10 Compelling Issues to Catapult Student Writers

compelling Issues forStudent Inquiry (3)Writing, like any activity, takes practice to get better. But writing, unlike reading or math, is often neglected in schools for various reasons. Educators find the teaching of writing difficult and many times don’t know where to start. This unfortunate occurrence places students at a disadvantage. In fact, three of the 10 Common Core Reading Standards requires reading as writers, the Common Core is also the first time in history that equal representation and importance (10 Standards each) is placed on both reading and writing. Moving beyond the What is the Why. Writing helps students develop an understanding of content, develop empathy, demonstrate mastery, not to mention writing plays a key role in participating in a global community and expressing one’s view thoughtfully.

Students should write every day! When students write every day they develop their voice and see value in written expression. But what should kids be writing is a question often posed to me.

The best writing is REAL – Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, and Lifelong. Laua Robb offers 10 compelling issues in her book Teaching Middle School Writers that I feel align to meaningful or REAL writing for all kids. These issues were often favorite ones to explore and write about in my own classroom with high school students. Plus, these compelling issues are great for not only conceptual thinking but could be used for Book Discussions and to launch Inquiry Units.

10 Compelling Issues that Catapult Kids to Write:

  1. Change & Loss
    • Death
    • Moving
    • Illness
    • Job Loss
    • Physical Change
  2. Challenges, Choices, & Decisions
    • Goals
    • Obstacles
    • Negative challenges that become positive
    • Life Choices
  3. Relationships: Insight to Self
    • Freinds
    • Fitting In
    • Parents, Siblings, Teachers
    • Relationship with self
    • Pets
    • Trust
  4. Coping with Fears
    • What
    • Why
    • Actions
    • Future
    • Fear affecting Thoughts, Decisions, & Actions
  5. Pressures: Inner & Outside Influences
    • Why
    • Peers
    • Gossip
    • Moving
    • Motives
    • Self
    • Athletics
    • Competition
    • Pop Culture
  6. Identity Shaping: Hopes & Dreams
    • Privacy
    • What do I want to be?
    • Future self
    • Daydreaming
    • Fitting In
    • Who am I?
  7. Obstacles
    • Language
    • Weather
    • Location
    • Religion
    • Race
    • Gender
    • Divorce
    • Expectations
  8. War & Conflict
    • War
    • Conflict Good or Bad?
    • Without Conflict
    • Peace
    • Power & Control
  9. Restrictions, Rules, & Rebellion
    • Rules
    • Rulebreaking
    • Rebellions
    • Protesting
    • Family, School, Friends
    • Activism
    • Emotions
    • Actions
  10. Conformity & Nonconformity
    • Fitting In
    • Feelings
    • Conforming
    • Not Conforming
    • Exclusions
    • Easier to conform or be different

Under each issue, I have offered general categories in which ideas may be sparked and questions created that can catapult our writers into personal narratives. Through personal narratives, students are able to anchor their thinking and blend genres as they notice these compelling issues arise in what they read, view, and listen to. Connecting their lives to outside texts (whatever mode that may be in) helps students understand the importance of writing and how their lives and experiences are related. It makes the writing REAL!

 

 

10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

 

shfarnsworth-1

Today my work consisted of supporting educators on how to teach writing. Upon reflection, we realized that very few of us remember being specifically taught how to teach writing. Sure, we learned a lot about content, genres, and types of writing; but not one person raised their hand when I asked if they had an undergrad program that explicitly taught them how to teach writing. Empowering kids through writing is my passion, and I am driven to change the writing landscape that is found in many schools!

As a teacher of writing, I believe there are 10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

  1. Teach the Writer, not the Writing – Focus on the learning, not the end product.
  2. Write in Front of your Students – Dispel the notion that writing is magic. Let young writers see and hear your process as you write in front of them.
  3. State the Why – Explain why Good Writers use specific skills, strategies, and resources when they write.
  4. Focus on Transferable Skills and Strategies – Answer and remind young writers how the skill or strategy can be used today and whenever they write. 
  5. Student Choice – Transfer ownership by letting students choose what they write about. Is it really about the content or is the content the vehicle in which demonstration occurs? Learning to Write, not Writing to Learn.
  6. Student Voice – Developing voice takes practice. Have students write often and in various genres. 
  7. Write for Real – An authentic audience and writing purpose engages young writers, provides relevance to writing, and allows them to share their story with the world.
  8. Surround Writers with Exemplars– Collect and share examples of writers and writings that students can gain inspiration from or that challenge them to apply a similar technique in their own writing.
  9. Differentiate – Pull small groups of writers or confer one to one with students based on needs and goals. While whole class instruction is efficient, small groups or one to one learning is more effective.
  10. Never Forget the Share – Honor the hard work young writers do through the share at the end of the class. Sharing promotes a safe community, builds relationships, and can target a teaching point!

Uncovering the Why: the Importance of Beliefs

BeliefsFor many years, my professional learning consisted on the “what” and “how” in the classroom. What were your kids reading? writing? discussing? What tech were you using? How are you using portfolios? How do you grade? How do you differentiate? 

While all of these questions are important to answer, it wasn’t until I drilled down the Why, that I truly appreciated learning. Understanding the why, helps provide a framework in which all other decisions can be based upon. Why do I teach Shakespeare? Why do I have students blog? Why does it matter that students publish to  public audience? Why do I prefer the workshop framework over traditional instruction?

Currently, I am reading Read, Write, Teach by Linda Rief. The introduction provides insight into the purpose, design, and the Why for writing this book. She starts with the Why because it “grounds her choices of the what and how.”

The following are images of my own Whys on Literacy, inspired by the work of Linda Rief. I encourage you to not only explore your own beliefs on teaching and learning, but also to bring the conversation back to your departments, buildings, or even districts. Do we have similar beliefs? What is gained and what is lost when staff members have the same beliefs? Is a common set of shared beliefs necessary for our students?

Read, Write, Teach- Rief (1).jpg

Read, Write, Teach- Rief (2).jpg

 

 

 

 

The Teaching of Writing, A Promise to Students

A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop Middle School Grades (1-3)

Frequently, the answer to the question posed above is one met with hesitation. While most of us can answer the type of reading or math instruction a student will receive in our school, writing instruction is one area that is often glossed over, or assumed to be present in the ELA classroom. Teaching students to write is viewed as complicated, and many teachers resort to focusing on grammar and conventions. While these two areas should be included in any writing program, they often extinguish the love of writing in students. Likewise, rarely does a department or school have a comprehensive writing program; one that scaffolds and builds off of the previous year’s instruction. Typically, it is a game left to chance if a child receives writing instruction by a highly-qualified teacher; and even then, without an intentional writing program agreed upon by the department and school, gaps in writing instruction equal little growth seen in students.

The Common Core gives as much attention to writing as it does reading. In fact, three of the reading standards require students to read like writers. “Writing is assumed to be the vehicle through which a great deal of the critical thinking, reading work, and reading assessment will occur” (Lucy Calkins). Students abilities to read and understand will be assessed through their ability to write. The Core also provides an infrastructure into which a curriculum can be developed. Vertical alignment to the core provides foundations a student learned prior onto which one can stand upon and build from.

BUT…

The Core is the WRONG answer to give as to why one should reform their writing curriculum… instead,

  • You believe in kids.
  • You believe in democracy.
  • You believe in the right for all people’s voices to be heard.
  • You believe that writers make choices for deliberate reasons.

(Calkins, UoS)

The Standard-based approach to writing includes a shared commitment by the whole school, it is the work of everyone. Writing, like reading and math, is one of those subjects that affect a learner’s ability to succeed in other areas. Finally, there is a shared commitment to teach writing, and some infrastructure that assures enough of a curriculum that teachers can build off of prior instruction.

Lucy Calkins also outlines the “bottom-line conditions” needed for writing. I have created an infographic highlighting these conditions.

Conditions for writing

Complete slides found here