One of the perks of being a teacher where I live is getting to enjoy a snow day at home every now and then. Today is one of those days. I’m sitting here at my laptop watching cars drive (slowly!) on the snowy roads and I’m glad to be home with my dog, a cup of coffee and Rachmaninoff’s Vespers playing in the background. It’s the little things that make life so enjoyable, isn’t it?
3 Powerful Questions
In our school, we have chosen to emphasize an instructional practice called “assessment capable learners” as part of our Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s). With this practice there are three questions we teach students and that guide our instruction:
- Where am I going?
- Where am I now?
- How can I close the gap?
The first question focuses students’ attention on the learning expectation or final product. In our case, I created a how-to report on the topic of our morning routine. I didn’t attempt to make a “perfect” report, although I also didn’t needlessly fill it with errors. I just wrote it as a first draft. I displayed this sample report in Smart Notebook. The first slide showed the essay in its entirety. However, subsequent slides showed only one paragraph at a time due to the font size. I wanted the text to be large enough for students even in the very back of the room to see clearly.
Opportunities for Instruction
The next question was posed after students had completed their own rough drafts. We used our common scoring guide to compare their drafts to the expectations. Obviously there were shortcomings. Those shortcomings became opportunities for further instruction and led into the final question, “How can I close the gap?”
Closing the Gap
Young writers really struggle with the revision part of the writing process. They know their writing needs to be better, but how? They don’t know how to cross that obstacle without specific, repeated assistance. Students need to be guided through the revising process many times before they can successfully begin to improve their writing independently. Handing students a checklist or displaying a poster on the wall just won’t cut it.
Doing Real Writing
One paragraph at a time, and with their Writing Notebooks in their laps, the students and I went through the first paragraph one sentence at a time. We read it out loud and paused…thinking. We looked at our established criteria and paused…thinking. They offered suggestions for adding, reordering and/or removing words in my report. These ideas were discussed. Some were rejected, some were accepted and many led us to even better ideas. I wrote in our revisions by hand on the SmartBoard and my rough draft got very messy. It was great! “Real writing,” I told my students, “is rewriting.” (A line from one of my favorite books A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.)
After we had revised one paragraph, I did something teachers almost never do – I stopped talking! Now I could let my young writers start to make their own revisions. They wrote. They quietly read their ideas to themselves and their peers. They shared their revisions with me and asked for feedback. And so, we continued this process through the remaining paragraphs of our essays.
Habits of Mind
We will have to continue this sort of Guided Revision for many more months to come. Of course, some students will need less and less guidance while others will still need a lot of assistance. That’s writing. That’s teaching. However, by guiding my students through the revising process, they are learning the habits of mind that writers need to cultivate in order to clearly share their thoughts and ideas in writing.