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October 1, 2004
Vol. 62
No. 2

EL Study Guide / Writing!

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Flexing Your Assessment Muscles

Writing is one of the hardest kinds of student learning to assess. Decisions about what constitutes good writing are often subjective, and students' self-confidence in writing can be quite fragile—apt to be blown to bits by one critical comment.
  • Discuss how each of you, as adult writers, judges the success of your writing. Do you measure against your own standards? Judge by the reactions of your audience or by whether your piece gets published? Ask your students how they judge the quality of their writing—and report back on what they say.
  • Think of something you write often that you find challenging but enjoyable—such as your annual holiday newsletter or descriptive e-mails you send friends when you travel. How would it influence your writing process to know that someone was poised to give your finished product a letter grade—a grade that could have lasting consequences?
  • Invite an educator from a school that does not use grades to speak to your group and share how teachers give students feedback on their writing. How does a lack of grades affect young writers' motivation and engagement?
  • As an experiment, ask several of your students to help you develop a rubric for what constitutes quality writing in a genre that children read and enjoy more than do adults—such as a comic book. What characteristics of good writing in that genre do you and your students agree on, and which ones do you perceive differently (such as the importance of well-rounded characters)? How might your students' ideas of good writing differ from yours in general, and how could you work with such differences?

Seeing Young Children As Authors

  • Have elementary teachers bring in writing (complete with illustrations and invented spelling) by children who are 7 years old or younger. See what people notice about each piece of writing. What elements of quality writing or storytelling are present, even in simple form? How does the child blend text and illustration? Can you see any writing genres or models the child might be trying to imitate?
  • Go back to each child and ask about what they were trying to do with this piece. Report back to the group and examine each child's writing again in light of their intention.

Reflecting on Yourself as a Writer

Cathy Fleischer (“Professional Development for Teacher-Writers,” p. 24) encourages teachers to reflect on their own development as writers as part of improving their professional practice. Debbie Rickards and Shirl Hawes (“Raising Writers: The Teacher's Role,” p. 68) cite model as a key role writing teachers play in leading students to become authentic authors.
How do you as a teacher model writing for your students. If you don't do so currently, how could you begin? Share strategies for overcoming obstacles to modeling writing (such as how to concentrate enough to actually write something while still keeping an eye on 25 jumpy students).
Survey students about who is a role model for them as a writer, and compare your results. Was it harder for students to identify writing role models than to name entertainment or sports models? Did any students name a teacher?
Randy Bomer (“Speaking Out for Social Action,” p. 34) believes that “empowering students to project their own voices into the real world, for real purposes and to real effect” is the goal of teaching writing. Think of and share a time when you first experienced writing as a powerful force in the world, a way to bring about change. Consider sharing this anecdote with your students.

Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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