In this post, we wanted to reflect on what we have learned about TEACHING writing by being in the STUDENT writer's chair. Although our writing assignments are more sophisticated that what we typically ask our students to do, just being on the receiving end of writing assignments has made us pause and think about why we teach writing the way we do. So we present to you:
5 Things We've Learned About Writing By Going Back to School
1. We never hand write. We've had multiple discussions with each other and colleagues about when to have students type and when to have them write a draft by hand. It usually sounds like this: “Do you think it's easier for kids to write an essay by hand?” “Wouldn't it be better if they could write their drafts by hand, then make revisions, then type the final draft?” “I'm not sure it's fair to assess writing on computer.” The truth is, every time we tackle a writing assignment for class, we go straight to the computer. This includes all stages of writing. Therefore, it is most relevant and real world applicable to get kids as much time on keyboards when writing as possible. Assuming you have access to computers, when it comes to drafting by hand with middle school students take Elsa's advice: Let it go.
2. Making a plan is a crucial step. As you know, we use the POW+Graphic organizer method in SRSD writing to help kids plan prior to drafting. The planning stage is so important to our own writing homework as well. Sure, as adults we may not draw out a Do/What chart or a TIDE graphic organizer, but before we write we always think through what the main points will be and what evidence we will use to back each point up. Cognitively, we have a picture of what the paper will look like when it's completed before we start writing. It's important that we have middle schoolers explicitly participate in this process on paper in order to train their brains to do it naturally as college ready students.
3. Self-talk actually does happen. The funny thing about teaching self-talk in direct instruction is that it can feel silly or awkward. The other funny thing is that once you teach it to your students, you really start to notice when you do it in real life. When the doctoral student “going gets rough,” we find ourselves employing self-talk even more. Any tendency to skip this phase in instruction has been eliminated just through the realization that it helps us, and we are far more equipped than several of our students.
4. Pulling-Apart-the-Prompt is pretty powerful. Completing exercises where students have to pull apart the prompt has made us as students slow down and make sure we are answering the entirety of the question or assignment. This step is so important to academic success, but it is often glossed over. Additionally, pulling apart the prompt allows you to go back and check that you've answered all elements of the assignment. This is a powerful tool at any level.
5. Critical friends are always helpful. Finally, we've learned to lean on each other through the process. Even though we are in different programs and often taking different courses, we ask each other to proof papers and offer feedback. Beyond looking for typos or grammar mistakes, when one of us thinks about the other person's topic, we begin to formulate our own ideas on the topic. Inevitably, we are able to pull on that knowledge as we tackle another of our own assignments going forward. In other words, collaboration and peer editing benefits both participants. We need to build in opportunities for students to participate in valuable collaboration throughout the writing process.
There's nothing like becoming a student again to get you thinking about the students sitting in your class. When crafting instruction, think about what works for you. Often, that is what will work best for kids.
Jaime and Derek