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Improving Student Writing

Each week, Instant Meeting presents an idea or activity that you might use to make staff meetings more interesting, teacher-centered, educational, or fun.

Brief Description/Purpose

Teachers share samples of “typical” student writing. They reflect on those samples and discuss how they can work together as a team to improve instruction and student writing.

Materials Needed

  • For this activity, teachers must collect in advance samples of "typical" student writing

Time Required


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This activity can be completed in a single 1-hour staff development meeting.

"Instant Meeting" Idea

It is ideal to set up this activity during the previous staff meeting session, or to provide details about the meeting several weeks before it is scheduled. For this activity, ask teachers to examine closely the student writing samples that they grade in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Teachers should pull out samples of student writing that serve as good examples of "typical issues" they see in their students' written work. Those issues might relate to grammar, paragraph structure and form, flow of writing, or any other issue they see on a fairly regular basis. Teachers should plan to come to the meeting with a handful of samples, prioritized according to the writing issues those samples represent.

At the meeting, teachers will present to their peers the writing samples they have collected. If your school staff is large, for this task you might divide teachers by grade level, subject, or in any other way you deem appropriate.

For example, if you are principal of a K-6 elementary school, the writing issues that primary-grade teachers want to discuss might be quite different from the issues that grade 4-6 teachers see. Those two groups might split off to share and talk about student work.

Sharing Writing Samples
Each teacher in the group might present a single sample and identify the problem as they see it. They might share some of the things they have done to "teach" or correct the problem. Then the other teachers in the group will have an opportunity to share their reactions, reflections, and ideas they have tried to address that writing issue.

Continue one teacher at a time, one sample a time, to address the writing problems that have been presented. Spend no more than 5 minutes discussing a single sample or issue, so every teacher has an opportunity to share. Continue this process for about 30 minutes. During that time, the meeting leader will monitor group conversations to make sure participants are staying focused on student work and not wandering off into other areas of concern (for example, student behavior or the writing textbook).

Reflecting on Student Work
After teachers have had about 30 minutes to share samples of student writing, challenge teachers to look at the bigger picture. Some questions that might be posed include the following:

  • What did you learn by looking at student work?
  • Do the samples you saw indicate any writing issues that might be addressed on a team- or school-wide basis?
  • Is students' writing, in general, meeting your state's grade-level standards for writing? If not, what are the big areas that need to be addressed to get students to that level?
  • What are students doing well? Is there a way to make connections between that and what teachers have identified as writing deficiencies?

    After 10-15 minutes of conversation, is there any general consensus about

  • the big writing issues that need to be addressed?
  • activities, approaches, or resources that will help address those issues?
  • focusing on key issues in the weeks ahead and revisiting the issue in a future staff development meeting?

Follow-Up

As anyone can tell you, one 1-hour session spent examining student work is not going to identify the real issues or make huge strides toward solving them. Examining student work is an activity that must be ongoing for it to have real impact. Teachers must understand that

  • reflecting on student work is not easy work, but they must be committed to it.
  • the only way to become better at reflecting on student work is to do it more often.
  • they need to be open to the very real possibility that reflecting on student work might call into question current teaching methods.
  • they might be asked to try some different strategies and, ultimately, to make some changes in their current teaching styles.

Perhaps this examining-student-work session will help teachers see your students' writing issues more clearly, see the possibilities in continued examination of student work, and agree to make the commitment of time and energy required to make a real difference. The key to the success of this activity is in how teachers build on it to make examining student work a more frequent and important part of their own work.

A follow-up to the teachers' conversation about student work might include students. The following activity might be done with students, but it might also be a useful activity to have teachers do as they examine student work:

Teachers might ask their students to identify a sample of the best writing they have ever done. Encourage students to look carefully at that piece of work and to identify three qualities about the piece that make it their best effort. Let students share with their peers their conclusions about the qualities of good writing. Then give them an opportunity to share as a class. Write the qualities they identify on a board or chart. Then challenge students to condense the long list of student-generated qualities into a single list of three to five qualities that all students agree are essential to good written work.

Teachers might use the Multivoting or the Pick 3 -- Drop 3 method to help students narrow down their brainstormed list.

Then present to students a new writing assignment. In that assignment, challenge them to build into their writing as many of the three to five qualities they identified as they can.

Finally, have students will make five copies of their completed writing assignment. Divide students into groups of three or four students and have each group look at each student's work to see if evidence of the three to five qualities is present or not.

 

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