Are your students struggling with their writing, but you struggle teaching grammar?
I also struggled with the same problem the first three years of my teaching career. I tried a plethora of gimmicky activities hoping to engage them, yet my students' writing did not improve--their poor standardized test scores proved it and it was a reflection on my teaching. Only 31% of my students passed the State test in ELA. Luckily, for my teaching career it was the first year of State Testing implementation. Nevertheless, I was served notice that my students' scores had to improve, and fast!
Finally, the summer between years three and four, I met my 11th grade English teacher by chance, and I told him I have been teaching English for three years. I also told about my students' performance on the Standardized tests, and what advice he could give me.
After he told me that the State test was the main reason he retired, he suggested I develop a Writing Workshop to teach my students in addition to the prescribed curriculum I had to teach.
I spent the rest of the summer developing this workshop. I planned to teach every aspect of grammar, mechanics, diction, and style. Starting the first week of school, I would dedicate three instructional days instructing this workshop (30-minutes per workshop) until the State Exams were administered in May.
To make a long story short, my students' scores improved to 52% that year, ranking my students' second among all English classes.
I structure each mini-lesson as follows:
• The students work on the assigned problems independently for 1 minute-to-90 seconds, depending on the number of problems. Then we review each problem to assess student understanding.
• As a way to keep the students actively involved during lectures without overwhelming them, I use guided notes. The medium I use to display the notes are dependent on the technology I have available. In the past I have used the chalkboard, overhead projector transparencies, presentation paper, and power point presentations. Regardless of the media, the key is to differentiate the terms you want your students to copy to their guided notes.
Direct Instruction/Guided Practice:
• Whether it’s the first problem/question or an example, I set up a scenario where the instructor models the behavior expected of the students during the activity (show them what they need to do by doing it, basically).
• Then, have the students either work in pairs, or groups no larger than three, to complete the guided practice. I have found that sticking to a 5-minute time limit works best.
• Reconvene the whole-class and check for accuracy when time expires.
• Next, have the students complete the independent activity, which is similar in directions as the guided practice, independently or with the partner or group they worked with during the guided practice—facilitate students who need assistance with the assignment. Ten-minutes is the recommended length of completion.
• Once the independent practice time has expired, instruct students to complete the assessment independently. I recommend attaching a test/quiz grade to the assignment, and a 10-minute time limit.
One of the first lessons I taught in this workshop is this power point presentation, though I had to write out the notes on overhead projector transparencies (I'm showing my age). This lecture starts with the backbone of writing—phrases as part of the sentence--that covers the following points:
• Absolute Phrase
• Appositive Phrase
• Verbal Phrase
• Gerund Phrase
• Noun Phrase
• Prepositional Phrase
• Verb Phrase
This activity meets Common Core State Standard L.7.1c:
Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognize and correct misplaced and dangling modifiers.
"Mr. McLaughlin's Writing Workshop not only helped 52% of his students pass the OGT's after his first year of implementation, but also helped our school rank third in the district, and helped our school fall 2 percentage points above the State average."
Gwendolyn Butler, English Department Head, Glenville High School, Cleveland, OH
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