It’s the age-old problem. You want to upgrade the quality of your students’ writing, but you’ve been around long enough to know that that objective requires three things that don’t have enough time for, including:
- repetition on the students’ part so that writing and proofreading skills are ingrained in them and not forgotten from assignment to assignment
- juggling the rest of your curriculum to allow for this regular reinforcement but understanding that to do so means that other priorities will have to be taken off the table or limited in scope
- acknowledging that you will be spending considerably more time grading papers and having considerably less time having a personal life
What makes all of this so frustrating is that you – as with virtually every other English / language arts teacher in the country - approach this goal every year with the best of intentions, but the crushing realities of modern education nearly always prevent your most earnest efforts. Worse still is the fact that we often carry a sense of guilt over this burden as if somehow we were failing the gods of education, because we were unwilling to give up large quantities of our personal time grading lengthy assignments in order to achieve objectives that we never had a chance to complete in the first place. (I’m sorry. I get a little verbose when I’m on a rant.).
The bottom line? We need a new approach to teaching writing. The hope of improving writing quality based on large-scale papers simply isn't realistic with all of the testing demands that have been placed upon us. The solution is to use numerous, smaller, simpler assignments, but too many teachers feel that this isn't sufficient to make an impact on quality, proofreading and style. This opposition stems from our assumption that short assignments, while being considerably easier to grade, are ineffective when it comes to creating marked improvement in the students’ cognitive, creative and compositional abilities.
We’re trained to think that only longer exercises will test our students’ grammatical and stylistic proficiency or that constant editing sessions will make them devote greater attention to their mistakes and pay greater heed to an improvement in their voice. It is the notion that bigger is better and that specific, smaller exercises are inadequate to the task. This perception is one that I simply don’t hold with any more. To my mind we need a different approach that provides repetition and advancement of skills without the need for more major papers.
What I’m offering are exercises that are designed to provide you with an alternative means to achieve the objectives of higher level writing, improved attention to grammatical errors and more willingness from students to express themselves.
First, let me say that I’m not suggesting that more difficult writing projects are unnecessary. In fact, I’m not promoting anything of the kind. What I am offering is the idea that they should be reduced and situated towards the end of your curriculum and replaced with a series of shorter, consistent exercises. The assignments that I am offering you are designed to incorporate a myriad number of skill sets that can be reinforced in a manner that will actually stay with the students and not be shrugged off and re-taught from scratch the following year.
What I giving you are twenty writing exercises that focus on the most important aspect of writing - well constructed sentences. My approach is to take your students back to the basics and teach them the fundamentals of sentence construction. The approach relies on:
- a good vocabulary program
- a strong grasp of conjunctions and how to employ them
- the importance of knowing all forms of punctuation
- the need to provide students with thoughtful prompts that will motivate them to give you a more inspired effort
The unit begins by instructing your students in the four main types of conjunctions so that they understand how to construct complex thoughtful responses without turning them into run-on sentences. It concludes with the use of parenthesis and dash and provides them with a simple structure for how to make use of them.
After that, each type of conjunction gets its own assignment (as well as dash and parenthesis) to make their usage clear for future tasks. When these are completed, your students will move on to the main assignments which call for them to use all four types of conjunctions to answer questions based upon a common theme.
Yet, these exercises are not solely devoted to writing, for they also instruct your students in the importance of neatness (where they can lose points for sloppy work) and following directions (where they can lose additional points for not paying attention to details). The idea of each exercise is to promote a number improvements in the students' work - from paying attention to directions and presentation to crafting complex, thoughtful responses.
I've used this program for years and I've achieved a great deal of success with it. Of equal importance, I'm come to know my students and their lives a lot better and that makes for a much more rewarding experience. I hope this offering does the same for you.
If you like it, I will also be offering the paragraph writing exercises which are based on this program. If you are impressed with the quality of the work, please take a look at my public speaking and reading program, as well as my short story testing products. I hope this writing approach does for your class what it has done for mine.
Advanced Language Arts