Click the links below to download handouts for Annemarie 2017 MRA Sessions:
“Let’s Experiment! Inspiring Students to Revise Their Writing”
“De-Mystify and Elevate Your Writing Instruction”
Click here to purchase the Conferring Companions for Narrative, Information, and Opinion/Argument writing. This tool contains a menu of skills and strategies for conferring with our writers around the texts types and predictable problems such as building volume, stamina, and fluency. Also included in the kit are conferring forms to make your record-keeping much more efficient!
Click the links below to download registration flyers
for Literacy4Real Summer Conferences:
July 24-25, 2017
Literacy4Real Flyer Southeast MI
August 15-16, 2017
Literacy4Real Conference Flyer_West MI
Click here for registration information.
My husband works in the automotive industry, so to us, the ‘Big Three’ refers to Ford, GM, and Chysler. But during the past couple of years, the “big three” has come to have a different meaning for me. I’m talking about the three big skill areas of a writer: structure, development, and conventions. Understanding that writing skills can be categorized into these three skill areas has been like lifting a veil off my face regarding writing instruction. For many elementary teachers, the teaching of writing holds a lot of mystery. I used to feel the same way. But once I understood how to break writing down into these three categories and then further into a number of subcategories, I gained so much clarity.
I often have teachers look at samples of student writing and ask them to make a list of what they notice that the writer is doing well and what the writer still needs to work on or possible ‘next steps’ teaching points for that writer. Almost without fail, I find that teachers gravitate first to the writer’s spelling and punctuation. While these writing conventions are important, we need to remember that this is just one skill area in which writers need to develop proficiency. We can’t ignore structure and development!
Whether we are teaching students how to write a narrative (personal narrative, realistic fiction, fairytale) or an informational piece (how-to, informational chapter book, historical report) or an opinion/argument piece (a review, persuasive essay, literary essay), we will be teaching them how to structure the piece, how to develop it (elaborate and use author’s craft), and how to use proper conventions (spelling, grammar, and punctuation).
I have been using the following analogy to explain this: You can think of each piece of writing like a house. First we build the house. We start with the foundation, the frame, the drywall. We can’t start decorating the house before it is built. In the same way, a writer “builds” a piece of writing by planning and attending to the structure and overall organization. Once the house is built, it begins to take on the personality of the owner. We put up light fixtures, paint the walls, buy furniture. What does decorating look like in a piece of writing? This is the big skill area of development. This is where the writer elaborates on the piece, adds details, make choices about author’s craft and voice. Once our house is built and decorated, we like to invite people over to entertain, maybe for a housewarming party. What do we do to get ready? We tidy up the house and make it presentable for company. That’s where conventions come in. If an audience is going to read our writing, we need to tidy it up so that it is easily readable.
I have found that getting a good handle on the Big Three helps teachers become much more knowledgeable andconfident as writing teachers. Many teachers across the country are gaining this new confidence about writing because
their districtshave adopted the Calkins Units of Study for Writing. If you teach in a school that has not adopted this curriculum, I would like to suggest a resource that is available to anyone. It is called Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions K-8. I recently recommended it in another post because of the tools included that help us give targeted feedback to students. Today I’m recommending it because of its ability to help writing teachers become more knowledgeable about the Big Three and in turn, more confident about teaching writing. Every tool included in the resource section is broken down into the three big writing categories.
(Click to enlarge)
Each category is then divided into subcategories. For example, structure is divided into the subcategories of leads, transitions, endings, and overall organization. Development is divided into elaboration and author’s craft. Conventions is divided into spelling and punctuation.
The tool shown above is called a student checklist. Notice the three big writing categories at the top of each section and then the subcategories listed along the side.
Not only do these tools help teachers become more confident, but they help students, as well! I believe this is a must-have resources for every writing teacher. I’m not sure how I ever taught writing without it!
The last several posts have been devoted to unpacking skills and strategies. I have used Jennifer Serravallo’s definition of strategy: “step-by-step how tos that lead toward skilled performance”. When I think about strategies, the question that always pops into my mind is, “How can I break this down?” If a learner is struggling with a skill, it may be that the skill needs to be broken down into manageable steps.
So how do we break skills down? This can be more challenging than it might seem. If you have been reading this series of posts, you may have already watched the baseball video clip. If not, please take 30 seconds to watch it now: click here.
We have already talked about how the father in the video told Max to “use two hands” while Drew modeled it. Why do you think Drew was more strategic in his teaching? We can only speculate here, but one idea I have is that the father learned to catch a ball a long time ago, and Drew’s learning was more recent. The father no longer needs to think about each step as he catches a ball—he does it automatically. In other words, the strategies have gone underground.
I think this is one of the things that makes teaching so hard. We are teaching children to do things that we are already proficient or skilled at. We don’t need strategies anymore. But our students still do! That means we have to put ourselves back into the shoes of a novice reader, writer, etc. and think about the steps we take. I find that it helps to “spy on myself” as a reader and writer, and while listing across my fingers, say,
- “First I…”
- “Then I…”
- “Next I…”
- “Finally I…”
If I can break my steps down in this manner, I am well on my way toward providing the strategic supports my learners need.
Let me give you are real-word example of what this might look like. Last week I took a class at the Apple Store called “Going Further with Your Mac”. One part of the class was devoted to using shortcuts. I already use a number of shortcuts on my computer, but this teacher taught us some cool ones that I didn’t know existed. Some people in the class were becoming frustrated because he was showing us so many and we couldn’t memorize them that fast. Then the teacher stopped and said, “Now don’t get overwhelmed. Let me give you a tip and show you how I have become proficient at using these shortcuts.” Here is how he broke it down for us:
- Whenever you find yourself executing a task on your computer, stop and notice if the menu gives you a shortcut.
- If you see a shortcut, take a second to look at it.
- Instead of completing the action the long way, force yourself to use the shortcut. Do it two or three times in a row right then to get some muscle memory.
- Work on memorizing and automatically using just 3-4 shortcuts at a time.
- Once you have mastered those, set a goal for yourself to learn another set. Before you know it, you will have a whole repertoire of shortcuts!
Do you see what the teacher did? First he recognized his students’ frustration. Then he thought about how he learned to use shortcuts himself. Finally he shared these step-by-step tips in a way that seemed manageable for his students. The students’ next step will be to practice—the critical step in mastering a skill as described in a previous post.
Before I close out this post, did you notice what I just did in that last paragraph? Let me write that paragraph below in a different format:
Do you see what the teacher did?
- First he recognized his students’ frustration.
- Then he thought about how he learned to use shortcuts himself.
- Finally he shared these step-by-step tips in a way that seemed manageable for his students.
See? Anything you are trying to teach can be broken down into step-by-step strategies—even teaching someone how to break something down into a strategy!