Dealing with Writing III. Methods

Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
Dealing with Writing III. Methods
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My apologies if you have found this product through an older pin or other source that designates it as "free." I've been trying to chase those down and change them, but many have been re-pinned and/or scattered about.

Like a computer program released as an "alpha" version before being perfected, this was free for quite some time, and I'm delighted that so many downloaded it in its developmental stages, but I have at last placed most of the finishing touches on it, and I will now be charging a nominal fee for it (less than a penny per page). I will not be raising its price until next calendar year, when it has obtained "legs" and earned its reputation. In the meantime, I will seek ways to improve upon it, as I do all my teachers' products.

A large part of my intent has always been to get you to buy further into this VERY UNIQUE WRITING PROGRAM by purchasing my "Dealing with Writing I: Macros" and "Dealing with Writing II: Revision Manual." Even without those, of course, most of the information you need to create and maintain a rewriting program is presented here, but please check out the free downloads in connection with them, so that you can at least see how they work:

I have much, much more to say about the whole matter of teaching writing skills. If you're interested, stop in at Wohlsi's Blog. Have a look in the archives:

In order to provide flexibility in your schedule to teach writing skills properly, you need to establish a good reading program that will sustain itself. I have something to say about that in my free product called "Reading Fearfully Close: Are Gene and Finny Gay?"

The 300+ pages of this particular product are now expanded to greater length and depth than ever before. The package reveals what I've learned over the past 37 years while "Dealing with Writing." Failure is a spectacular teacher. I have failed miserably many times, but failure has shown me how to evaluate writing skills in young students, how to nurture their growth by modeling the revision process, and how to make them follow through.

I'm sorry to tell you, it is not any easier now than it ever was; however, I have streamlined some parts of this arduous task. Just to give you a small example of one such aspect: I do not normally revise the entire essay or term paper that a student hands in. I begin the revision process, then I require the student to finish it. The grade I award at the end of the three-draft project is determined by the extent to which he or she endeavors to apply high standards and continue revising throughout the work.

Many kids lack confidence to the point where they despise putting words together. Some genuinely fear it. They've been raised on electronic media that tell them what's fun, what's sad, what's humorous, and what "sucks." They have been encouraged to passively absorb all of that information and to refrain from thinking for themselves. They're afraid to do so. They hate the prospect of it. We language arts teachers are faced with a very, very difficult job breaking through that fear and loathing.

Nevertheless, now that COMMON CORE STANDARDS have arrived, we are expected to HELP STUDENTS DEVELOP WRITING AND EDITING SKILLS, not just give them writing assignments and put grades on them.

I have come to this conclusion: In order to teach kids properly, you and I have little choice but to select a writing task, either an essay or a research paper, and require our kids to do not two, but at least THREE drafts of it over the course of a semester's study, carefully attending to each of the following tasks as we co-author with them:

1) From the first draft, discern where students are in terms of skill, learning ability, talent, and attitude, and gather some notion of their willingness to try to improve.

2) For each individual student, establish learning goals that are, in our professional judgment, reasonable for that individual.

3) Between drafts, during regularly scheduled classroom writing workshops, provide individualized instruction specifically for each student.

4) Between drafts, constantly re-evaluate and modify our program of individualized instruction as needed. We must be prepared to provide documented evidence, both for every modification and for every continuation of means and methods.

5) Require all students to document their improvement in language skills through identification and correction of their own errors and revision of their own writing.

6) Stop grading the final product on the "impression" we get. Evaluate and grade the project based on the students' documented efforts to identify and correct their errors and weaknesses from draft to draft during the revision process.

We must use class time to conduct regular writing workshops in which kids do peer editing. But peer editing, young teachers, is a silly thing if you don't get control of it.

You get control of it by personally dealing with each student's current skill level of writing. Then you take time from your conversation with that writer and turn to the kid who has been doing peer editing. You ask him or her to sit for a moment and talk with you and the writer. You express appreciation for the help and disappointment about the lack of help. And you demand that they both get a little more serious. (Sorry to be so harsh, but peer editing amounts to chit-chat and little else if you don't guide it.) Then you dismiss the peer editor and continue your session with the writer.

If necessary, give students' language a boost to help them catch up to the ideas they're endeavoring to express, in other words, "co-author" with them, as painful as it might be. We need to give them options, let them see the various possibilities, and then let them choose what best represents their real thinking. When you and the writer agree on language, expect to see that language in the next draft. THE EASIEST WAY TO DISCERN A WRITER'S WILLINGNESS TO EXERT EFFORT IS TO CAREFULLY LOOK FOR THESE PASSAGES IN SUBSEQUENT DRAFTS.

We must at all times operate under the assumption that our students have true interest in their ideas, and that they are honestly trying to put them together, whether that is the case or not. It means that many times, we will care more for their writing than they do. But that is our primary job, to care. We must do that.

Students who are reluctant to talk about what they've written must be required to at least think about what they're thinking about! It's called "metacognition." Have a conversation about what they're trying to say. And if they demonstrate a lack of interest, insist that they add a paragraph, or a couple of paragraphs, explaining with examples some concept they've raised. Maybe they'll take an interest, or maybe they'll fail, but they will certainly be more serious about their approach in the future.

Always provide the option of going a number of directions with elaboration upon their thoughts, but insist upon elaboration from every single kid, whether he or she is talented or inept. If students need more information, give it to them and show them the possibilities. Don't send them off to read and do research. Research and writing complement each other, but when you're working on expression skills, you need to keep focused on the writing. Tell them the facts. Explain what assumptions are erroneous. Show them their own foolishness. Sure, give them resources, but don't just tell them to "look up some information."

Help kids to outline. Don't hold them to outlines that they've written three weeks ago! Allow them to alter their outlines right up to the end of the process. Reorganization, re-thinking, changing one's mind, refinement of all aspects of the writing, are all legitimate elements of revision. You can't hold them to a plan they created out of ignorance. They couldn't help it. They didn't know what they didn't know. Now maybe they do know what they didn't know, or maybe they have come to know what they do know in a brand new way.

Therefore, help each student develop several outlines if necessary. Help them alter plans as they redraft. If they want to start over with something completely different, allow them to do so. Explain also that the new product will count as a first draft, but that you will be glad to help them catch up with the project without any penalty, providing they re-start the process within a reasonable amount of time.

Most teachers feel good about moving kids from writing fragments to developing real sentences with actual subjects and verbs, or getting them to intelligently combine two short sentences into one compound sentence.

We need to do more. When students reach high school, they have run out of time. So don't delay their development as writers. Encourage it to grow as fast as the kids want it to grow.

Refrain from telling kids, "Write simply. Don't try too hard to use fancy language. Stay within your own abilities." I believe this sort of advice is absolutely wrong.

Instead of getting writing instruction, students are too often told to stop thinking too hard. So if tremendous thoughts do flower in their heads, they just don't express them. It seems logical, after all, to wait until their expression skills catch up. Instead of going after that thought that flowered in their brains, they let it die, and in the meantime, they get an exercise in "who vs. whom," the kind of thing they see nearly every year from the seventh grade on, whether they need it or not.

The real problem with such exercises is that the mistakes illustrated in them don't often crop up in their writing anyhow, because they're trying to "stay within their own abilities." They have been trained not to make their writing look weak. They will not use "who" or "whom" if they can avoid it.

Another popular fad today is the "daily language" routine, where kids are given sentences to fix. They're taught editing symbols and are given one or maybe two sentences to mark up. Then they're shown the "right" way to "rewrite." Every single sentence they edit in those daily language programs deserves in-depth discussion. The biggest problem is, most kids in high school are already developing their own voices and styles, or they're plagiarizing, or they're having other people do their work. The daily language time is about 75% waste.

I know, I know, they can be helpful, but you're not teaching students writing skills if you're just giving them "exercises." Instead of teaching "daily language" lessons, teach them to develop THEIR OWN language, and do so frequently in writing workshops. Develop their confidence. Show them how easy it is to look for a specific comma rule, IN THEIR OWN WRITING, NOT IN SOME GRAMMAR EXERCISE, and apply it. Have kids RE-DRAFT THEIR OWN WORK, NOT SOME DAILY LANGUAGE PASSAGE. Set goals for them. Get them started by having them correct some of their simple problems, and when you get them talking about how to bring substantive ideas together, take advantage of the learning moment. Extend the conversation. Show them the possibilities. If conversations go longer than expected, schedule another writing workshop and re-schedule your reading assignments.

Yes, you have other matters to attend to. You're expected to sustain a substantive reading skills program also. But the reading program will not require this kind of focus. I have taken care of it for you.

Make sure you download "Reading Fearfully Close" (see the link above) to read the rest of that story.

Your hardest job is teaching your kids to write. Move reading instruction over. Move your enrichment experiences over. Re-schedule your hat days and costume days and artwork days. Make room for writing instruction. Schedule lots of writing workshops, and help each one of your kids to advance as a writer.

Gene Wohlsdorf
Dealing with Writing by Gene Wohlsdorf is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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