#SOL14: Writing Techniques and Goals
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 work collaboratively.
Are you one of the 18 “slicers” who will be dining together this Saturday night at #NCTE14? If not, check out the slicing posts and become a regular slicer so you will be ready next year!
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What’s important in writing? One answer is,
“Teach the writer, not the writing!”
For additional information, go to this post!)
So in writing (narratives, informational, arguments), what transfers (#OLW14)?
Is it the hook, the organization, the voice, or the purpose?
Goals for Professional Development:
I can identify writer’s techniques and goals in order to READ like an author for deeper understanding!
I can use those techniques and goals to dig deeper into the elements of the written genres under review.
I can use author “language” to increase my knowledge of writing techniques and choose quality texts to share with students.
In order to stimulate thinking, create conversations, and pay attention to commonalities and similarities, I chose to introduce writing techniques and goals for informational, argument, and narrative all in the same session.
A. Informational Texts and Writing Techniques and Goals
Back in July, 2014, I wrote this post about how we used “goals” to look for examples in mentor texts. Take a minute to reread that post here.
What do we actually do in PD? We use combinations of National Geographic’s Wolves and Seymour Simon’s Wolves to play bingo with the entire card (3 x 4 array) using the techniques side. The small rectangular post it covers the technique and allows one to add the page number for the location of the technique in the text. The deliberate use of two texts on the exact same topic where each one has a different style and purpose creates fun conversation for teachers. Then we wrap up with a “Know/Wonder”(source: What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton) chart to summarize our findings and consider which book would best meet which goals as well as a myriad of reasons why/where/when we would choose which text. (More subtle, less reliance on text features? Find another book where an author has written like Seymour Simon’s Wolves!) Result = fabulous conversations around common literary techniques and goals using the same “naming words” across all grade levels.
Process: Everyone looked at both books with a bit more structure (12 cards each) and less independence for this first round. Goal = identify the techniques and name those that “surprised” the reader.
B. Argument / Opinion Writing Techniques and Goals
In this activity, teachers look at one column of the “techniques for writing arguments” page for texts that had recently been read in class, either by the teacher or by fellow students. Again, we use a “Know/Wonder” chart to summarize our learnings from this section.
Process: Each partner group had one of the “I Wanna . . .” series by Karen Kaufman Orloff and illustrated by David Catrow with either the vertical Column A, B, or C from the Argument Techniques cards to look for specific techniques with room to “jot” evidence for “Know/Wonder” chart. Each partner group has only 4 technique cards to look at books in a “series” by the same author. Goal = discuss patterns the author uses across her series and consider how this information can inform readers AND writers.
C. Narrative Text Techniques and Goals
In this activity, teachers look at just three of the “techniques for writing narratives” and the narrative “goals page” in order to consider how the authors used dialogue, actions and inner thoughts to achieve their narrative writing goals. Each participant jots down page numbers and goals on a response sheet and then discusses what they notice in their books. Whole group debrief is through the continuation of the “Know/Wonder” chart.
Process: Each partner group had a different narrative. Each group chose one technique they wanted to explore and then following a “write-around”, the book and notes were passed on to the next partner group. Each group had time to analyze two books. Goal = Readers and writers will recognize that techniques look very different when considering differences in authors’ styles, audience, and purposes for writing.
As a reader, when do I name those techniques in order to increase my understanding? As a writer, when do I “try out” those techniques in my own writing? As a teacher, how does knowledge inform my deliberate choices for Read Aloud texts?
Were there “absolute right answers” for these three types of text reviews? No! The focus was conversations among the teachers about the techniques to deepen understanding first and then book selection will continue to be future work. The three different ways to use the techniques were just a beginning point! Also consider the following three anchor reading standards dealing with “craft and structure” that allow the reader to make sense of “reading”:
Craft and Structure:
What writing techniques and goals do you point out in Read Alouds? How do you use your knowledge of “author’s craft” to help you select your Read Alouds?
Is Our Writing Improving?
How can we measure writing so students, parents, the community, and the teachers know that students are improving?
If this is our definition of assessment, we have many options for measurement.
If I am a student, I can use rubrics, checklists, my personal goals and feedback from peers, teachers, and those I communicate with through blogging, etc. to talk about what qualities are present in my writing now that were not there earlier in the year. This could be in the form of a summative reflection that is posted with two or three papers/writings that I believe demonstrate my growth and that I would have annotated with those specific qualities for a quarter or semester or across the entire year.
But what keeps a student writing on a daily basis? How does a student know that this week’s writing piece is better than the last piece? Or that this piece really was the perfect match for the audience and purpose? I believe that students need feedback to not only be able to “improve” their writing but also to have the language to explain what they are doing to others. Excitement about a topic can carry a student for several days, but at some point the enthusiasm may wane as the task of rewriting or revising becomes laborious.
John Hattie believes that feedback needs to include these factors:
“• focus on the learning intention of the task
• occur as the students are doing the learning
• provide information on how and why the student understands and misunderstands
• provides strategies to help the student to improve
• assist the student to understand the goals of the learning” Source
So a learner would need to know the task/goal, be able to explain what he or she is learning and have some strategies that enhance his/her understanding of the work. The checklists in the new Units of Study in Writing, from Lucy Calkins and the many, many talented folks at Teachers College Reading and Writing, would help meet those criteria especially if the students are involved in daily writing workshops that allow them to continually stretch and grow and there is a safety net provided by the teacher and peers.
Is this the only writing format that meets these criteria? No, other rubrics such as 6 Traits + 1 within a writing workshop model could also set up this learning and feedback environment for students. These environments would include clear writing targets, models and strategies for students to continually plan, reflect and self-assess. When working well, these classrooms are better than well-oiled machines; when not working well students might be saying, “I don’t know what to write.” or “What do YOU want me to write?”
How does that all fit in a writing workshop? Very, very carefully as a teacher combines both student-led and teacher-led activities to increase student independence! At the end of the mini-lesson, the teacher may ask the students to go ahead and begin an example of the task/work at hand before they even leave that comfort of the writing circle. A few students may stay for a quick conference and/or a more specific “check-in” with the teacher. A student may have put a post it up on a strategy chart to mark the specific work that is his/her goal for today that will improve the narrative (adding action, adding dialogue, or adding thoughts). The teacher will circulate and may have a “mid-workshop” interruption where student work that is “on target” is quickly celebrated and shared. Students may quickly meet with writing partners to see if they are “still on course to meet their goals.”
This is an example of “knowing specifically what a student needs to do” to meet the learning target in kindergarten – first grade writing.
The student will have a “collection” of writings in a folder that will be evidence of learning.
What will the parents and community members see? They will see examples of early writing in a unit and later writing. They will see “student revision” in work and evidence of student thinking. Parents and community members will not see traditional “percentages” for grades. They will see comments that delineate what the student CAN do. The students will be able to tell their families what they have been working on and how that has helped them be more powerful writers.
And the teachers . . . How will they know that “students are improving”? Teachers may have to take a step back because the “day to day work” may cloud their view when they think of overall growth for all students. But student growth, when students are writing every day in writing workship for 45 minutes to an hour, can be seen after three weeks (Lucy Calkins, June 2013 TCRWP Writing Institute). Will it be easy? Heck, no! But will easy provide results that will help your students meet the demands of opinion, informational and narrative writing?
What are you waiting for? February is the month to “Fire Up” student writing in your classroom. Your students will love writing with you!
What questions do you have? What do you need in order to get started?
Reflecting on 2013
After a very, very family-filled holiday break and ten days without using my laptop, it’s back to “thinking” about professional development for the next two work days. But I would be remiss in moving straight to the list of upcoming events, if I did not slow down and consider the data from last year.
Top 10 posts on my blog (by number of readers):
In rereading those entries, I found that eight of the ten were posted in late June – September with only #3 and #5 before that time frame. Interesting for me to note that all of the top 10 were about reading and writing and not necessarily about “resources” which was my original thought for this blog!
Book chats on twitter or in blogs during 2013:
- Units of Study in Writing (Lucy Calkins and friends – Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) #tcrwp
- Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts – and Life! (Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts) #filwclosereading
- What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making (Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse) #wrrdchat
- Notice and Note (Kylene Beers and Robert Probst) #NNN
- Teach Like a Pirate (Dave Burgess) #educoach
- Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Learning (John Hattie) #educoach
- Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction (Jim Knight) #educoach
My Twitter Video from 2013 (Have you tried this at #visify? https://www.vizify.com/twitter-video):
Goals for 2014?
Still pondering where my focus will be! As a teacher/learner I found that 2013 was a year of growth in deeper understanding of reading and writing and the reciprocal nature of both. Continuing to write and “practice” author’s craft while I listen more to the learners (students and teachers) will also remain on my radar! Stay tuned for more specific 2014 goals!
What are your goals?