10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

 

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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!

Educators Sharing #WhyIWrite to Celebrate The National Day on Writing

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In 2009, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing October 20 as the National Day on Writing.

Every year, thousands of educators, students, and writers celebrate by tweeting reasons why they write using the hashtag #WhyIWrite. Celebrations and activities are planned in classrooms across the nation uniting writers, recognizing the benefits of writing, and voicing the importance of writing!

Getting Students Involved

In the classroom, my former students shared their voices on Twitter. Beautiful and profound statements were succinctly tweeted followed by a curation of their favorite tweets throughout the day. As a class, my students gathered their favorite tweets from the #WhyIWrite feed and created multimodal projects sharing the many voices. For example, some  used Storify to collect and share their favorite tweets. Other tools my students used to collect, create and share were:  iMovie, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, and Word Cloud generators.

This year I challenged educators to share #WhyIWrite.

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More Information

Thank You and Be Sure to Follow

If you have a #WhyIWrite message to share, please send it to me and I will add it!

Blogging in the Classroom: Student Roles

blogging in the classroomIn 2009, I began my personal journey in blogging, as well as implementing blogging into my classroom. Josh, a senior that year, walked into my classroom and told me and his peers that he hated writing and was going to hate this class. Instead of questioning him, I simply stated that this year we were going to try something new with in our writing class and I hoped that it would change his mind – Blogging.

Fast forward 2 months, and Josh had a personal blog, a classroom blog, a large following of readers, and had changed his views on writing overall. In fact, I often brought him with me to speak with other educators and students on the power of blogging, student choice, and a public audience. Not only did he revel in this new found role in speaking, but he became a writer, and actually enjoyed it.

Blogging is the one strategy, that I share with other educators, as the most powerful shift in my teaching with the integration of technology into the traditional ELA classroom. My students were empowered to share their voice, honed multimodal communication skills, and wrote real pieces for a different audience than the traditional, lone teacher.

I am often asked for blogging advice to support educators new to blogging in the classroom, so, this will be the first post in a series I will write. You can find my “Classroom Blogging Expectations” HERE. Feel free to use these as a starting place for your own classroom.

When considering the roles of student bloggers I offer the 5 following considerations for you and to be shared with the students:

Student Roles

  1. Write, Write, Write – Blogging requires students to write, and write often. To maintain an engaged audience, students must write and publish frequently. On average, my students publish two posts a week. Not only did this require them to be constantly writing, but to have multiple pieces started and in different places in the writing process. The amount of student writing inside the classroom doubled, but the most interesting surprise was the amount they wrote outside of the classroom, to keep their readers satisfied and wanting more!
  2. Purpose and Voice – While this did not happen overnight, students soon realized their writing required purpose to appeal to their readers. Through blogging, students discovered their own, unique voice and their purpose for writing was uncovered. Starting off with a general blog was how many students began their journey, but the more they practiced and published, and the more they read posts from other peers and writers, they realized that most blogs had a niche; and they needed one as well. From original music, xbox tips and videos, to a co-authored blog publicly debating controversial issues; my students refined writing skills, uncovered and developed their own niche, and unearthed their voice as a writer.
  3. Publishing – Another student role in a blogging classroom is the responsibility of publishing regularly on a public platform. Publishing their work to someone different than the traditional, lone teacher increased engagement and developed explanatory and argumentative writing skills. It also provided students an opportunity to shift from digital consumers to digital creators. Having spent most of their lives reading online, students now created the same types of texts they read daily. This exposure to practice writing multimodal texts demanded knowledge and demonstration in structure, format, design, audio, visual, etc. (some posts were in the form of images or vlogs – video blog posts) .
  4. Community – Starting off, I knew the pitfalls of having students blog; one being who would read their posts. Before I introduced blogging to the students, I connected with other educators across the country to develop a blogging community for the students. This way, not only would they have their peers reading their thoughts, but also peers from around the country would be reading their work on a regular basis. This element is essential. Plan carefully to ensure someone reads what your kids post, or else it will loose purpose and engagement will dwindle. This community of writers was created to share ideas and encourage growth in all kids. Students commented on and followed each others blogs. Their charge was not one to edit or evaluate each other, instead, to be an active participant in this learning community and respond in a way that moved all writers forward. (How I taught my students to respond is found in the blogging expectations linked above). This collaboration and connection provided powerful reinforcement for writing!
  5. Finally, it is a student’s responsibility in a blogging community to not only reflect and respond on the other writers in the group, but also a personal reflection of growth as a writer. This was done throughout the year and ended in a reflection sheet containing links to posts in which they felt demonstrating their strongest displays of writing or which met standards. They reflected on their growth as a writer and their contribution to the community as a whole. They reflected and shared stories of their own writing, but also included stories how they helped other writers move forward!

There are many roles and responsibilities of student bloggers that could have been included on this list, but in retrospect, this list encompasses the top 5 roles my students found themselves in most frequently.

Next time, I will share the roles and responsibilities of the teacher in a classroom that blogs!

RAFT Prompts & Technology: Writing to Learn Across the Disciplines

RAFTsStudents need an arsenal of literacy strategies to apply in their personal and academic lives. The ability to locate, evaluate, synthesize, analyze, and compose content across multiple communication platforms demand educators to reevaluate their role in literacy. Middle school and high school teachers find this a daunting request, often confusing “Learning to Write” and “Writing to Learn,” and struggle to incorporate strategies to help students Read, Write, and Think in content areas.

“Learning to Write” involves explicit instruction, ranging from Kindergarten lessons in decoding, to understanding grammar or tone as Juniors. Learning to write focuses on a writing process to guide instruction. It can be used across the curriculum; having students construct a persuasive essay in social studies in support of democracy is an example. Through feedback, revision, and conferencing the social studies instructor is supporting the student through a writing process.

“Writing to Learn” provides opportunities for students to explain their current understanding of the learning and concepts being explored in the classroom. As a catalyst for future learning, writing to learn strategies have students recall, question, and clarify what they know and what they are still curious about. Writing to learn strategies often include a teacher developed prompt, but differ in that they are not typically writing pieces that students edit, revise, and take to the publishable state. Instead, students reflect, apply, and demonstrate their current understanding; teachers use this information to help guide future instruction as a type of formative assessment.

Students can learn perspective during writing to learn by using RAFTs Prompts. This acronym stands for:

  • R – Role (who is the writer, what is the role of the writer?)
  • A – Audience (to whom are you writing?)
  • F – Format (what format should the writing be in?)
  • T – Topic (what are you writing about?)                                                                                   and typically added
  • S – Strong Verb (why are you writing this? or purpose:Inform, Argue, Persuade, Entertain)

Gradual Release of Responsibility will help set students up for writing RAFTs prompts. At first, students may answer the same prompt:

  • R – A Jewish prisoner in a Concentration Camp
  • A – Cousin who fled to America
  • F – Letter
  • T – Their living conditions
  • S – Express

When students grasp the RAFTs strategy, student can play more of an active role in the design of the prompt by choosing to fill out the letters themselves . Allowing students to demonstrate understanding through a particular lens and chosen format increases engagement, relevance, and ownership. RAFTs Prompts can be used as formative assessment, to spark discussion, can be created from course content or readings, and can be completed individually or in a small group.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 5.04.13 PMThrough the addition of technology, teachers can use this strategy as an exit ticket, responded via Google Form. The responses are collected in one spot and the form can be reused. This snapshot of understanding is perfect for determining focus for the next day’s instruction.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 4.47.59 PMHave students create a comic strip demonstrating understanding of a concept  using Comix. Easy and free to use, comix allows any child to show their creative-side one thought bubble at a time.

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Understanding informational text or a sequential process can easily be demonstrated through Canva. Students can choose from many different layouts and design options to create a professional and free infographic that can be downloaded and shared!

 

 

 

RAFTs Prompts, used as a writing to learn strategy, provides students time to read, think, and write across multiple disciplines and using multiple modes and genres. Allowing student choice in part or all of the selected components increases meaning and engagement, launching our students into the mindset of utilizing writing to work through their understanding of concepts!

 

Fisher, Frey. Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work. Columbus: Pearson, 2008.