Ch. 13 Reflection
HAVE A HEART
When conferring with students, Ralph Fletcher might say it best, “We must speak to our students with an honesty tempered by compassion: Our words will literally define the ways they perceive themselves as writers.”
When I read some of the negative comments students recalled being written on their papers, I literally cringed. Talk about pulling the rug out from under someone. I have students who would completely shut down if I wrote any one of those negative comments on their papers. Fortunately, I think those comments were extreme; I don’t personally know any teachers who would make such heartless remarks on a student’s piece of writing. Whew!
I believe a lot of effort has gone into training teachers to choose their words carefully, using phrases such as, “It’s ultimately your choice how you revise because this is your piece of writing, but what do you think about some of these revision ideas?” We all know that, so many times, the cliche of It’s not what you say, but how you say it holds true. Writing is very personal for our students. On page 352, I found it interesting to read the internal dialogue responses of students to specific teacher comments. On page 353, the comment, “Good feedback causes thinking” was powerful for me.
To me, this means we don’t just tell students HOW to revise, we point them in the right direction, model some strategies, give them options to think about and choose. This technique, is more aligned, I believe with teaching students how to help themselves even when we are not with them. The ‘showing vs. telling’ way of writing also holds true for teaching writing.
WHOLE GROUP REVISION VS. ONE-ON-ONE CONFERENCES
In 4th and 5th grade, I find that my students often need some specific ideas about how to improve, “va-goo” (vague) comments aren't enough to stimulate growth. One of the most powerful revision tools I have come across, is asking a student permission to take a look at their hard work in front of the class. Most of my students love being in this spotlight. I can scan and import the writing onto the Promethean Board. As a class, we can develop a collective consciousness about how to respectfully praise and revise work. We can pool our thoughts together in a whole class discussion of a single student’s work. If we identify an area where we would like the student to “stretch it out” and add more detail, or maybe change the wording to assist with fluency or reorganization, the students can simultaneously attempt the same type of revision within their own piece of writing, right then and there….mini-lessons in action.
I have to admit, I try to use this teaching technique more than one-on-one conferences because I feel that this models and reaches more of my students, also keeping more of them on task. However, I think the “two-minute” writing conference topics on pg. 356 could be very helpful in alleviating my own anxiety about establishing a meaningful purpose. Perhaps the students could be given a similar list ahead of time, choose their own purpose, and come to the conference ready to share their progress or ask questions about their self-selected topic. On pg. 368, Spandel again shows her advocacy of teaching the traits “through revision and editing practice - not through teacher correction that has no true impact on students’ skills.”
I like the idea that you can choose to focus on and grade only one or traits at a time. This reminds me of the freedom I felt when I first learned about Focus Correction Areas with Collins Writing.
I would like to improve with my own parent involvement with student writing. Once in awhile, I will ask students to take home their rough draft, my model, and the rubric to self-assess with a parent as their homework. I don’t think I do this often enough though. I would like to send home a letter to parents that contains some of the suggestions on pgs. 368-369 along with a summary of the writing traits.