The Jens

The Jens
jen b & Jen P

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Writing Conundrum

"...a good editor can communicate more information and demonstrate more techniques in 10 minutes of conversation than a teacher can by writing in the margins of a paper at home. The personal contact, being rare, is also more memorable for students." 
We left off in the last post with writing, so we may as well pick up there. Especially because it's much of what we've been talking about this week as we attempt to plan our year. One change we've decided to implement this year is to begin with a 3 to 4-week "writing boot camp", which will consist of short readings, brief modeling, and lots of student writing. Also built into our "boot camp" model is lots of individual conferencing with students. Our challenge will be to meet with all students meaningfully. We want to introduce and practice on at least a rudimentary level all three CCSS emphasized writing genres, narrative, inform/explain, and argument so that we may rely on and build upon this knowledge base for the rest of the year.
Part of the inspiration for me came from an article Jen P sent (quoted above), called Junking Old Way of Teaching Writing. What resonated with me about this article is the idea of using class time to conference individually with students about their own writing, eliminating the endless margin comments that take so much time to write. Because in the end, this process does not seem to yield better student writing in direct proportion to the time I spend writing, reading, writing, reading. So, I'm willing to try something new.
Also, I've spent a lot of time on reading but because of the amount of reading I've assigned I realize I've probably not given my students enough practice in writing. Really, our students need writing practice more than they need reading practice. By the nature of our program, our students are already coming to us as pretty good readers. I know that part of my reluctance to assign a lot of writing has stemmed from the idea of taking home all those papers...ugh. The never-ending bag of essays taunts and mocks me relentlessly throughout the year. So, again, let's try something new.
With this plan in mind, I have turned to such resources as Kelly's Gallagher's Write Like This and George Hillock's Teaching Argument Writing. We're currently in progress on planning our boot camp, but I am motivated and hopeful that this is something that will be a worthwhile and fruitful endeavor--more on all this soon!
Jen P, as we're planning and preparing to implement this new emphasis toward in-class writing and feedback, what do you see as our biggest obstacles and how will we overcome them?
:-) jen b.

So in the few hours since you’ve posted this, we’ve already revised our plans to extend our writing boot camp to the entire first quarter! This exemplifies one of the many reasons I love teaching with you – you aren’t afraid to take risks and try something new!

So now we are planning on spending two weeks introducing narrative writing, another two weeks introducing inform-explain writing, and three weeks introducing argument writing.  This is just in our English classes. We’re planning on extending these lessons in our College and Career Readiness class. That sounds like a lot of writing! Which brings me to your question…

I see two huge obstacles: logistics and grading load.

I am interested in going all digital, but I have concerns about my own learning curve, never mind the fact that we are not in a 1:1 classroom. Lots of questions here – can we find lab space to accommodate us all on a daily basis, can I figure out how to use google docs with students before school starts next week, can I really monitor 30+ kids in a lab and create an environment that leads to authentic sharing and reviewing, will this change enable me to be more efficient or will I get frustrated and end up printing everything out and lugging it all home anyway?

I’ve heard many writing teachers say that if you are grading everything students write, they aren’t writing enough. I think Kelly Gallagher (or maybe it was Carol Jago?) recommends grading a quarter of what students write. Even if we don’t grade everything they write as practice for the final essay, that still means we’ll have essays coming in every two weeks for the first quarter of school. Sound intimidating. And though we are planning on conferring with students during these practice prompts, I think we’ll be tempted to write comments and then get bogged down with stacks of papers again.

I have no answers, some ideas, and lots of questions.

~Jen P

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