The Seven Commandments of Building Successful Young Writers Commandment #1: Remember that all writers, especially young writers, are fragile. They break easily. Don’t pound them by pouncing on every error. Nurture them by keeping the focus narrow and attainable. In regards to editing, focus on teaching the Big Eight editing skills first, and then branch out.
Commandment #2:Start with the overarching goal that every student in the class will improve as a writer.
Focus less on grading and more on improvement. Expect more out of remedial students; expect more out of average students; expect more out of honors students. “Everyone improves” becomes the mission of an effective writing classroom.
Commandment #3: Don’t focus solely on editing issues; help students develop their craft as well.The best writer in your class is you. Model how you write by frequently writing in front of them. Show students that effective writing extends far past correctness. Show them excellent models of student craft. Show them models from professional writers. You cannot model enough. Show them how you do it.
Commandment #4: Don’t wait until the end of the writing process to provide feedback.Assessment in the middle of the writing process drives better revision than assessment at the end of the process. Don’t “sucker punch” grade. Coach the students as their papers are developing.
Commandment #5: Conference, conference, conference.
Remember that you can achieve more in a two-minute conference than you can by spending five-to-seven minutes writing comments on a paper. Developing writers need face time with the most experienced writer in the class (again, that’s you).
Commandment #6: Students should have voice in developing the rubric.
A rubric can drive better writing if students understand its language. This understanding of what is expected from the task should come before they have finished the paper. Buy-in will occur when the students take part in creating the rubric and when they see that each rubric is personalized to some degree to their needs. When it comes to rubrics, one size does not fit all.
Commandment #7: If you worry too much about the first six commandments, you’ll become nuttier than Barry Bonds at a Slim-Fast Convention.Do your best. Rome was not built in a day. Accept the notion that you will come up short at times. When the task of teaching writing to adolescents seems insurmountable, take a deep breath. Walk your dog. Get lost in a trashy novel. An occasional margarita, on the rocks, is helpful.
The thesis statement is clear (direct or implied).
The intro is original (it doesn’t sound like everyone else’s).
The essay has TAG.
The thesis statement is clear. (usually direct).
TAG is incomplete, missing, or confusing.
Thesis statement is incomplete, missing, or confusing.
Level of analysis
The paper mostly analyzes, creating new thinking and understanding. The analysis does not sound like everyone else’s papers.
The paper mostly analyzes instead of summarizes.
The paper summarizes instead of analyzes.
The essay exhibits sophisticated use of sentence branching
The essay exhibits competent use of sentence branching.
The paper is written in mostly simple sentences.
(Added by Nancy after reading the comment in her paper)
(Added by Nancy after reading the comment in her paper)
Rules for Writing Conferences
The goal is to complete each conference in less than three minutes. Sometimes I use an egg timer to keep me on track.
Students must come to the conference with a purpose. They cannot simply hand me their papers and say, “I need help,” or “Will you check my paper?” They must have a focus in mind when they approach. For example, a student might say, “I am not sure about my verb tenses in this paragraph,” or “Is my thesis statement clear?”
If I am busy conferencing with another student, students write their names on the board and I will call them in the order when I am ready. If there is a list, students are told to return to their seats and to work on other facet of their papers until I can get to them.
Reading the papers mid-streams affords the teacher the opportunity to tailor instruction while the students are still working on the paper, thus increasing their chances of revising meaningfully.
Reading the papers at the end of the process tailors instruction after the students haven completed the paper, thus decreasing their chances of revising meaningfully. This type of assessment “sucker punches” students.
Identifying the problems earlier helps both teacher and students to create the scoring rubric, thus generating buy-in.
The rubric, often incomprehensible, is handed down from “above,” thus reducing buy-in.
The rubric not only addresses whole class writing problems, but is also tailored to target the needs of individual students.
The rubric only addresses whole class issues; no individualization. Because it is “one-size-fits-all,” students see it as “just another rubric.”
This is a different strategy for accomplishing what I describe in “Independent Repatterning.” Kelly knows that if students don’t DO something with the comments on returned papers, nothing improves and the “one and done” mentality continues.
f a student can’t find the mechanical problem, they are to ask three other students for help. If NONE of them can find it, they arrange an editing conference (“Bring your posse.”). Students don’t earn points for correcting their errors because they need to take ownership of their writing. However, they earn one grade lower if they don’t do the corrections or if they do them incorrectly.