Writing Conferencing…

Epiphany! This past summer, I woke out of a deep sleep with an epiphany about grading writing.  After 16 years of teaching, I was no longer willing to spend my limited free time out of school grading students’ papers.   This declaration was not out of sheer laziness, instead, it stemmed from the proven ineffectiveness this traditional style of grading has shown after many weeknights and Sunday afternoons spent reading and writing in-depth feedback on students’ papers.  All of this time and effort given, then to hand back the papers to the students on Monday morning to only have them do what…look at their letter grade and disregard the rest.  Every English teacher has experienced this type of frustration and I had been looking for a solution to this issue for quite some time.

What was this idea?  Simple.  Swap out solitary grading for writing conferences.  Being a fan of Pernille Ripp, Penny Kittle and of course, Nancie Atwell, I knew the value of conferencing with students and have always done so on a small basis.  However, I knew I wanted to do more, and I realized that if I stopped grading in a traditional way, I would be able to whole-heartedly incorporate writing conferences.  So, I stood in front of my classes last August and told them that I would no longer be grading their papers on my own; instead, it would be a team effort and they would help me come up with a grade and list of writing strengths and weaknesses.  Some of them looked at me like I was crazy while others looked a little scared.  The accountability factor just went up two-fold and they could no longer hide behind turning in a paper with no face-to-face conversation about its contents.  They had to sit with me and talk with me about their writing and that was a scary situation for some and exciting for others, who liked the prospect of talking about their writing with another person.

Fast forward four months and we have successfully conferenced two major writing assignments.  I asked students to reflect on their own writing before conferencing with me (I’ve attached it here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18vfU_GYtgy7kA_3jDbifHUidi6aXJG_mtBkyyycg6PI/edit) and to come up with a grade based on a holistic rubric (here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WQxLlX6EdBtGrIPs0sC5r-Br1rqi9T2VWGc-2m9iHcI/edit).  I spend 5-6 minutes with each student and read through the paper with them after reading their responses on their writing reflection sheets.  I explain my comments as I make them and always end with something they need to work on for the next writing assignment.  In short, we have a valuable conversation about their writing which is truly how assessment should work!  I’m also very lucky that we have a fabulous platform called Turnitin (here: http://www.turnitin.com) to which students turn in their work, which runs a spelling and grammar check for them, so I do not have to spend valuable time reviewing comma splices and run-on sentences; my feedback is truly content based, so assessing is much more focused.

How has this gone?  Not perfectly by any means.  But I will say that writing has improved so much more since I’m able to articulate to the students a little clearer and they seem to take the feedback more seriously.  When I asked students how they like writing conferences, they all said they feel like they are getting better feedback and have seen bigger improvements in their writing.  So, I will continue this practice of conferencing with each students.  Why?  Improvement in their writing, more accountability on their parts and best of all, I can enjoy my weekends with my family, confident in the fact that I am still helping my students be the best writers they can be.1585255_20d41d3bb1_z

Collaboration is so Important for Teachers!

Last night I had the privilege of attending a workshop for English teachers who get together once a month to share writing ideas, reading strategies and sources and to simply discuss what they are doing in their classroom (Nicole, you are fantastic for doing this!).  I’ve gone to this before, but have not had a chance to since summer and was immediately glad I made time for it yesterday.  Here is what I learned in a quick two hour meeting time:

  • There’s a fabulous TED Talk called “Love Letters to Strangers” introduced to me by my friend Angeline (here is the link: https://www.ted.com/talks/hannah_brencher_love_letters_to_strangers?language=en).  I had no idea what a powerful classroom activity this could be to have students write positive messages to random strangers and then leave them in random places (gas stations, inside books in a bookstore, at Walmart).  Totally stealing this idea!
  • I need to go to NCTE next year because the teachers were so excited about what they experienced while there a few weeks ago.  On my list…
  • Using podcasts in the classroom is very powerful and I need to continue to do so.  Using Serial was a big hit this year and the kids learned so much while listening.  After talking with other teachers, I felt good about having used it in my classroom.
  • There’s more English teachers jumping in to do Genius Hour with their kids.  I loved talking to another teacher who is trying it next semester and sharing ideas and resources.  She turned me onto a blogger and teacher named Laura Randazzo (here is the link to her site: http://laurarandazzo.com) who blogs about everything related to the secondary classroom.  I am now following her blog.  Thanks, Sarah, for the recommendation.
  • I get to read Writing with Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell as a book study with this group (the link to the book is here: http://www.heinemann.com/products/E07450.aspx).  My geeky side is doing cartwheels in anticipation.  Total nerd.
  • I love talking with other English teachers.  There is some inspiring stuff going on in English classrooms all over our area.

Off to grade, but I wanted to get this down before I got wrapped up in 5,000 other things.  In a nutshell, collaboration is the best PD a teacher can ask for…and it’s free.  Are you listening, all you schools out there?

Genius Hour – My Epiphany!

This is my third year using Genius Hour in my English classroom.  While I’ve loved it and feel using this type of PBL has completely changed my classroom, I’ve always had this feeling that I was missing something, that there was an element that was just not quite there.  Yesterday, the students were showing their second post on their social media sites (one of three requirements to Genius Hour, the other two being that their project must help someone or others and it must include research to show knowledge gained), and it hit me – my epiphany!  With all my focus on using textual evidence to back up arguments in their writing in my classroom, I had never thought to use this for their Genius Hour.  I’ve never asked my students to show proof that what they were doing, making, or discovering for Genius Hour was valid or successful (using their own personal measures for success, of course) or benefitted others in some way.  That was it – my missing piece!

This all happened yesterday when a student asked me if she could change her Genius Hour. She just wasn’t feeling passionate about her first choice and did not feel it would be something to which she could devote the next six months.  I told her that was fine and asked her what she would prefer doing; she explained that body confidence was something she always struggled with and it was a topic she felt she could educate people about.  Then, without any thought on my part, I blurted out, “So, how will you prove that you were able to teach others about this?”.  It must have been a knee-jerk reaction because it’s a concept I nag my kids about all the time in regards to their writing, but it just seemed to fit perfectly with Genius Hour. I knew instantly that I needed to incorporate this idea into this project, because I could tell the question furthered my student’s thinking and made her consider the “how”, rather than just the “what” of her project.  This then led to a very productive conversation about ways she could prove that what she has done has educated people and made a difference in some way.  She talked about making polls, filming interviews with people, as well as a few other really good ideas.  But what I found was it deepened her thinking and gave her more of a connection with the project.

One final thought about the importance of having students prove their success and/or impact with their Genius Hour Projects has to do with teaching; there is connection between what the kids are doing for their projects and what we do as teachers.  While we, as teachers, may start out with great intentions when presenting a lesson, how will we really know we made an impact or educated our kids unless we assess them?  We have to use summative and formative assessment to make sure that what we are doing and teaching is effective and that the kids are actually learning as a result.  My approach to Genius Hour the past two years was exactly like teaching without assessment; I’ve allowed the kids to show what they’ve done, without challenging them to prove its effectiveness or benefit to others.  That is changing immediately!  I’m actually really excited to add this new layer to Genius Hour, because I know this will challenge the kids’ thinking even more and their experiences and results will be so much better…saying-it-is-one-thing-but-proving-it-is-another-quote-1

 

 

The Power of Argument in an English Classroom

bldg030l

Last month I had the pleasure of co-teaching a class with other English instructors, which was specifically for English teachers.  The focus of the class was CCSS and Argumentative  Writing, which I thought I knew much about, but quickly learned was not necessarily the case.  I agreed to take on the challenge of helping to teach this class so I could learn more and apply that knowledge to my classroom.  Honestly, it’s been a few weeks since the class has ended and my head is still spinning with all the new information and ideas gained from the readings, conversations with other teachers and collaboration during the two weeks the class was in session.  Tonight, I sat down to start looking at my curriculum for next year and to think about how to incorporate all these new ideas and I immediately felt overwhelmed.  So, I decided to write down some of the main ideas learned during the class and why not put them into a blog post?  Here are the main ideas/thoughts/resources I need to remember and implement this upcoming school year within my English classroom:

1.  Argument Writing and finding and using textual evidence should be the main focus in a CCSS-based classroom. This is especially true if you are teaching in a PARCC state since the Performance Based Assessments (PBA’s for those who love acronyms) given in February/March are very argument heavy (though disguised in PARCC as “Literary Analysis” and “Research Simulation” rather than using the same terminology as CCSS’s “Argument”, “Explanatory/Informational”).  All require evidence-based answers to back up and validate claims.

2.  There are true differences between Persuasive and Argumentative Writing which students need to know about.  In a nutshell, Argumentative Writing needs to acknowledge the opposing point of view to be a valid argument.  Here is a handy side-by-side chart comparing Argument vs. Persuasive Writing which I will be sharing with my students this year (Thanks, Angeline for this invaluable resource): http://www.mesd.k12.or.us/si/Pennys_PortaPortal_Docs/ArgumentvsPersuasiveWriting.pdf

3.  Students need to verbally debate in class in order to apply these skills to Argumentative Writing. Dave Stuart, Jr., has created a blog called “Teaching the Core-The Non-Freaked Out Approach to Common Core Literacy” which is my go-to for all things reading, writing and speaking in regards to CCSS; you can check it out here: http://www.teachingthecore.com

This fantastic blog has resources, information about and commentary on teaching Argumentative Writing and using debate in your classroom.  Stuart is very much an advocate of teaching students how to debate in order to help them become stronger writers.  His “Articles of the Week” (tweaked from Kelly Gallagher-http://www.teachingthecore.com/resources/article-of-the-week-aow/) and ideas for having kids speak in front of others (technique called “PVLEGS”-http://www.teachingthecore.com/pvlegs-public-speaking-acronym/) are practical and doable – not simply theoretical, pie-in-the-sky techniques which sound good in theory but never work. I’ve tried many of his resources and have had much success with all of them.  Would highly recommend his blog as you venture into the world of Argument Writing and debate.

4.  There are some other great resources out there for implementing Argumentative Writing and Debate.  Here, I will list a few that I’ve found and have learned about from others:

5.  Students really struggle with explaining why the specific evidence they’ve used in their writing is important; “They Say/I Say” Templates help students to do so effectively.  We’ve all been there – students add in textual evidence to a writing piece with no explanation as to why the evidence is important to the argument.   The evidence is just dropped in the paper and sitting there awkwardly, screaming for an explanation or validation.  Well, “They Say/I Say” templates can come to the rescue.  They allow students to explain evidence and the templates have enough flexibility to allow student voice to come through without sounding mechanical or boring; this really helps students strengthen their Argumentative Writing.  Check them out here: https://docs.google.com/a/tctchome.com/document/d/1_qH6AU0qPxZLAcHEm0DZfvbxXrcR_im1gZXTqwIqKgI/edit

In addition, Dave Stuart, Jr. uses these templates with his “Articles of the Week” to have students practice pulling out textual evidence from the article to back up an opinion and explain the evidence using these templates.  Excellent strategy!

Hopefully this information will help as you begin to incorporate more Argumentative Writing and Debate into your curriculum.  As for me, I have much work to do as I tweak and change my focus this year to ensure my students are debating, backing up ideas with evidence, reading and writing frequently and becoming all-around better critical thinkers.  But, as usual, there’s never enough time in a school year to do all I feel I should, so I’m sure this time next summer I’ll still be tweaking and making changes…

Musings on Common Core…

I’ll be very honest.  When Common Core came around a few years ago (2009-2010 school year) I was enthusiastic.  The original Ohio Standards that I had used for years seemed clumsy and cumbersome, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of them along with the ever confusing benchmarks and indicators.  I always felt as if they were not clear and not simple to read nor interpret. While working on my master’s degree, I read many books and articles by Robert Marzano, who focused on “Power Standards”.  The premise was there were too many standards to realistically teach in one academic year, so teachers should pull out those standards which they feel most important and teach them with depth, rather than simply trying to “cover” all the standards in a very shallow and superficial way.  So, I used that approach and felt more comfortable teaching the standards, although I still never truly understood those benchmarks and indicators.  The green standards book would lay on my desk collecting a layer of dust, mocking my ignorance of those damn things while I turned my back on it and happily taught my “Power Standards”.

Then I explored Common Core State Standards and immediately jumped on board.  I appreciated how they seemed to be more simplified:  Reading Literature, Reading Informational Text, Writing, Speaking/Listening and Language.  These were essentially the “Power Standards”, the standards which were most important for students to know in an English Language Arts classroom.  We, as a department, spent much time exploring the CCSS, becoming familiar with them, and slowly incorporated them into our lessons.  Everything seemed fine, then the whirlwind of negativity began to surround CCSS and anything even remotely related to them.  

I’m not sure when it started but I believe I know why the attack against CCSS started; once the standards were connected to high-stakes testing and new teacher evaluations (OTES) is when educators, schools, administrators and even some parents began to look at them a little more closely and did not like what they learned.  Even teacher unions like the NEA, who once advocated for CCSS in an effort to raise standards for students all across the country, saw how debilitating the high stakes testing environment was for teachers and students and they backed away from their support as well.  Now states are slowing pulling out of the consortium, Louisiana is the latest state whose governor is asking to do so, and parents, schools and educators are up in arms and want their states to do so as well.  It’s funny, most of the publicity came to a head in the last few months when comedian Louie C.K. took potshots at the Common Core when he tweeted his dislike in the following tweets, taken from this Huffington Post article written by Diane Ravitch: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/louis-ck-common-core_b_5250982.html

My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014

Everything important is worth doing carefully. None of this feels careful to me.— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014

Teachers are underpaid. They teach for the love of it. Let them find the good in cc without the testing guns to their and our kids heads.— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014

I trust a teacher over Pearson or bill hates any day of the week. Don’t all be so  defensive and don’t be such bullies.— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014

Unfortunately, as is the case most of the time in our country, once a famous actor, singer or comedian begins to talk about a specific topic is the moment when the public begins to take more notice.  Regardless, once people heard more about CCSS, the more they did not like what they were learning.  Hence, the beginning of the War Against Common Core.

Here’s what I honestly think now about the entire CCSS, PARCC, OTES, SLO environment (“The Era of Acronyms”?) in which teachers and students are living and working.  We all entered the field of education in order to work with, motivate, teach, support and positively influence students.  We all entered the field of education to share our passion for our subject.  We all want the best for our students and their education, however, I feel all this negativity and focus on testing is not what is best for our students; it’s what is best for politicians vying for votes, it’s what is best for big business corporations like Pearson who want deeper pockets, it’s what is best for for-profit charter schools (who do not run under the same mandates as public schools) to swoop in as the savior of the “evil” public school system in order to turn a profit.  I feel there are too many hands in the pot of education, all trying to make as much money as they possibly can and kids are being left out of the equation.  It’s all a political game and I feel it’s heading for disastrous consequences unless parents, teachers, educators, and schools all begin to really educate themselves and pay attention to what is going on in education

Having said all this, I am still a strong advocate of CCSS; I believe the focus of the attack has been misguided. I feel students rise to the standards in which we give to them and they deserve to have the expectation of high standards.  It shows we have faith in them as students and as future contributors to society.  Students have to be challenged intellectually and academically, otherwise they will not grow and will remain stagnant; a well run society is an educated society.  The United States has a very transient population, so having common standards as students move state to state is important for those students to stay on track and not fall behind or fall “into the cracks” where they can possibly be lost forever.  Again, I appreciate the simplicity of the standards and how streamlined and user-friendly they are for both teachers and students.  There are many, many aspects of CCSS which I really like and as a result, I consider myself a supporter of them and hope we, as a state, continue to implement them.  However, having said that, I can adamantly state that I am not a fan of PARCC and the high stakes testing environment into which we are throwing our kids and teachers; this is where people need to pay attention and educate themselves regarding these tests.  As a teacher, I find it scary and disheartening that my 15 years in education could come to an end simply because my students do not test well, or because of a lack of computer proficiency and confidence which cause students to fail a test.  As a parent, I do not want my two girls to only receive 106 days of an education only to endure over 20 days of standardized testing.  They should be reading, discussing, analyzing, writing, researching, presenting, creating and interacting in the classroom with their classmates and teachers, not spending 20+ days in front of a computer screen completing a “one size fits all” standardized test, while frustrated and bored and resenting school as a result.

Obviously, early supporters of CCSS are now realizing how a good thing has turned ugly and they are now backtracking a bit to save face (I’m thinking specifically of Bill Gates and his director of education, Vicki Phillips, as they have called for a moratorium on high stakes testing.  The letter is here: http://collegeready.gatesfoundation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=wPhuLSxJgV4%3D&portalid=0).  I do believe that some sort of assessment is necessary to ensure CCSS are truly working; assessment is the backbone of solid educational foundations.  However, a standardized test written by a for-profit “educational” business such as Pearson, whose test is not even truly aligned with CCSS, simply one interpretation of the CCSS, is not the answer to this problem.  I’m hoping politicians, educational leaders, administrators, parents and the general public will pay attention and listen to teachers as we can come up with alternative assessments to show proficiency in our students.  Afterall, education and assessment are our fields of expertise and we need to be trusted to do right by our students.  

I’ve Just Been Quantified as a Teacher

Our school was smart enough to pilot the new teacher evaluation this year to prepare for the onslaught of educational acronyms next year:  PARCC, CCSS, SLO, OTES, etc.  I feel very fortunate that we chose to do this since I have heard horror stories of other schools jumping in completely without testing the waters first and it’s been harmful to teachers’ morale and confidence as educators.  Our administration had the insight to understand how cumbersome and detailed this entire process will be and gave us the opportunity to write sample SLO’s as well as sample pre and post assessments this year (which did not count towards our evaluations) and test them out on the students to see what we need to tweak for next year.   Thank goodness I did this because I just finished evaluating my pre and post assessments and based on those alone (no evaluations or PARCC scores included), I would receive an “average” rating.  And I was not happy.

A little backstory to this:  I only assessed two small classes totaling 18 students out of my five classes in “Informational Writing”.  Out of 18 students, 14 of my students grew 5 points from the pre and post assessments, which were my growth targets on my SLO, although all students showed growth.  So that, according to the grading scale of the SLO, gives me an average rating on this section of the OTES evaluation since it shows 78% hitting their targets.  I’ve just been quantified, and it is disheartening, frustrating and defeating, to say the least.  My kids have worked so hard this year to become better writers and I’ve been so proud of them because I can honestly say all of them struggle with the writing process the most.  I have seen them go from not knowing how to put together a topic sentence or paragraph, not knowing how to spot and integrate solid evidence to substantiate ideas, not knowing how to add effective commentary after evidence, not knowing how to cite quotes nor write a Works Cited page to now knowing how to do all of these things and more (with confidence and pride, I might add).  But my SLO scores say I’m average and assessed me a 3/5 score.  Well, dammit, my students have all grown in their writing abilities and in their confidence, so how do you quantify that?  How do you quantify teaching?  It feels like the powerful scene in Dead Poet’s Society when Mr. Keating (a’la Robin Williams) talks to the kids about quantifying poetry:

“We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about poetry.”

Or

“We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking about kids and teachers.”

So, after I finished my pity party, I thought about this whole process and this is what I’ve learned about the SLO process as well as all the new educational changes:

  • I understand there is a need to make sure teachers are effective at what they do and the SLO’s are part of that process.  I am not against SLO’s because I found it really interesting to see how much students have grown while in my class this year.  I need to use this information to continually improve my teaching.  There is much value in this.
  • I need to be much more objective when grading the pre assessments at the beginning of the year.  Writing can be so subjective and hard to grade objectively; many times there is no black and white, it’s simply a haze of gray through which English teachers try to navigate.  I need to work on that as a teacher and grade with the end result in mind.
  • This is a hoop through which I will jump.
  • I will not let this experience cloud my whole vision of education.  How many “Educational Reform” initiatives have we all endured?  This too shall pass or change or be renamed or be revamped again later.
  • My kids have become confident writers this year and are proud of what they have accomplished and I am proud of them.
  • I became a teacher so I could work with kids and help them grow into readers, writers and most importantly, good people.
  • Politicians should not dictate educational reform.  It is detrimental to education.
  • Teachers should not be quantified using one word tiered descriptions.  Instead, it should be a narrative evaluation describing strengths and weaknesses with an addition of reflections from the teachers as to how to continually improve as educators.  “Accomplished”, “Skilled”, “Developing”, “Ineffective” are one word each.  Teachers, as human beings, are multi-dimensional; how can one word be given to them as a descriptor?
  • I still love my job and will continue to work with kids because I still believe in the power of good schools and educators.

My only hope is that in our quest for data and results and quantification, we do not lose the human factor in teaching and thus begin to see students as numbers on PARCC results and SLO scoring templates.  That is not why any of us went into education.  We should be very careful about quantifying students as well as teachers-it’s stepping into dangerous territory and could result in the loss of many good teachers in the field as well as the loss of student morale.

 

On Being an English Teacher and Using Formulaic Writing

 

Image

Teaching is a tough job and not for the weak.  I don’t necessarily mean physically, but more mentally.  Most days I come home exhausted after talking with over 100 students a day, problem-solving, grading papers, multi-tasking, creating engaging lessons, worrying about my challenge students, changing lessons, fielding phone calls from counselors and administrators, counseling students, oh, and teaching!  After coming home each day, I need a half hour to just sit, watch bad television (thank you, BravoTV for the really bad reality shows you provide-they do help me to escape and make me feel like a better person-do people really act like that?) and drink a cup of tea so I can go on with the second half of my day, which includes cooking dinner, cleaning, laundry and running kids around.  Sound familiar, all you hard-working teachers out there?  I know I’m not alone.

I am an English teacher, or a teacher of writing.  Writing is extremely difficult for students to grasp, or for me to teach, especially when it comes to informative or argumentative writing pieces.  Creative writing comes easily to students; most of the time they write about their most familiar topic-themselves-so it’s easier to find details and information to put into their pieces.  Informational and argumentative writing, where they are being asked to read other resources, pull out relevant information and put it all into a coherent and organized piece of writing, is an entirely different story.  I struggled with this concept for years, until it finally hit me that I was never really taught how to teach writing.  I was always fairly good at writing and it was something which came naturally to me, aiding in my decision to become an English teacher.  So, I intrinsically knew how to write well and knew what needed to be in a solid piece of writing, but as I look back now, I see this as an obstacle to good teaching.  What I mean is, sometimes when you know how to do something instinctively, it is harder to relay that information to another because you expect them to just be able to do it as well.  But having an arsenal of writing strategies to share with students was not something I was taught in my teacher ed classes.  I could create lesson plans, recite the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, use differentiation, utilize backwards assessment, etc., etc., but I did not know how to teach writing to struggling students.  Until I embraced the idea of formulaic writing, which took me a very long time to appreciate and is something I still find myself wrestling with, always justifying it in my mind.

The writing I’m talking about is what is called “Chunk Writing” and it was introduced to me by my colleague and friend with whom I taught at Hiram College.  She and I were teaching together at the Weekend College; I taught a Level 1 Writing Course and she taught Level 2.  She used this method of “Chunk Writing” because she discovered, even at the college level, students struggled with the same issues high school kids found difficult-incorporating quotes, using transitions, citing sources, stating a topic sentence.  When she first showed me the “Chunk Writing” Method, I was not sold at first; my liberal-arts educational background wanted to protest and allow the students to “just write freely”.  But soon, I was completely sold because I saw impressive results once the students started using it, so I brought it to my high school students as well.  And within a year or two, all of the English teachers in the department began using it, with a few tweaks and adjustments here and there to fit their individual teaching styles and writing assignments.  But what I’ve found is that students have improved drastically with their informative and argumentative writing assignments and I attribute part of that to a commonality of language amongst teachers.  When a student hears “Chunk Writing”, they know they are going to have to write a topic sentence, add a main point with a transition, add a relevant quote to back up the main point and add commentary to explain the importance of the quote.  They know it because they’ve been doing it for two years in our career-tech high school and it’s something they take with them when going to college or taking their writing portion of the ACT.  It works.  Not everyone agrees with the format and I’ve had some college professors question my use of it, but my philosophy is, “You have to know the rules to break the rules”.  My students don’t always know the rules, so it’s my job to teach them the rules so they can take the “Chunk Writing” Method and make it their own after gaining a sense of confidence in their writing abilities.  I compare this method to training wheels; once comfortable with riding (or writing), take them off, explore and develop your own style.  But students need the foundation and we as English teachers have the responsibility to teach them the foundations and give students the tools for success.  I now have an arsenal of writing strategies, and I feel it’s made me a better teacher of writing.

I have a public folder with my “Chunk Writing” Resources in my Google Drive.  It includes the following:

  • Chunk Writing Template for my General English Class

  • Chunk Writing Template for my Dual Credit/Honors Class (addition of one “Chunk” and quote)

  • Information on how to write commentary after the quote using “They Say/I Say” Templates (check these out online as well-great resource)

  • Information on integrating and introducing quotes in the paper

  • Sample Chunk Paragraphs for both General and Dual Credit/Honors Classes

  • Sample Essays using the Chunk Writing Template

Feel free to use and take any of these resources for your own teaching if you think this may be something you’d like to use.  Here is the link: https://drive.google.com/a/tctchome.com/?tab=wo#folders/0B-CBIFvkp1wrUzBTM25CNDFtdHM

As a final note, “Chunk Writing” has a few unexpected benefits in terms of grading.  First, the template makes it very easy to grade because certain aspects must be included or students have not completed it correctly.  It almost becomes a checklist for the teacher and streamlines the grading process (add the use of the wonderful online grading tool, “Essaytagger” and you’ll not dread grading again.  Check it out-it was created for English teachers by an English teacher who feels our grading pain:  www.essaytagger.com. Best thing since sliced bread!).  Second, I have not had a problem with plagiarism since incorporating “Chunk Writing”; this method is not widely used, so students cannot find essays online which have been written in this format.  Bonus!

Again, I know formulaic writing is not for everyone and you may use it and find it’s not for you or your students.  But it has honestly changed the way I teach writing and has given confidence to students who felt they just couldn’t write well.  My students tell me all the time that they hated it at first, but now really like it because they have never been able to put their thoughts down on paper in an organized way.  And that is like music to a tired English teacher’s ears…