Once again, it's important to recognize that having standards is not a terrible idea, but how we interpret and implement those standards is what's truly important.
Strength 4 (The Common Core writing standards sharpen our students' narrative writing skills.) is one that makes my heart happy. The push toward persuasive writing over the past few years has boggled my mind. While I understand that we want to best prepare our students for the 11th grade writing SOL, I have long argued that teaching our students to write persuasively for 9th, 10th, and 11th grade is the same as teaching them algebra I for three years to pass an algebra SOL. Not only is it overkill for our curriculum to be focused only on one type of writing for three years (with a few other narrative or expository assignments thrown in for good measure, of course), it also kills our students' creativity and love of writing. Formulaic, five-paragraph essays where students MUST choose a side are much of the reason that students don't like to write and "can't" write. Strength 6 addressed pretty much all of my concerns about persuasive writing with the 5 key points. I was just reading and nodding, reading and nodding.
I bookmarked almost every strategy in this chapter. I love the suggested lists, six things assignment, and use of photographs that matter.
I freewrite in my classroom almost every day. Sometimes we use a topic that has come up organically in class discussion (If you HAD to get a tattoo, what would you get and why?), sometimes we respond to a book/poem/article we are reading together, and sometimes we just write whatever we need to get out of our heads. Students also have writing homework due every other Friday where they can write about literally anything, as long as they are writing their own thoughts and ideas. We use their freewrites and writing homework as a bank of ideas for later writing assignments. Student choice in writing has been one of the best ways to guarantee success for my students.
Lindsey- I just figured out who you are :-p Kara LOVED your "free write" writing homework her freshman year. Every year, I ask her pretty frequently what she's doing in English class at certain points of the year because I like seeing how other grade level English classes work and what the focus is on. I would love more opportunities to get together and share ideas (kind of like this!) Anyway, back to reading chapter 3! :-)
Haha! I'm glad you made the connection! Kara was an absolute joy to have in class. I'd love to grab coffee and talk about English-y things!
I find it interesting that he notes that CC has moved away from stand alone prompts to information based ones that require students to integrate information. Of course, Virginia with its "rigor" knows best.. make it a crap shoot of thirty-some possible prompts, some very concrete, others more abstract, so abstract students aren't sure what they are asking; don't consider prior knowledge or cultural relevance and have only anchors that are largely formulaic and voiceless and call that writing assessment. I love his commentary on argument by inquiry; students can address the same broad idea from different angles.
I've become increasingly frustrated with the disastrous inconsistency of these SOL prompts. I taught the first of two days of SOL Writing Test Prep on Friday and spent about an hour talking through the prompts that the students thought were "hardest." Some of them absolutely DO NOT take into consideration the fact that these kids don't have the prior knowledge necessary to create thoughtful responses to the prompts. I agree, as well, that their difficulty is wildly different. Seeing two students get prompts that require completely disparate amounts of background experience is infuriating.
I've always wished the state would at least give the students three choices on their screen, and then they could pick the one they thought they could write about... I completely agree with you all that giving the students one of 42 (that's how many the 8th graders have to know) prompts is ridiculous when each student has different background knowledge and experiences.
I think if there was an instructional piece I need more help with, it would be teaching writing. I feel really confident with the reading and vocabulary piece... it's writing instruction that I would love more help with, and this chapter is a huge start! As far as Kim's question, I always start my students out at the beginning of the year brainstorming important moments or experiences in their lives. They make a long list after I model the brainstorming and show a list that I would make... and then they choose three of their memories/experiences to go into more detail about and we turn these memories into their first "paper" in order for me to see what their strengths and weaknesses are to help guide my writing instruction for the year. I like this assignment because it's simple enough for the students to come up with ideas. They can concentrate on showing me their "best writing." It helps me get to know them individually while getting a snapshot of their writing abilities at the same time.
One skill I'd like to work on is something Gallagher mentions on page 66 where he talks about the "crucial difference between assigning writing and teaching writing"... I want to do more modeling with my students to give them a better picture of what good writing looks like and by showing them mentor texts as they write.
I also want to help my students become better proofreaders! Another statement that Gallagher makes that sticks out to me is that students try to write the "one and done" paper. My students think clicking spell check and grammar check on the computer is enough for proofreading... I try to get them to do one rewrite just to add detail and elaborate. I have them read through and find places where they could say a little more about the topic. Then, I try to get them to read a second time through after they've added the detail and fix all their usage and mechanics mistakes. I use the domains that they'll be scored on in March to help guide them with their proofreading and tell them that proofreading for composition/written expression should be their first read-through/step. Then, proofreading for usage/mechanics should be their second read-through/step.
My struggle with my students is to get them to SLOW DOWN and actually do these two read-throughs and proofreading steps.
I want to do a lot more journals and freewrites next year... and just get my students writing even more, so the assignments and activities listed in this chapter are WONDERFUL! I will definitely use the "Moments that Matter" brainstorming list activity. I also really like the "Reverse Bucket List" and the "Six Things You Should Know About" writing activity. I also really like the "Your Birthday in History" activity. I think many of the writing activities in this chapter will be interesting and creative enough that my students will really get into the activities. I earmarked so many pages in this chapter for use next year!
Finally, I really like Lindsey's statement that it's "how we interpret and implement those standards is what's truly important." Last year, I felt myself becoming very cynical and just "fed up" with the focus on SOLs... and reading this book/taking part in these chapter discussions with other teachers is showing me a different way of looking at the standards and a different way to approach them in my classroom. In other words, I'm seeing that there are ways to live and teach with the standards by using them to teach my students what real reading and writing look like and can do for their lives.
Sorry this answer ended up so long! :-p
Came across this blog post by Kelly Gallagher and thought it might make an interesting read:
I'm looking back now at what I marked while reading chapter 4. While I see a great deal of crossover between our SOLs and the Common Core standards, I envied the testing requirement that students respond to evidence-based tests (someone--Michael? Dee?--mentioned this in response to another chapter, I think). What a difference such a change would make. I keep thinking about Sarah Lupo saying that reading assessments test a student's response to a given text on a given day. While I think the SOL tests do assess writing somewhat more authentically than they do reading, I also think that PROVIDING the background knowledge would even the playing field.
Gallagher's approach to research also really resonated with me. He says, "I have decided on an argument . . ., but *I didn't start with that argument in mind*" (94). I TRY to teach this way, but I don't do so with enough intention. I think about why I enjoy research--it's the SEARCH part of it, the fact that, while I have my own ideas, I'm discovering what I think in response to the thoughts of others that is so invigorating. I hope to make a more intentional shift to this type of project/assignment next year. (Actually, I think I'll try a lot of the ideas in this chapter, but this one seems the most immediately applicable.)
Hey everyone! Remember the activity in this chapter that Gallagher shared "Six Things You Should Know About..."-- I couldn't find any of the mentor texts in ESPN magazines like he shared, but I went online and found some. Here's a link to a google document with a bunch of the "Six Things You Should Know About" articles if anyone is interested in having their students make one next year and needs mentor texts:
Also- the "Who Made That" activity on page 82 in chapter four-- Here is a website with a bunch of examples from The New York Times-- for use as mentor texts if anyone wanted to use this activity:
Last one- I also found a "36 Hours in Washington, D.C." to go with his writing idea on page 84 and made it into a google document. Here it is if anyone is interested:
"There is a difference between persuasion and argument" (p. 86). Sigh.
I felt very convicted by this chapter. I mostly use the state prompts for writing practice & don't venture very far beyond them. I am inspired to move forward & try some of his writing ideas, because I know that authentic writing will benefit them on the writing test (just like I know any reading benefits them on the reading test).
As has already been mentioned here, our task on the EOC prompt is a (generally) weak persuasive essay (especially when contrasted with his argument examples). In my classroom, I am emphasizing the building of paragraphs with "evidence" & examples, maybe at the expense of real, critical thinking.
This chapter has me thinking - maybe more than any other so far...
Rachel, I agree. This is one of those chapters that emphasizes even more where our hands are tied. I just keep trying to have faith that authentic instruction will win the day. When I've wavered, those have been the times that I haven't connected with students--and my test results aren't any better. :(
As a reading specialist I’ll admit to being more focused on reading than writing. Though my students do complete short written responses frequently, time limits the length of our responses and the depth of the writing process. As I read Chapter 4, I recognized some opportunities for using the Reverse Bucket List and Six Things with my students to include more writing. I am also re-thinking the way I present nonfiction and how I can use the text as an opportunity for research (and rereading). That “search” piece is so important for my students because of their need to reread in order to more fully comprehend and then write knowledgeably about the subject.
I do sympathize with the “one and done” approach to writing. Even just the few sentences I ask for are a chore they want to race through. The complaints are many when I ask them to check to be sure what they wrote is indeed what they meant to write. It’s something we’ve been working on, but getting them to understand that writing takes more than one pass is a challenge. Maybe "Write Like This" will be next up on my reading list...
It makes me feel better to know that older students also struggle with revising and editing. Believe it or not it is modeled and discussed in the younger grades. The lists of writing topics gave me some ideas, and I also plan to use the topic, The Six Things You Should Know About. His criticism of the five-paragraph essays resonated with me. We used to teach this method to our students - We no longer do so. I realize that I need to find more writing examples that are geared for elementary students and tie our reading and writing together more closely.
This chapter was packed with concrete ideas for stimulating writers! I was particularly intrigued by the ideas on “inform(ing) and explain(ing). I’ve had a rough summer and found it hard to read and write these responses. I think that many of the examples that Gallagher gives make the idea of reading and responding so much more appealing. I think that a good student can work through the rougher times, but the past 8 weeks have me remembering that home circumstances can really impede learning and that student engagement is crucial.
Kimber Tate, Coordinator of English, Reading and Libraries