Modeled Lesson » Deborah Dean demonstrates a principle-based model lesson in which all of the eleven elements are incorporated. In a regular classroom setting this “lesson” could actually span a several week unit, but this truncated CUWP Saturday Seminar allows us a peek at all eleven elements of effective writing instruction.
An excellent resource for process-approach writing, sentence combining, motivation, practical application, and expert advice when applying the eleven strategies outlined in the Writing Next report
An example-rich resource to help teachers generate effective and motivating writing assignments
For me, the research that is the basis of the Writing Next report is very exciting. In terms of history, it’s the first meta-analysis of writing research in 25 years! When I heard it was coming out, I wanted to know what had changed since Hillocks’ report in the 1980s and what had remained the same. I hoped to learn more about how to help my students develop as writers. And I did. I also found that many of the practices I already employed were effective. Wonderful! I was doing some things right! But for teachers who look at the Writing Next report and think, “Well, I do all of those things already. There is nothing new here,” I would disagree.
There is something new, and it is found in the research that supports the findings, the background to those 11 elements. In researching more deeply, I learned that the way I implemented some of those recommended practices wasn’t the best it could be. And that’s what What Works is about. It’s about looking into the practices—opening the door, so to speak—into what really makes these 11 elements work. In this workshop, I want teachers to learn about these 11 elements by experiencing them, but woven together as they might occur in effective classrooms across the country.
We start our experience with thinking. And writing! Teachers can open the door to any topic with a prompt like this that activates background knowledge. In this case, since the teachers in this workshop would not have time or means to do significant content inquiry, we worked with what they knew, what they already had in their experience that could be useful in this writing task. But teachers can use this same process to begin a Shakespeare unit (something most students don’t know a lot about) or the process toward writing an op-ed (where the topic is wide open and no two may be the same).
Begin with what you know—then add inquiry onto it. That’s always a good pattern. And listing is something even reluctant writers are usually willing to do. This process requires both writing and talk, work as an individual and as a collective. So, when people have their lists, we share as a group, and I encourage participants to add to their lists if they hear a title (an idea, a concept) they hadn’t thought of to put down. The idea isn’t that anyone’s list is “the best,” but that (one way or another) we all get as many ideas to start with as we can.
Since the lists involved pleasure reading, I want writers to think about why reading matters. This question also allows me to incorporate some informative texts into this process. The initial discussion gives me the space to provide the short informative text (link provided) for everyone to think of more reasons why it matters that we read. This process also helps us establish a rationale for the kind of writing we will be doing later—and writing for a reason, not just because the teacher assigned it, is so important.
Even though Writing Next doesn’t list audience or purpose as important practices, teachers know (and research supports) that audience and purpose are hugely important to motivating writers. They matter.
When participants have read the article and discussed it briefly, I introduce them to the idea of a public service announcement with this example. What follows—their writing a PSA about the value of pleasure reading with a partner—isn’t about polished writing. But it is about thinking, writing, collaborating, and writing in a content area, all elements in the Writing Next report. In terms of instruction, in a microcosm, we follow a process that is one we use all the time to good effect: Build content knowledge, examine a genre to learn its characteristics, collaborate, write, and share. Some examples of what participants created are linked here.
This website has great models for writing! Whenever I use this process, I choose models for the audience I am with, so with younger students, teachers might select different models than I did. Technically, teachers could even have students write the reviews about picture books. For now, I just want writers to know the situation in which this kind of review exists: who reads them? how do they access them? And what does this situation suggest about the genre we will be examining?
Says-Does is the name I’ve given an inquiry strategy. It isn’t unique to me—many teachers use a similar process. I got the name from a colleague. Essentially, we chunk up the text we are examining and then look at each chunk to see what it is saying (essentially we summarize the passage) and what it is doing (that is, what the author is doing, purposefully, in that chunk). In this act, we are actually addressing both the first and second practices recommended by the Writing Next report and #10 : strategies, summarizing, and models.
This is a strategy because it !) can (eventually, anyway) be used independently, 2) is transferable (able to be used with many different types of texts and in different situations), and 3) can be adapted to meet the needs of the individual. The list of verbs on the slide is available in case students have trouble thinking of “doing” ideas, but most don’t. The practice helps us see how texts work—an important element in students’ learning prior to actually creating their own versions.
Again, we work through this practice in a scaffolded manner: whole class modeling, small groups or partners, and, finally, individuals. Depending on the needs of the class, this may take place over a much longer time than shown in the video! Some classes need multiple whole-class experiences and multiple small group experiences before they are able to use the strategy independently.
After we have examined multiple texts—I suggest 6, if possible, although for time’s sake we only looked at 3—students are ready to generate the characteristics they have discovered about the genre or mentor texts. Choosing the mentor texts is key: I have to choose texts that are good examples of the kind of writing we are going to do, ones that are appropriate for my students, and ones with enough range so that students don’t see them as templates or formulas but as varying responses to the writing situation at hand. When I think about building these lists of characteristics, I think of Katie Wood Ray and Jeff Anderson as good models. I have an idea of some key characteristics that should be on the list. But I don’t see everything, and I know that if I’ve done the preparatory work well enough, students will see what I hope they see, and more. Ray and Anderson have great models of this practice if teachers want to see more examples. Two important things I learned from them are these ideas: I don’t go into this blind. I have to be well prepared. I have to have read MANY more mentor texts than I have my students read so that I know which mentors will provide the richest sources for my students. If my students can’t do the task of seeing both the mandatory and optional characteristics of texts, I have either chosen the mentors poorly or haven’t given the students enough experience with them to see the characteristics.
Now it’s time to write. In this workshop, we wrote together. Even if a class does some of its writing at home, I think it’s important to get everyone started in class. Giving the prompt, asking for questions, and sending the students on their way: this practice seems to me a recipe for disaster. Some students will write, it’s true. But many will not. And even those that do write at home may struggle with trying to remember what to do. Even when my students start in class, there are still some who get home and find a challenge in getting going again. But if I know they have a good start in class, if I know that everyone has something going, I feel better about what will happen when students are away from class. They’ll all have a better chance at writing something.
This piece is so abbreviated from the process I would use in the classroom, but it is essential to get feedback along the way. Collaboration, as the book explains, is more than about two people writing the same text. It can also be about having someone else’s eyes give feedback along the way to help the writer see how the text is working. These questions don’t get at grading a piece of writing; they get at reader response, at global thinking about the writing—and that is important in the early stages of feedback. We aren’t worried about local concerns; we just need to know if the piece is working.
When students are ready for looking at local concerns (again, a process I sped up for the purposes of this workshop), we can look at local concerns. Because sentence combining is one of the elements of the Writing Next report, I know it works so I want it to be a regular part of my instruction. I can work on general sentence combining—and I write about how in the book, but when we are working on a specific piece of writing, I want students to pay attention to how the sentences in THAT kind of writing work.
This activity is helpful to draw their attention to something that I noticed about sentences in these pieces that I hope they will adapt for their own writing.
After we’ve noticed the flow and purpose of long and short sentences, we practice combining. As I explain in the book, this isn’t about a right answer—it’s about possibilities—so students combine in a variety of ways and then we can talk about how they made their combinations and why. What options for combining do they know? What options can they learn from others sharing their examples? Practicing is important, but so is the talk that accompanies that practice.
Another example—and here I’ll talk about how important it can be to create these practices yourself out of the sentences the students will read or have read. I don’t know if I can stress this enough. It matters. And the emphasis on multiple tries matters. This can NOT be about right or wrong or trying to match the original sentence. Never.
As I explain in the book, word processing is part of the Writing Next elements not because it is better to type writing than to hand write it. There is so much more and the tools are just part of it. If students don’t have access to computers, this activity could be done with highlighters, but the word processor makes it easier. And students like to use the tools. I have also used the tools to count words in a sentence (so much faster than doing it without the tool).
The key part of making word processing work for improved writing is finding a way to make the tools that it provides help students see their writing in ways that will make it better—not as a gimmick or as a fancy typewriter.
I want students to recognize that they are strategic beings. They find ways to solve the problems in their world, including the writing “problems” they face. So when we write, we should always be paying attention to the strategies we use. Maybe not in the moment we use them, but at some time in the process. We are unable to use tools we don’t know exist, so naming the strategies (and there are no set names except what helps us identify them) is key to using writing strategies in the future and key to developing as a strategic writer.
Here I list the strategies that we all used together. I want students to recognize that they used all these strategies and that they are available for them to use in the future. Reflection is key to transfer, so students also have to theorize about possible future uses of the strategies that work for them. We know that writers have strategies they use regularly and some they rarely use.
Writers I speak with tell me they sometimes have to “borrow” a strategy from someone else to get past a block—and then they never use it again. So it’s important to think of which ones work, but still to identify which other ones we’ve tried. They’re like the tools we keep in the toolbox, not because we think we’ll use them all the time the way we do a hammer or screwdriver, but because there might just be another time we’ll need that specific tool, so having it in the bottom of the toolbox is good.
I don’t know that we will need to use all eleven elements in every writing assignment, not even in every piece of writing that goes through the entire writing process. What I do believe is that these eleven elements need to be represented regularly throughout a curriculum for students to be able to get the most from what they can offer. And they need to be addressed in the principled way the book suggests, not just as a check-off list: Did I use models? Check? Did they make a web? Check off prewriting. Principled. That’s the key.
In the book, I identify the principles for each element, but I did note that some principles threaded through many (if not all) of the elements. And these are the ones I noted. To me, it’s important that teachers regularly check themselves in these areas to make sure that the overarching principles that will make the elements as effective as research says they can be are still actively a part of the classroom climate.
As I say in the video, start with what you can do. Don’t try to do it all at once. That is the way to stifle improvement because it becomes too difficult. I hope teachers return again and again to the ideas of the Writing Next report and to the principles underlying their implementation to see what the next little change can be, and then the next and the next. But just as students need time to develop as writers, our writing instruction also needs time. It’s okay to give it the time it needs, as long as we are gradually moving forward and not standing still, content with bad hair days everyday.
Model Lesson Reflection: » Melissa Heaton, Alisha Adams, and Kristen Ludwig reflect on how the model lesson they viewed today will impact their teaching of writing. They hope the use of effective models and the ‘says does’ approach to teaching a particular genre will help their students see writing as a real world skill rather than a formula to follow.
Model Lesson Reflection: » This teacher shares her realization that when students themselves are allowed to identify the product goals, they gain a confidence in writing that so many of our students lack. This skill and confidence can then be transferred to other writing experiences.
Model Lesson Reflection: » Suele and Janette Grimshaw, agree that while they both use model texts in their classroom, they gained a greater appreciation for how the use of several effective models throughout the writing process can guide students’ writing.