Laura Robb talks a great deal about student choice in this chapter and how we might "reshape" writing curriculum for the 21st century. How do you "honor the needs of middle school students" in your writing classroom? Describe your writing program. Do you use a process writing approach or something different? How might you consider reshaping your writing program based on the information and ideas posed in this chapter? What barriers do you face in trying to reshape your writing program?
I think we do a lot right at EJMS, although state testing is all-consuming and this is not good. I know we have tried to honor our students' need for choice and respected their writing, but testing has taken a toll on student choice, especially at the eighth grade level. Many of our teachers have the training and have read the research to support best practices in writing. As the LMS, I play a different role, one that emphasizes reading. As we all know, separating reading from writing is impossible, so why not ask students to write about what they like to read and write. Outside of school, start a after school poetry club that meets for one hour one day a week. Opening a student choice and student driven club based on writing could be one way to provide the needed choice. I realize that this won't attract every student, but I have discovered along my journey that middle school students can and tend to be "closet" poets. Why not invite them to share with others who enjoy writing like they do.
Another way to start looking at and evaluating what we do at our school across grade levels in writing is to do as Ms. Robb suggested, "Invitations for Professional Study" on pages 55-56. She lays out a clear plan that teachers can use starting today. How nice!
I agree wholeheartedly that with our new OD requirements for writing to a text-based prompt, as well as writing to a stand alone, we get hung up on writing to a prompt rather than writing for a real reason. A resource that I have found to be helpful in addressing student choice and engaging topics is WordGeneration.org. This free downloadable curriculum consists of weekly units that each introduces 5 high-utility target words through brief passages outlining controversies currently under debate in our country. The culminating activity after being exposed to an issue and related vocab in all content areas is an opinion piece. This year I am going to take some of these topics and make the Situation/Writing Task more K-Prep like in an effort to give students more "real reasons" to write in a prompted setting.
I agree with you too that writing poetry has great appeal to middle school students, even boys!
Honestly, I feel that our writing program is still somewhat test-driven. It focuses so much on how the test is structured, such as pounding how to write on-demands into the 8th graders. I don't know that we're always taking the needs of the students into consideration. How much choice is given? As Robb points out in the previous chapter, from 300 survey responses, "103 were positive and 197 negative" when it came to the writing that the students did for school. I was thinking "YES!" repeatedly as I read Chapter 2. Collaboration and inquiry have to be part of any writing we do with our kids. As Robb states regarding Pink's work, we are moving away from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age of problem-solving. To reshape the writing program, I would create classrooms that are mini-PLCs, with groups that can address writing based on choice and relevance to them, using a variety of modalities. In those PLCs, as Robb points out, they would need to be able to choose relevant topics to address, to revise and edit their own work based on conferencing with the teacher and peers, and to be given positive recognition for any project roles they play, whether it is as a researcher, a graphic designer, a videographer, an animator, or an outstanding copy writer. Ideally, each student would be a valuable member of the PLC, possessing Gardner's disciplined, synthesizing, creative, respectful, and ethical minds. I think the greatest barrier would be adhering to the thinking that caused the one parent Robb quoted to say, "That's what I did in school." I have really enjoyed reading this chapter. It validated a lot of the things that I already believed. I also feel privileged to read the interesting and informative comments everyone in the group has been contributing. I'm revved up about going to school this week!!
This year at Winburn we're going to revise our writing plan to incorporate 21st century writing skills and opportunities. I took a closer look at the Writing Next and Writing Now mentioned by Laura Robb, and as I was reading, I remembered a summer literacy PD offerered by the Kentucky Cognitive Literacy Model. When I went back through a binder, I found a copy of Writing Next. The model provides a variety of modeling and best practices that many Language Arts teachers at Winburn provide. The direcction it takes student writing provides for more realistic student ownership with meaningful writing opportunities that promote authentic writing.
As the writing cluster leader, I want to shape out Writing Plan to incorporate many of the practices such as mentor text modeling, conferencing, problem solving, and collaboration among stuents with their peers. :aura Rpbb mentions of pages 73-74 on putting the questioning into the hands of the students. This is where I need to guide and then turn it over to the students for them to develop their own thinking about writing.
This year with my students we are working with journals that provide original writing in various stages and reader's response. We'll focus on mentor text as a model for analyzing the writier's craft and style. In turn, students will have the oppoturnity to write their own pieces. Also students have worked with annotating text as a way to analyze what the writer is saying, but mostly to monitor themselves as a reader, thinker, and writer.
The students will have the opportunity to repsond to blogs and email pen pals to name a few as part of the problem solving process. Tomorrow and Tuesday I will be attending LDC training and am looking forward to see how the LDC model will fit into the writing plans. I understand it is designed to promote research and critical thinking and analysis.
I was also thinking about the Writing Program Review and how it now places writing uder the microscope as to how writing is being implemented throughout all content. The demonstrators provide for an analysis of student writing opportunities, teacher professional development to address student writing and evaluation, administration support, etc.that is aimed at providing students and staff with writing development and analysis that is aligned with common core and 21st century writing skills. There is so much going on---whew!
Message was edited by: Elizabeth Powell
As I stated, my focus is on the reading standards. Another teacher on my teams deals with the wriitng standards and is responsible for having students compose "pieces" of writing. However, it is impossible for me to teach reading without asking students to do some writing. I try to allow for some student choice, but upon reflection, I realized that my "choices" are usually limited to what I want them to write about. I don't let them write freely about feelings, etc. My concern with that is that I will be reading somehing that "alerts" me to problems.
As for 21st century skills, I am laking in that regard in my instruction. I signed up for edmodo last year but I have never gone any farther with it. We are limited in technology in our community, which poses a problem. I am not as comfortable as I should be with the technology--I don't even have an iPhone!--so I tend to not pursue technology as an option.
Unfortunately, we often perceive On Demand writing as a barrier to giving students the writing choice they want and need. Fortunately, however, there are now many more online resources available to us to help us make our prompted writing more appealing. One that particularly comes to mind is Scholastic's Scope. This magazine routinely includes controversial topics that give two sides of a debate that can be easily converted to an On Demand format in which students can voice their opinions - backed up by textual evidence, of course Another resource that speaks to student choice and interest is the topics addressed in WordGeneration.org. Each of these topics is designed to elicit student opinion after the topic and related vocabulary (5 target words) have been addressed in ELA, Social Studies, Science, and Math. It is worth checking out and it is free!
I am so glad to be a part of this diverse group of professionals. As I jump back into the classroom after spending 12 years in the media center, I find myself very Standards focused. I'm constantly checking to see that everything I do matches my 43 7th grade ELA CCSS. So my mind says, "Yikes!! Let them free write? Let them write in ways that don't match the writing standards? I don't have time for that." But my heart, the heart of a writer, tells me that I have to include those types of writing in my classroom. I just feel such pressure with 50 minutes a day to cover all the Standards.
So far this year we have done a lot of reading response writing and we've done different types of reading, always referring to the writer and how they crafted the work. We haven't done any revision of anything the kids have written.
I like that Laura Robb suggests we let students use their writing as a way to serve. I can see my students writing articles and letters to the editor of our local paper supporting good causes and pleading the cause of charities.I can see them doing great writing because they believe in something.
I believe that students have many needs when it comes to the writing classroom. The problem is, these needs cannot be met if students are not interested in the topics they are writing about. Student choice in writing is key to student success. Students cannot develop voice as a writer if the topic is dry. I feel that when topics are assigned to students, the teacher is giving the students an obstacle to jump over and overcome. Some students will jump over that obstacle and keep going, while others will stop at that obstacle and not even try. If a student is not interested in a topic they will complete the assignment as fast and painlessly as possible, turn it in, and try to never think about it again. Teaching middle school students to revise and edit would be very difficult if a student isn’t invested in their writing. If a writer demonstrates passion for a subject it will be evident in their writing and the amount of effort they are willing to put into it. Getting to know your students can assist you to helping them find topics they care about. As the text demonstrated, by reading student work you might be able to see an interest in mysteries that the student isn’t even aware of. I think a lot of student choice can be incorporated into the classroom. Students can be given a choice of three books to pick for a unit. They can choose the topic of a research paper. They can choose the genre of writing they want to do for an assignment. There are many ways that we could bring student choice into the classroom and I feel the benefits will be very evident. All of these ideas, among many others, will shape my writing program.
I agree that we need to give students choice in their writing, which I try to do as much as possible in the classroom. I also agree that we have to spend too much time on On Demand writing that takes away from student creativity and choice. I generally take the students through the writing process, but find that the expectations are generally low with a time table for this. I see teachers spending a month or more of class to write one piece. I think we need to increase the rigor of our classes when it comes to writing expectations. The biggest problem I see is when it comes to the peer revisions portion. Middle school students don't seem to understand the revision process. They usually just read their peer's paper, say it's good and then they are done. I have incorporated the use of highlighters with a revision checklist to make students find elements like the topic sentence, support and transitions. This extra step really helps students see what is missing from their writing.
I have always believed that collaborating in writing helps the writer explore various areas of their topic and form new creative ideas. Middle school students naturally love to talk so you would assume they could collaborate with writing easily. However, I agree with Jill that middle school students don't really understand effective peer revision. Adolescents are apt to tell their peers that their writing was great and be ready to move on to the next thing. I really liked Jill's method of using a revision checklist and highlighters for peer revision. This method provides students with a structured guide to go by when revising a peer's paper. We must remember that we, as adults, have a tendency to reflect on our own writing and others writing but adolescents need to be led to this point. I also agree with Robb's idea of using "compelling questions that relate to students' lives; tapping into these can produce writing that speaks to the soul" (39). I believe that teachers must challenge their students to find their "fire" or passion for writing in order to yield creative, analytic writers.
One of the things that I think is really important in all classrooms, but especially in a writing classroom, is giving students choices, responsibility, and essentially, agency. Students need to be able to have options with an assignment, and not necessarily in what they're going to write about, but even with the medium that they use to present and create. If students are expected to do some sort of project on something that they read, allowing them to use technology tools such as Voicethread will still allow them to meet the standards the task is expected to cover while not just making the same old project and talking to people.
When I wrote a major paper for my Alexander Pope class, we had this really cool sheet that showed us how to critique our classmate's paper. It was very structured, gave us a really great way to find ways to add comments, and was relatively simple to get through. I think this can be used with students of all ages, and it reminded me of the checklist that Jill describes for revisions, but it was more like a process of reading the paper rather than just a list of things that students need to make sure they do.
Obviously, one of the biggest barriers to this is simply time. Creating a writing climate in which students write multiple drafts, revise with each other and conference with the teacher is going to require a little more time than the traditional "this paper is due on Friday, I'll return grades next week." Also, there are seemingly a thousand skills we have to make sure that students are getting in their writing classes, and it seems hard to cover that breadth of writing styles and techniques in the classroom. It's important to do things like have a clear and structured process for doing a revision, have assignments that are well-planned and geared towards accomplishing many skills, and simply being aware of when students aren't engaged with an assignment to go back and rethink things.
I agree that students need a choice in what they are writing. I think it is important to give students a choice to use their voice. I believe that if students were given a chance to write about their own topics, they wouldn't be as hesitant to write. It can be really hard for teachers to teach students who are not interested in writing. Students can use their choice whether it is for a quick write or a poetry lesson. I think giving students the freedom to write what they feel or think can really help open up the classroom into a supportive and sharing environment. Students are more likely to participate and share on things that they chose to write rather than an answer on a grammar worksheet. I think teachers need to be aware of this, especially at a middle school level. Writing may the only way for students to express themselves and teachers can really use this to their advantage if they give the students the choice.
I haven't had the opportunity to have my own writing classroom yet, but when I do student choice will defiantly be a top priority. Laura Robb didn't convince me of this she just reinforced the idea. I had the chance to substitute in a rural middle school in central Kentucky. The teacher there told me of the struggle that she had when it came to getting her students to write. Her solution was to let them write about their "passions". For example, when writing argumentative essays she let them write about topics of their choice. Many of the students who had never shown an interest in writing before were suddenly writing wonderful pieces about deer hunting, title nine, and skateboarding. Students are just like us, if they are not engaged then they will not be motivated. It is our job as educators to make sure that this doesn't occur.
I think often students do not have a lot of choice in what they write because we are so focused on getting them to write for the standardize test and then our standards are very specific about the type of writing pieces they need to complete. Part of the problem is that it is easier to have students write about the same topic because the teacher can model and give the information that needs to be included, but that is one thing that is turning students off of writing. Also, I see often in my school that students see writing a piece as you write out a rough draft, type it and turn in it. After years of going through the writing process and portfolios where a piece was revised to death, I've seen many teachers, including myself, slack on using the process of writing. There has to be a happy medium. I really liked at the beginning of the chapter how Robb discussed getting kids to write about things they are interested in the classroom that was reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Fairness and social justice are always topics that interest middle schoolers.
We just developed a school-wide writing plan with our faculty. Although we had one in the past, it was written by one or two people and not many people knew about it, and even fewer implemented it. The writing instruction that did take place was mainly in the ELA classes, and focused mainly on on-demand writing. This is changing. Participating in the program review process really illuminated for us an urgent need for a systematic writing program.
For this first year of implementation of a school-wide writing program, we are focusing on classroom practices and students' writing experiences. In our ELA classes, students are taught how to use the writing process through a writing workshiop approach. In our content classes, we expect our teachers to use this process as a tool for helping students engage in the content. Along those lines, we want students to experience meaningful writing for a variety of purposes. Our plan calls for students to write at least one authentic writing piece each semester in every content area. This has generated a school-wide discussion over what makes writing "authentic"? Navigating through conversations like these is priority right now in terms of reshaping and increasing the rigor of our writing program.
As an Instructional Coach, I am not responsible for planning a writing program for a classroom, but I am responsible for getting all teachers to know that writing is something that should be happening in all contents, not just the language arts classes. It is hard for teachers to sometimes understand that writing is a means in which kids can show how much they understand. Little by little, we are getting to the point where teachers do not feel they have to stop WHAT they are teaching in order to do writing. I think we have to give students choices, but I also think we have to help teachers realize that authentic writing in math class might not be a poem; it might be explaining how the students worked a problem. Another thought, since students like to have choices, and since teachers are responsible for covering so much content, maybe in LA class we could give them the choice to work on a content piece during the LA time. Content teachers could give them some choices on the topic they are teaching, and the student could decide which content they wanted to focus on during a certain time period. In other words, you might have a couple of kids writing a historical fiction for social studies, a small group working on a science research paper, and still another group working on writing a letter to their congressman. Students would have a certain amount of freedom to choose their own topics.
When it comes to writing in my classroom, I try to focus on the testing standards and on-demand only because that’s what I was told to do. This is only my 2nd year teaching, but last year I attended some PD on on-demand writing, and that seems to be the only focus of our school at this point, although I do give students an opportunity to free write in their journals 3 days a week as the bell-ringer assignment. Of course, you have the students that say, “I don’t know what to write about,” so I do provide a prompt (either something silly or a photo) for them to think and write about.
I would love to reshape our writing approach to include more time for personal writing and free writing, as opposed to just writing prompts that are geared towards the test. My biggest barrier is the size of my district. In grades 6-8 we have 2 English teachers, myself and another teacher that has been here for 12 years. Needless to say, I’m not going to come in and reshape much. I do offer my opinion and ideas, but we don’t really have meetings or implement any certain plan apart from what we learned at the on-demand PD. In my opinion, we need more time to meet together as a team, develop a plan, and share student writing.
What I would love see happen is that students don’t complain when the word writing is mentioned. If they had a chance to write for fun and grow as writers, I think the scores would increase drastically, no matter what prompt is given.
I feel so unprepared for student choice and allowing so much time for free writing. I see my students for 50 minutes a day and I am responsible for all language arts. I don't hear about too much writing going on in my school in the content areas, but I think we are a school on the move; growing and training, so we are on the right track. I am learning a lot through reading the book and appreciate the chance to learn from all of you!
Sorry I am a little behind in posts. It's been an emotional few weeks in my building. I agree with the responses concerning the state test and on-demand writing in 8th grade. I think it's very difficult to honor the students' need for choosing their own topic while trying to teach them the strategies needed to be successful in April. I'm going to try the wordgeneration.com and see if I can implement it. I have a book I love to use for OD writing-Texts and Lessons-Content Area Reading by Daniels and Steineke. It has 75 articles/pictures to use to help students with the new core content.
I am scared to even try to answer this question… I am not sure that I truly “honor the needs of middle school students” which is why I am a part of this group. I understand the concept that students need choice and they “have positive feeling towards teachers who care about them as writers”, but I have a hard time distinguishing between the needs of students and the need for students to perform on state assessments. Where is the balance between the two?
Our writing program feels like a hodge-podge of many expectations. We use the process approach to writing – brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing assigned pieces. We are required to teach a 3.8 paragraph. We have mandatory Live Score Sessions to practice answering extended response questions for Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts four times a year for which students are required to write to a “4” - with four other required “non-LSS” writing sessions placed in the calendar. We are to teach the steps for On-Demand - as well as preparation for short answer questions. We also use lessons from the Laying the Foundation materials and use the LDC (Literacy Design Collaborative - Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant ) template for writing prompts for several pieces each year.
As I type this I have questions about our overriding expectations, so I returned to the actual writing plan for the school… Vision (district draft): Writing is a purposeful act of thinking and expression valued as a multifaceted communication and learning tool which shall be a natural outcome of instruction. Students will write for authentic purposes in authentic roles, including author, scientist, artist, citizen, researcher, and diarist. Writing will be a collaborative process showing growth over time that includes teachers, peers, and authentic audiences.