What are the components of a great writing program for students?
A great writing program for students has structure and freedom, allows for choice but also sets parameters, it teaches technique and reliable devices but allows for discovery while building skills and discipline. It needs to use models for writing that stretch the horizons of the students and also has a diverse set of cultural and historical texts to appeal to student interests and contexts. It needs to involve the full cycle of the writing process on more than one occasion and also at different depth levels. It needs to promote analysis and self-metacognition.
Assessment allows for students to repeat a process multiple times to see growth in key areas throughout the semester. Assessment needs to be personalized and measure individual growth over time. It needs to allow for students to develop a portfolio of best work but should emphasize process as much as product.
It should allow for collaborative work manifesting a classroom culture of trust and reliance among students. Peer assessment and feedback that is timely and constructively critical should be the goal. Multiple modes of expression using various levels of technology should be promoted. Above all various community experts and authentic audiences should be employed to heighten the authenticity of the writing program.
These are the goals I aim to hit every day in my writing program. I don’t always hit a a bulls-eye, but my aim is true.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Penny Kittle speak about reading and how complex it is for intermediate/senior teachers to teach. Kittle estimates that in 1st year college/university that the average pages a student reads is 500. She proposed that the #1 reason that students drop out after first year is that they can’t keep up with the demand of reading. Meanwhile Don Tapscott tells us in Grown Up Digital that we need to appeal to the multimedia savvy of the NetGeneration students in our classes. How do we balance both of those ideas? Heather Durnin tells us how she does it in her blog post about modifying literature circles in her grade 8 classroom. What I love about Heather’s work is that she’s still focusing on teaching reading, critical analysis and through social interaction (Vygotzky would approve). The students develop their skills in analysis face-to-face with their peers and their teacher, before being accountable to the technology. I suspect that as students hear the types of questions and comments that lead to richer discussion, that in turn their reading becomes stronger as they look for ways to contribute.
What’s the next level? Maybe it’s that the students publish their work to an authentic audience and get feedback. The hardest part of inquiry-based learning for me is to ask really meaningful questions that will lead to critical thinking. I’m at the point where I am conscious of designing my questions to be evaluative ….so that students are developing criteria as well as their analysis, but the questions don’t come naturally to me yet. Is there an app for that? I don’t think so. #teachersrock