Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing Beside Them

A week into the school year and my high schoolers are already working on their first major writing assignment of the year. If you really want kids to work their writing hard, a writing assignment beyond a page or so really requires some structured time in class for brainstorming, drafting, getting feedback, revising, editing, and publishing. Without this time, many of the kids for whom writing is intimidating and un-fun would simply not try. So, with a due date about two weeks out, we've already gotten a head start.

A "best practice" that I used to resist was completing a writing assignment along with the students. I have a master's degree, so went my thinking. I don't need practice on writing a five-paragraph persuasive essay. But the years have taught me that while that may be true, the kids certainly need the practice, and watching and listening to a confident writer works wonders on the students. Just the other day, I realized, mid-lesson, that I hadn't done a great job modeling a writing task. I fleshed out the model more fully for the next class, and their writing was much, much better. I find that it works. Last year I did every writing assignment along with the students, and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Since we're working on fictional stories and I like to write creatively in my spare time, writing this particular assignment has been a delightful escapist treat. I completed two character sketches to model for the kids, and after I did the second one, I had a protagonist for my story. If you can model productive failure like that, so much the better; my first character sketch kind of flopped, so I simply did a second one and tried to express to the kids how, when I knew it had flopped, I didn't give up, just tried again with a different kind of character.

If you're an English teacher and you haven't tried this, give it a shot. It might make you more empathetic with your students' struggles, or it might give you a fun outlet for the creativity some of us don't get to flex enough. And, best of all, it will have an instant impact on your students' writing.

Anyone have some experience with this they can share?
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