Planning for Success: Four Prewriting Activities That Can Jumpstart Student Writing

As a student, I hated being required to show my work in math class. If I could produce the correct answer at the end, why should it matter how I came to it? Of course, now that I am a teacher, I understand that while seeing the students’ processes does help teachers, it is not the main reason that many require students to show their work. For many teachers having students show their work is less about observing the process students use and more about instructing students in the correct process to go through.  Continue reading “Planning for Success: Four Prewriting Activities That Can Jumpstart Student Writing”

The Problems and Power of Peer Response: How to Get Students Deeply Engaging With Each Other’s Writing

For the first five years of my career, nothing frustrated me more than peer response. On the surface, peer response seemed like the likely answer to what I believe is writing instruction’s hardest question: we know that direct personal feedback is essential in the writing instruction process, but how is one teacher supposed to offer regular and substantial feedback to 150, 160, or 170 students? Continue reading “The Problems and Power of Peer Response: How to Get Students Deeply Engaging With Each Other’s Writing”

The Role of Current Events in a Writing Class

I went to bed thinking about a post on how to effectively and efficiently conduct writing conferences, but when I pulled up the front page of the New York Times over breakfast (see below), I started to think that another post might be more appropriate.

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What I saw was a van used as a terrorist weapon, sharp divisions fracturing the country, potential nuclear war in Korea, people fist-fighting in the streets, an opioid epidemic that has claimed more lives in the last two years than the entire Vietnam war, and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, the rise of modern-day Nazis. And that was just on the first half of the first page.

It feels safe to say that we are currently living in a troubled moment. In fact, that is probably one of the few things that people across the political spectrum currently agree with each other about. And in such moments, as a classroom teacher it is important to occasionally put one’s original plan on the shelf for later and move in a new direction. So instead of talking about writing conferences (don’t worry, that post will come in a few days!), today I’m going to look at the role that current events, especially difficult and controversial ones, should have in a writing classroom. Continue reading “The Role of Current Events in a Writing Class”

The Power of Positivity in a Writing Class

unnamed-3Five years ago I was lucky enough to do the Oregon Writing Project with the incredible Linda Christensen, and during one of our sessions, a fellow teacher mentioned something about having a 50/50 blend of praise and constructive criticism when responding to student papers. The offhanded nature of the remark made it clear that for her doing this was a given, but I had never thought about how many of my comments criticized negatives and how many praised positives. In fact, up to that point, I’d never really differentiated between the two, as all of my comments had the same goal of helping students grow. But something about her comment stuck, so that night I pulled a stack of exemplars I’d kept from the previous year to see what my ratio of praise to criticism was, and it didn’t take long to see that despite these being model pieces, well over 90% of my comments were either corrections or criticism and some didn’t even have any praise at all.  Continue reading “The Power of Positivity in a Writing Class”

The Importance of a Writing Sketchbook

Writing is dangerous. Silence leaves everything up the imagination. Spoken words fade as soon as uttered. But writing lasts forever as a concrete monument to one’s persona, knowledge, and ideas. It can be closely examined, dissected, and easily picked apart. This is a major issue for writing teachers because teens, while they may throw caution to the wind in some areas, are highly risk averse when it comes to exposing their true inner selves, and that is exactly what writing asks an author to do if she/he/they is to truly write.  Continue reading “The Importance of a Writing Sketchbook”

Why Your Students Should Write More (and How to Get Them to Do It)

Now that time has continued its march to the start of a new year, it is once again time for  resolutions. In the cycle of teaching, this stage is actually one of the things I look forward to the most because it gives me another chance to look at the missteps of the previous semester and chart a course to actually do it right this time.

One of my major resolutions this semester is that I want my students to write more. Nearly any writing teacher or study of note points to lots and lots and lots of writing as an essential ingredient to student writing growth. Colleen Cruz in The Unstoppable Writing Teacher suggests writing 30-45 minutes at least four times per week. The massive 2011 study “The Nation’s Report Card” found that the students who performed the best on writing reported doing it for 30-60 minutes in class each day. Kelly Gallagher simply reminds us that in the same way that the best swimmers swim the most and the best readers read the most, the best writers generally write the most.

I think most teachers wouldn’t disagree with the idea that having students write more will probably help them write better, but where that gets tricky for me (and I would guess for many others) is that I already have so much stuffed into each day that finding time to assign and respond to more writing hardly seems reasonable for my students or me. The good news is that if a writing activity or assignment is carefully designed, it doesn’t necessarily have to add extra grading time and supplant content. In fact, if it is really well designed it can even aid in helping you to teach more curriculum in less time and cut down on the hours that you spend responding to student work.   Continue reading “Why Your Students Should Write More (and How to Get Them to Do It)”

Why a Writing Instruction Blog?

I doubt the memory will ever leave me.  It happened on a sunny Monday in late September during my first year of teaching.  On my desk sat a four inch stack of slightly crumpled computer paper–the first student essays of the year–covered in blue ink and ready to go back to the students.  Over the previous two weeks those essays had been nearly constant companions of mine as I did what I supposed good English teachers were supposed to do: I stayed up late extensively correcting and commenting in the margins and finished each paper with a personalized note to the student next to their grade.

As I readied to turned them back, I beamed with pride. Commenting through the stack had taken me well over 30 hours, but I knew it was worth it. My responses were thoughtful, thorough, personal, and would undoubtedly connect with the students in a deeper way than the general nature of class allowed.  Continue reading “Why a Writing Instruction Blog?”