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Preparing for Writing


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Teachers can help their students prepare for written response by carefully considering the following questions posed and explained by Katherine Schlick Noe:

What are my goals for students' writing? For example, if I want my students to come to their discussions with their ideas already in mind, I may ask them to jot a few notes about what stood out for them as they read their book or golden lines (provocative quotes from the book) in their journals. In that case, writing is intended as a thinking tool. On the other hand, I may want my students to build on their discussion by taking one specific topic and developing it more thoroughly through writing. Writing then becomes a way for students to show what they know, how they feel, or what matters to them about what they read. Each goal will lead to a different way of preparing students to write.

What expectations do I have about the form of writing? For example, am I expecting students to generate polished responses, or more off-the-cuff? Do students have options in what format they choose for their journals? Many teachers include sketching as a component of journals because they recognize that some students can express their ideas more fluidly by drawing, and some books inspire visual responses more than verbal ones. In addition, successful journal assignments can arise from students and teachers brainstorming varied forms of response. I've seen many examples of students who come up with innovative questions in their journals that then become one of the response options for the whole class.

What forms of modeling and demonstration will help my students in their journal responses? Good written response, just as skilled conversations, doesn't happen by magic. Most students need help understanding how to write with clarity and insight. For example, if you want your students to delve into characters' motivations and choices, you may need to model your own response in front of them and help them pick out the words writers use to get across a point. Many great literature circles teachers I know will try out any writing assignment in front of their students - perhaps writing on the overhead or on chart paper and thinking aloud as they go. This makes the composing process more visible to students. In addition, teachers can save student writing and use it (anonymously and with the author's permission) as examples in later classes. One teacher I know says that her students live to become overhead transparencies!

Finally, what feels reasonable? One of the most powerful insights about journals that I experienced was in conversation with two teachers who took part in an adult literature circle with several teaching colleagues at various grade levels. These teachers were trying out the different components of literature circles in their own book group so that they'd have a better idea of what worked and what didn't for them as readers. The group quickly discovered that writing in journals several times a week (as they were asking of their students) got to be very tedious. They didn't have that much new to say, and several of their members refused to continue. The teachers laughed when they told me they'd realized that's how their students probably felt. So they cut back on the number of required responses and worked harder on generating writing prompts with -- instead of for-- their students.

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