Monday, July 17, 2006

A Long Way to Emerald City

"But it is a long way to the Emerald City,
and it will take you many days.
The country here is rich and pleasant,
but you must pass through rough and
dangerous places before you reach
the end of your journey."
I have often felt a bit like Dorothy when teaching writing. As a social studies teacher, history is my thing and writing was something my students were supposed to learn somewhere else. I quickly learned I wasn't in Kansas anymore after reading the very first paragraph I asked my students to write. And so I embarked upon a journey to discover how to teach writing to middle school students.
Along the way, I have been trained in the Four Square Method, Step Up to Writing, and 6 + 1 Traits. And I have watched districts in our WNY region adopt various writing programs and assessment frameworks to improve student writing across content areas. Each time - we have discovered that there was something small about the wizard behind the curtain. None of these, alone, has helped to improve student writing.
So how do we teach "good writing?" In fact, what is good writing? I am hoping the participants in my workshops and those in the Web 2.0 will add to our learning and conversations as we travel the "rough and dangerous" places!!


Melissa said...

I can not wait to read what you and your participants come up with as you explore the world of student writing. Enjoy the journey!

chris said...

What an exciting idea! Reflective,interactive writing is a great place to get the "juices" flowing and the conversation focused on good writing. I hope that this blog enriches and enhances the learning opportuinties for your workshop group.

Diane said...

Do you ever have participants in your workshops carry a piece of their own writing through the writing process while they explore strategies for helping kids?

Theresa G said...

It's so funny that you should ask that! As I sit here in the humidity copying the last of the participant notebook pieces - I have realized that we will be doing just that throughout the Six Traits! (BONUS POINTS for any participants who tell me they read this tomorrow!)
In this instance - it wasn't intentional, just happenstance. Or perhaps lucky happenstance as I have the luxury of spending three days with the same teachers on focused work!! I have done in purposefully in the past and while it has helped their learning, the teachers often lament that they don't have time to do that in "actual practice" because of time constraints and test prep!! It is disheartening to hear (and I must confess something I fell victim to in the classroom at times) and I wonder how others are doing with this? Anyone have strategies they use to continue one piece of writing throughout the year? How has it worked? What do we need to know to be successful?

Jennifer B. said...

Just heard a blurb on NPR about writing courses for adults in the business world. They offer "confidential" services - it seemed like a startling contrast to the practice of posting children's writing. Are your participants sharing their work with each other or keeping it private? I hope it goes smashingly well for everyone involved!

Melodee said...

I feel that Six Plus One Traits, or Step Up To Writing, or even Four Square Method alone do not seem to be meeting our school needs. We are finding that the biggest thing needed is having a common language to talk to kids about writing. I do think a combination of the writing methods above might work if everyone is using the same language. There needs to be consistency in writing language from K-12. Kids need to hear the same terminology all the way up. You and I have had the conversation about developmental rubrics. I think they work at the elementary level to an extent. However, I do agree with you that at the middle and high school level the same rubric could be used. What that looks like at each grade level needs to be spelled out so teachers are on the same page. Like you said in our conversation, kid friendly writing rubrics could be developed at each grade level with exemplar papers to help teach analytically to the children. We are trying to integrate the NYS rubrics for Social Studies and English Language Arts this year. The outcome hopefully will be a rubric that can be used in both areas and create a common language for both departments in the middle and high school. Obviously the language from the elementary writing rubrics that are already being used will have to carry over into the middle and high school level in some way. We will see how it goes. Certainly the conversation and dialogue that goes into this will be as important as the final outcome.

I am excited about this workshop. I am looking forward to tomorrow. Thanks Theresa!

ray said...

I just want to say that I am very excited to be taking this class. A math specialist for several years I'm looking forward to learning to teach writing in my new role as a classroom teacher. I want to thank you in advance Theresa for the patience you will need with teaching me about writing.

Dana Leone said...

Yes, indeed! I have felt like Dorothy in various situations. The most disturbing trend I have seen in education(although counseling shares this phenomenon),is that if we don't see immediate results we quickly jump to the next hot topic instead of carefully analyzing what elements worked and which didn't. I believe my school district is overcoming this weakness by committing itself to two merging, strong, and complimentary frameworks. Student writing will ultimately improve with the biggest factor being longsighted leadership. Often progams have failed and quickly changed because the teachers were simply not well trained and comfortable with the program. Our staff has been offered numerous excellent training opportunties featuring vaious viewpoints and leveled skills. If we succeed-our students will follow. Thank you for your committment to our developmental process. AND, I love the idea of using a starter compostion to be edited throughout the year as traits are introduced. - Dana