Monday, August 29, 2016

Why wait to write... A blog for teachers teaching thoughts

When I have an idea I toss it around, write about it right away to let it sit, talk about it with others for feedback, and just marinate on it for a while.  Sometimes this is days, weeks, or even months.  But I always try to follow this procedure with big ideas.  I follow the footprint that Adam Grant explains in this TED talk about procrastination.

When I taught and from what I have seen in classrooms writing generally begins either with something read, a brainstorming session, a writing prompt, or a quick reflection on a personal experience.  It could be a letter, a poem, a persuasive essay, a summary, or an opinion to name a few.  It usually starts 3-4 days before the final product is expected and you work diligently through the process getting some feedback and edits before submitting the final product.  All in all 3-4 days is the average time.

What if writing (at least the longer pieces) started weeks or even a month before the eventual expected date of being finished.

So let me take a standard:

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.  

This is an overall standard, not meant to be all inclusive, but will use this to explain my idea.

One morning or afternoon and a lot of days before the eventual date of final copy you ask your class to write for 5 - 10 minutes about something they have done that they could explain to someone else.  Have them put it in an open discussion platform if you have the availability to do that even.  If they are younger they could record themselves or draw a picture to explain.  Let it sit there a few days.

In the mean time ask others, for 5 - 10 minutes, to go in and respond either with questions or compare/contrast to a similar topic or ideas that they could explain.  Then have the original author, having been given a few days, think about the concept and get feedback from peers.  Have them rewrite or add to their original writing.  Do this 4-5 times before you give them the assignment

This written assessment I see as coming in the form of something they read, let's say "how gemologists determine the value of a diamond?"  Maybe not the most interesting topic, but the assignment for the class is to write an informative/explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

Make sure they:
  • Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
  • Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).
  • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.
The idea is that they have informally without threat, already done this a number of times leading up to this moment.  Obviously there would be more practice, explanation, modeling, and showing that I have left out.  The point being why not allow students time to practice and think through their ideas over and over before you get to these big landmark/benchmark assignments that show mastery of standards.  

If they are able to show you they can do this after practice, you have satisfied more than just the writing standards I listed above.  The main point is to give them many many chances to formulate ideas and think through the process before the unit or curriculum brings you to that moment of truth.  We all have moments of truth when you have to hit publish or submit.  I think the trick is allowing plenty of opportunities to hit save and redo before.  

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