How I Teach Writing
After over 25-plus years of evolution, here is how I guide students through the writing process:
- I do not assign graded rough drafts. I used to assign them so kids had a chance to receive either feedback from me or their peers before the final turn-in, but most students now just use a rough-draft assignment as an opportunity to turn in poor work -- and to get free editing. But, kids should write rough drafts, and I still include instructions and models on that step of the writing process.
- I do not have kids peer edit. This step can help if the peer editor is strong. Most peer editors are not strong. From my experience, the problems with this approach outweigh any possible benefits. In the past, I encouraged kids to use peer editors on their own if they wished, but “peer” editors too often became “parent” editors -- parent editors who helped too much, hindering learning and unfairly raising scores.
- Because parents have become overly involved, and because Google makes that level of involvement both too easy and too tempting (We have caught parents writing kids’ papers while the kids are in school), all writing is now done in class.
- Truth is, whether it’s elementary-school projects (the ones that seem suspiciously polished) to high-school essays, kids should be doing--and being evaluated--only on their own work.
- Before kids write, I teach specific writing skills for a given essay. Each essay has specific goals that increase in complexity and number as the year progresses, and I give kids the resources that they need to hit those goals. For example, when I teach how to craft an introduction, the kids are given a digital packet that reinforces what I taught, with suggestions, warnings of problems to avoid, and examples.
- I give a very detailed assignment with specific goals for the essay and a prompt—or a choice of prompts.
- Most times, I have days where I check kids’ outlines and/or thesis statements and/or their introductions, so I can redirect as needed.
- I used to hold writing conferences, but increased class sizes have made that impossible. But, I am always available for guidance.
- Essays are usually worth 50 points. Scores earned on these essays never change, even after revisions. These scores measure student performace against ODE expectations. Here, unlike for the rewrite, effort does not count. These assessments are honest measurements of qualiity against ODE expectations.
- Using a revised-for-the-classroom version of our state’s essay rubric, I grade the papers honestly, regardless of student ability or circumstance -- but very much with tenderness and compassion.
- On pass-back day, before I pass papers back, all kids read a model essay from the bunch — and I discuss its merits.
- Then, I hold a discussion with a slideshow that explores “common issues” with the essays and how to solve them. Models of good and bad examples are also offered.
- Then, I redirect kids to the directions and materials that they had access to from the start. Most errors are the result of carelessness or laziness.
- Kids then get their individual papers back with my voice comments. I leave audio feedback (in Google Drive or Classroom), which allows me to leave much more sophisticated feedback.
- Kids revise and edit their papers based on my feedback.
- I then grade essay rewrites by assessing the “Revision History” in Google Docs.
- I grade the quality and quantity of the revisions. This new assignment is usually worth 20 points, and it is scored more on the quality of the revisions and the effort through the process than the revised essay’s quality against the essay rubric. Here effort counts.
This process allows me to have clear, high expectations on the first essay (which promotes better first essays), to help along the way, and to reward good use of the writing process.