Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seeing Growth in Writing - Baby Steps

     I think one of the hardest things about teaching writing is that "head-wall-bang" feeling you get when you have taught a concept whole group, instructed on it again in small group, and they still look at you like "What is indenting?" With many areas of teaching there are ways to see immediately if a student is making growth, but in writing it can feel like a slow going process with lots of hurdles along the way.
    To help myself get less frustrated, I decided to use their very first piece of writing from the beginning of the year to be my guiding light. Instead of focusing on the little details they aren't getting in the moment, I compare the piece overall to what they did at the beginning of the year - this keeps me hopeful. They may still have no clue how to write a great introduction, or the purpose of paragraphing, but man are there more details in their work than ever before, and woohoo they are finally ending with a conclusion that is not just "I stopped writing because I was done, is that not a conclusion?"
     The endless challenge that accompanies writing instruction for me is the intense amount of pieces they need to get right all the time. Sometimes it feels like a lot to ask of them, but then I remember what a foundational skill this is for them - it's how they communicate with the world. There are a lot of things to look for, but sometimes I need to narrow my gaze and focus on just their details or just their conventions so I see growth and feel some success with the direction they are heading.

"November" - Scaffold, Scaffold, Scaffold

     My realization this month as we step into multi-paragraph Compare and Contrast essays is that my group this year needs endless amounts of very structured scaffolds. It is amazing how much your dynamics can change from year to year - some groups are independent and require less hand-holding and some groups need constant hand-holding and repetition. While this shift can be difficult at first, I am definitely willing to do whatever it takes to encourage my students and push them towards success in writing.
     The best thing to have on my side through this transition is Google - Google Classroom, Google Docs, Google Drawing, etc. In 5 minutes I can scaffold a lesson onto a template that I can then send to all of my students through Classroom so they have their own copy. Many times I do this work before a lesson because I can anticipate what they will need, but I also like that I can create one in real time if I am sensing a need. By using tools that are all interconnected and easy to navigate I am not stuck saying "I wish I would have made a template for that," or "I will get you a template for that tomorrow." While no tool is perfect, I appreciate, and my students do too, that I can get them what they need in a timely fashion.
     I created a document that breaks down the parts of a introduction so they are typing it one sentence at a time and then cutting and pasting it together into a logical paragraph. I have created thinking maps for planning purposes. I have created tables to collect all of their topics so I know what they are writing about. All of these things, along with countless others, allow me to meet my students needs. Yes it is a year of scaffolds, but at least I have the tools to do it and it is helping my writers to better understand to format and structure of multi-paragraph writing.