELL students, or even students who have not done a lot of writing need large quantities of oral practice telling stories before they can begin to write those stories.  It is not helpful for a student to sit and stare at a blank piece of paper.  A story will not magically appear in the brain of a child.  Quick, simple strategies to increase talk/ conversation are critical in order to maximize the amount of time available for writing!

What about older students in middle school or high school?  

Many students struggle with using a “graphic organizer” for planning writing.  They believe that the organizer is the task and then do not engage in the actual drafting.  They also worry more about filling in the boxes/shapes than they do about the content of their responses. Other students don’t know if they have anything “worthy of writing” or whether it is “what the teacher wants.”  All of these students would/could benefit from oral rehearsal before beginning to draft a piece of writing.

How do you help students plan to “draft” their writing?  How do increase the “talk” before writing so students have practiced their thinking?
If you were at #EdCampIowa, how will you use your learning?

Special thanks to the hosts of the Slice of Life Challenge:  StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth.   More Slice of Life posts can be found at  Two Writing Teachers .

“Do I HAVE to teach writing?”


“Teachers Don’t Have Time to Teach Writing” was a provocative post that caught my eye yesterday (01.26.14) on Twitter.  I urge you to read the post in its entirety.  The author, Ashley Hurley, claims to have heard teachers say that they just don’t have time to teach writing more times than she can count.  (It is shocking but I have also heard that statement. Her impassioned post includes numerous quotes from the National Commission on Writing, National Writing Project Newsletter, and Writing Next. However, beyond those quotes is a universal need for students to become literate citizens who can fully participate in a democratic society.  Evidence of this would be found in letters to the editor for a local paper, blog posts, or even conversations in the local coffee shop.

The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing define what students should understand and be able to do by the end of every grade in each of the ten writing standards.  Further support for writing is found in the sidebar:

  ” . . . students need to use writing as a tool for learning and communicating to offer and support opinions, demonstrate understanding of the subjects they are studying, and convey real and imagined experiences and events.” . . . “To meet these goals, students must devote significant time and effort to writing, producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year.” (p. 16, CCSS, English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects)

Is teaching writing optional?  

No!  Beyond the Iowa Core/Common Core, consider your own state’s definition of “language arts” as it relates to state code and educational requirements.  A quick google search combining “state name” “educational code” and “writing” will provide a look at current and previous expectations for writing. I quickly searched Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri to collect information for four states that border Iowa.  I was intrigued by the fact that Nebraska does have a state writing test (I wonder what kind of orchestration is necessary for a state-wide writing test?) and that all five states (including Iowa) have long had writing expectations in state educational code.  What may be new for teachers and students is the fact that writing is important in all content areas K-12.

What does writing instruction look like?

It was difficult to use the information garnered from searches to get a clear picture of writing instruction from the five states I was reviewing.  Due to the state writing assessment, Nebraska had more information than the other four. Current beliefs and pedagogy would certainly predict that instruction might include some measure of gradual release or “I Do, We Do, You Do” that is prevalent in the literature and widely supported by the likes of Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Kelly Gallagher and Jim Burke.

Many teachers, at a variety of grade levels and content areas, provide free-writing or “journaling” writing time where students are permitted to write on a topic of their own to show what they know.  George Hillocks, Jr. reported on the results of six types of writing instruction in 1987.  He summarized the free writing research as:

“Free writing.  This approach asks students to write freely about whatever concerns them.  As a major instructional technique, free writing is more effective than teaching grammar in raising the quality of student writing. (Effect size = .16) However, it is less effective than focuses of other instruction examined.”

If free writing is an opportunity for students to write while the teacher does “other work” and is not connected to writing instruction, modeling or practice, then it may not be the best use of the available instructional time.  Furthermore, if “free writing” is the ONLY writing time allocated daily, students will probably not make much growth in writing because of the low effect size.

What  writing instruction is needed?

Writing instruction must include clear models of the criteria and expectations for writing.  Sources for student writing include #tcrwp, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, National Writing Project and Appendix C of the Common Core.  Writing also needs to include choices for students.  Students should NOT always be handed a topic to write about; nor would students necessarily be allowed to ALWAYS write on a topic of their own choice.  Sometimes, especially with an on-demand prompt, the student may be required to write on a topic that the teacher has specified.  Students who have not had a lot of writing practice or who do perceive themselves as successful writers will struggle with choosing topics and staying with a topic when writing.  Teachers will need to explicitly teach the steps of the writing process as students engage in drafting, conferencing, revising, and editing their work.

But one constant for writing instruction is that there will be INSTRUCTION!  Merely writing “more” will not help create better, stronger and longer writers!  In fact, it may be possible that students could write “more” without ever improving the “quality” of their own work!  Improvement would result from writing that incorporated the thinking from a demonstration or mini-lesson coupled with collaborative “we try it” work that provides students with a safety net as they practice new learning / skills!

How do we provide enough writing opportunities for writing across the day?

First, we begin with writing in all content areas every day.  We add writing to reading as a measure of student understanding, not as a worksheet to be filled out.  “Two Writing Teachers” is hosting “Writing About Reading Blog Series” this week.  A new blog will be posted every day with possible options for writing about thinking while reading.  Today’s blog (linked above) by Dana Murphy features three different approaches:  

  1. Lifting a Line
  2. Character Web
  3. Visual Note Taking

Check them out.  All three approaches include a picture of student work as another model. A twitter chat is planned for Monday, February 3rd using the hashtag #TWTBlog and more information is available in the link in this sentence.  While you are reading about those approaches, consider whether some of them would be appropriate across a wide range of content reading across the day. (Summarizing is not the only skill that students need to work on!).

Second, there must be common language about writing in all content areas (K-12).  A focus on common language is present in the Common Core and it may be a unifying factor for students, parents, and teachers. Teachers need to work collaboratively across all content areas and grades to increase their comfort level and knowledge through the use of peer to peer conversations focused on improving the quality of student writing and writing instruction.

Third, there must be models of the expected level of writing at the end of the grade level.   Annotated models with specific feedback about the use of writing techniques is very beneficial to students and writing models are on the list of research-based practices in Writing Next. Also plan to include scaffolds where needed to connect speaking and listening, reading, and writing skills.  Some students may need more auditory models prior to working to accelerate their writing skills.  Begin collecting student examples to use as models. Garner permission from the student authors to use them in demonstrations.  These models need to be collected across all content areas as writing expectations should not be different by content areas.

Fourth, teachers must write as well.  Teachers need to know and understand the struggle embraced by our students on a regular basis.  That knowledge and understanding comes from writing alongside the students.  Teachers cannot continue to “tell” students to write or to write like “Author X.”  Teachers must also provide models of high-quality writing.  Students need to see quality science writing from the science teachers and historically accurate writing from the social sciences teachers as just a few examples.

What is one thing that you can change about your writing instruction TOMORROW?  How can you provide the instruction that will help students meet the demands of the Common Core and prepare them to be reading, writing, thinking citizens?  Where will you start?
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