I took away the writing lifeboats.


My desk.

Really great English teachers are really great about providing students with lots of scaffolding, organizers, and exemplars to bring their students to the final written product successfully.  As a department, though, we sometimes worry about what this “help” means for our students’ post-high school writing.

Will they be able to write without us?

I decided to experiment.
It didn’t go well.
(Or it did, depending on how you look at it.)
We’re working on argumentative writing, our final “assigned” writing assignment before my students choose their own topics and genres for our remaining workshops.

argument and counter

Fleshing out both sides of the argument.

My students chose their own topic to argue, and we spent the early part of this week fleshing out our arguments and counterarguments.  I modeled and walked them through a four-point argument chart.  They took down great notes and came up with three possible solutions and their corresponding benefits.

They were 100% ready.
Today,  I gave my students a rubric and graphic organizer and said, “Okay, you’ve got your content.  Now…write it.”

They stared blankly at me.  
For the first time this year, I haven’t shown them a model essay, and I haven’t told them what content they should put where.

They’re struggling.  
On this first day of drafting, despite having every bit of content they  need for this paper, most just could not get started.  While four students immediately grabbed a laptop to start writing, the other nine stared blankly into space or doodled.  Some made some notes on their graphic organizers before the end of the period, but not much writing happened today.

After today’s classes, I can see that despite our constant work and revision during class, my students still see their writing as a “test” and not as a process. 

I know they’ll eventually write Something to bring to workshop by  next week, even if it’s a Horrible Something.  This might be our longest drafting process yet, and it’s confirming my worst fears, but we’re all learning together.   



Writing Workshop (works).

DetroitI wrote a piece for Competency Works this week about the benefits of using a whole-class workshop model in my English classes.  Read it here!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
This method of writing instruction and revision has produced the best writing I’ve ever seen from my students. 


Genre Study: Assessment

IMG_3749This week, most of my students spent class working on the summative performance assessment that I created before we started this unit.

This assessment is designed only to measure their reading competency, so they have the choice to do whatever they want to do to show me what they know (except a poster, because I want them to think beyond the simplicity of a poster).

working 2Most of my students have chosen to write essays to demonstrate their reading competency, while some are demonstrating their knowledge through more hands-on projects or slideshows.

It feels strange to them that I’m not assessing them on their writing with this assessment.  I’m not sure if it’s related, but I’ve noticed them asking me many more questions about organizing and crafting their writing than when we’re doing a designated writing task.

working 4They’re using their discussion points and pithy quotes to help them build their essays and projects, which have been really helpful to remind them of plot points and character traits as they work.

This summative is due on Monday.
…which means that many are taking work home over the weekend.  Some students have chosen to to finish their summative assessments in a corny “summative party” I threw on Friday afternoon (with Halloween candy, obviously) to finish their work before the weekend.  Most of those students stayed until they finished.

I do not give zeros for missing work.  Ever.  
Students who do not have a final product for class on Monday will instead complete an alternative assessment during class, which will essentially be the same assessment, but without the choice of their final product.  (Spoiler alert:  It’s a handwritten essay.)

quote pullingI try to design alternative assessments that ensure student success and accurately measure what they know…not to shame students for not completing their work.

While it’s frustrating that some students didn’t/don’t/will never meet deadlines, I have to remember the purpose of assessment:  to find out what they know, and to find out what I need to do to get them there.

I have to remember that many of my students don’t have the support at home that they do in my classroom.

If I know that they’re only reading the book during our class time, I also need to give them time during class to demonstrate what they know about what they’re reading.

(I know some of you want to see my final numbers.  I’ll post those on Tuesday.)