This week's discussion prompt is two-fold but inter-related.
First, Robb indicates that "major studies show that a process approach to writing is the most effective form of writing instruction" (p. 106). Do you use a process approach in your classroom? What are some of the day-to-day barriers you must overcome?
Also on pg. 106, Robb states, "When teachers create a hopeful, trusting writing environment that shows students the teacher is their advocate and mentor, then students' self-confidence and willingness to take risks as writers increase." What do you do to instill an environment of hope and trust in your classroom?
There are many things I can do to create a hopeful, trusting writing environment for students. First, I can establish myself as a writing coach instead of an editor. Students need to understand that I am on their side. If they view me as someone who simply picks out what is wrong with their writing and slaps a grade on it they will view me as the enemy. I need to be the person that can help them improve and reach their goals. My contribution to their writing needs to be positive. In order to do this I feel it is necessary to only focus on a few areas of improvement at a time. At the same time I think it is really important to stress the positive attributes about students writing. They need to know what they are doing well first. This boosts their confidence in their writing abilities. Then I can go on to help them determine areas of improvement. This helps give students responsibility over their improvement in writing. To do this I can have the student share their writing with me and then I can ask probing questions. For each genre of writing there are certain characteristics the writing should include. I can ask guiding questions to help students recognize which characteristics their papers are lacking. Once again I have to stress the importance of focusing on only a few areas of improvement at a time. If I return a paper with marks on it from top to bottom students will be so discouraged and their confidence as a writer will plummet. I also feel that giving students an opportunity to revise creates a trusting and hopeful writing environment. If I return papers with a grade on it and comments about areas of improvement and do not allow them time to work with these comments I am not benefiting student learning. Students will see these comments as evidence of failure rather than encouragement to improve. If students take these comments and make adjustments and improvements and get recognition about it they will feel confidence in their ability to improve as writers.
I agree with you and think it is really important that only a few components of a student's writing are focused on at a time. It can be really overwhelming both to the teacher and student if a paper is marked up everywhere. Students have no idea where to begin to make changes, and teachers have no idea where to begin follow-up lessons.
Yes work on one issue at a time. Students tend to get overwhelmed and shutdown when their personal writing is under fire. Grammar and mechanics are easy mini lessons that can be done in small groups, but talk with a student about how their writing is weak in style and form, could spell trouble when handled without care.
Teaching writing as a process is the only way I know how to do it. My experience teaching writing is from die hard portfolio days when students were going to learn the process for each piece or else. SO that's all I know to do.
I try to encourage my students by letting them know right off that I, too, am a reader and a writer, just as I am asking them to be in my class. They see me read and they see me write. If I ask them to write something in their composition notebooks, I also write in mine. I have 4 classes and I don't write in each class, but throughout the week each class has to opportunity to see me processing my thoughts through writing just as I am asking them to do.
I agree with Kelsey in that our first comments need to be positive. We need to fan the flame before we get them to step back and analyze what they have done and make improvements. If their flame goes out the piece will only be a chore for them. Imagination is half the battle. Even Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is worth far more than knowledge." Of course, I'm a teacher; I want to fill them to the brim with knowledge, but I want to encourage their imaginations as well. So ... process, encouragement, and then mentoring about the piece.
As a classroom teacher I did teach the writing process. Today what I hear my teachers saying is that time continues to be a problem. They are trying to figure out how to teach all of the standards and still have time for writing. I appreciate Laura Robb`s practicality...she suggests that if you teach reading and writing in 45 minute periods to teach writing two days and reading three days one week and then the next week teach writing three days and reading two days. The suggested writing lessons are gems to be used in every LA classroom. Regarding developing a safe, comfortable environment for students to write, I think students know I genuinely love them, which helps of course. I am honest with them in praise and correction. They know I care about their growth academically and emotionally. They are fragile emotionally, I believe, so gentleness in words is essential for a good relationship.
I don't think anyone can doubt the idea that all of us learn things by doing, so the process-writing approach makes a lot of logical sense. I think that with the advent of content standards and the huge importance of student success on standardized assessments, a lot of people see the process approach to teaching writing as tangential to what really needs to be happening in classrooms. What Robb (and many people, I find) asserts is that we essentially need to reverse our thinking: If we want students to become good readers and writers, and (dare I say it) even enjoy the craft, we have to see their performance on assessments as tangents to the process-based approach. When done well, the process approach can really get students prepared to tackle any sort of writing or reading task, including the kinds they will see on the state test.
Thus, it makes a lot of sense that students need to have a lot of support and encouragement in the classroom, because if teachers choose to go beyond the standards to really challenge students to write in a number of styles comfortably, a lot of learning and proverbially "pushing the envelope" will probably take place. To do this, I think it is really important that students get comfortable of talking and sharing with each other immediately in the classroom. The first days of school are often wasted getting a lot of managerial things done, but this is actually the critical period in which teachers can establish what kind of classroom environment there will be. If students will be spending time with each other to make revisions and critique each others' work, a climate of respect and openness has to be established. This can be done by making students introduce each other the first day of school.
Furthermore, I really liked what Sharon said about making sure students saw her as a reader and a writer too. There should not be disconnect between what the teacher makes the students do (and thus sees as important), and what the teacher does or doesn't do. So, if a teacher thinks it's important that his or her students read every day, he/she should read every day too.
I also think that teachers should make students realize how developmental writing is, and how no one gets a piece of writing done the first time. Presenting drafts of their own writing could be a great exemplar for students to see that even cultivated writers need drafts, feedback from their peers, and time to make a quality piece of writing.
I also teach process writing because it's all I know. I have yet to work at a school with a writing curriculum, so I just teach them how I was taught and go through the writing process. I like the thought of focusing on one or two elements of writing at a time and building up to a polished piece. In my classroom, I do a writer's notebook which allows students to express themselves freely and without judgement. Later, we pull from that notebook to write narratives, poems, and short stories. Students generally like this approach and I have had much success with it in my classroom. I agree with Laryssa when she said students need to realize that writing is developmental. So many students want to be done and think fixing spelling errors on their first draft means they have finished. I was a journalist before I became a teacher so I always tell them that 90% of my work was revisions. When they start to realize that we go through the same things, they tend to trust us more.
I teach a process for writing simply because I know it's successful on the state test. I would much rather let the kids be creative and strike out on their own, but scores are so important these days. I do love the short texts on page 118. I am going to try some of those to see if I can balance their needs with mine. Once I get students confident with the writing process, they love peer review. It takes me somewhat out of the equation and some students take other students suggestions more seriously than mine.
I encourage students to write in their reading/writing journals daily. We share with partners, small group, and aloud in class. The majroity of students love the oppotunity to read their writing. It is with these pieces, that I truly like students to explore developing further into writing pieces for publication. Also we use journal writings as mini lesson oppotunities for grammar, puncutation, style mini lessons. Learning within context is so imporant and long-lasting.
It is my goal to effectively teach the process approach to writing. Since I am not as comfortable with the writing side of the discipline, I continue to search for ways to make writing more meaningful and productive for the students – without losing my own mind while trying to keep 150 students, and thus 150 pieces, on track.
As I am reading through the chapters, I realize that many of the barriers my students and I stumble across are directly linked to the fact that much of what they have been asked to write has been assigned as a specific topic with hard deadlines. I have also struggled with students that are writing/reading at various levels – some below grade level - so that some students seem to lack the maturity and sophistication that I would like to find in their writing. The other stumbling block that I have encountered has been the time constraints of a combined reading/writing class in a 45 – 50 minute time period.
I continue to return to the “Six Needs of Teaching Middle School Writers” on pages 104 – 106. The list of six conditions for teaching middle school writers seems to be the key… if I can find a way to use responsibility, relationships, relevance, inquiry, choice, and hope in my lessons, then perhaps I can make major progress in knowing how to effectively approach writing as a “process approach” to writing. I must admit that I find it interesting that choice is listed as the fifth condition… which means I will continue to dig deeper into the suggestions that are offered, since I need to reevaluate much of what I have been thinking about the past few days and weeks.
In response to the quote from page 106 and the question asking how I instill an environment of hope and trust in my classroom, I am a firm believer that I am the first and foremost role model for my students. I set high expectations for them as learners, and I push each individual to become the very best learner that he/she can be. I establish routines and expectations that are non-negotiable but allow for flexibility as needed on an individual basis. I respect student individuality by learning and using first (and last) names as quickly as possible. I have the daily agenda outlined on the whiteboard and explain upcoming events and changes to the daily routine to the best of my ability rather than springing changes in routine on the students. I ask students to think outside the box, and I meet them outside the classroom at dances, ball games, and other school functions. I talk to them about “becoming adults” and make them take on roles of responsibility. I talk to them about my own life and give them hope that it is possible to get a college (or three) degree(s) and to have a healthy marriage with a “date night” after 25 years of marriage. In short, I treat them as individuals and humans by modeling basic respect and a sense of trust in them to meet my high expectations.