That Writing Thing

(I apologize for the lame title…I’m a bit sleepy!)

I kept putting off writing this entry because I didn’t really feel like I had a good topic. However, as I neared the end of the Smith article on writing myths, I realized what I wanted to write about. Then I finished the article and realized he took the words right out of my mouth. So, here goes:

For the past two weeks, the seventh graders in the classroom where I do my practicum have been working on a names project. Basically, it is a research paper to get them geared up for the big science research paper they will have this year. This gives them time to practice their research and writing skills. Last week, they went over how to do their bibliographies – they need 1 book source, 1 web source, and 1 personal interview with a parent or relative. Then they had three days of research in the library for books & websites. The assignment is pretty neat, I think most of the kids are getting into it quite a bit. This week, they started out with a graphic organizer to organize their paragraphs – from my terrible memory, those included: what’s in a name?, how I got my name, what my name means, and then an intro and an “extension aspect,” which could be research on a middle name or surname or perhaps other names that they may have been named, or a paragraph about who they were named after. Then they moved on to doing one organization sheet for each paragraph in order to get a topic sentence, 1-3 facts, and explanations/elaborations on said facts, and then a conclusion sentence. This was their pencil draft, and my co-op modeled her own draft at each step in the project for the students. The students wrote during class and we were both there to answer questions. (Note: I know this assignment sounds very prescriptive, but trust me, this is not the only writing the students do in class, so I promise it is not all so “do this,” “put this here” kind of thing. Though we talk about the evilness of the five paragraph essay, I think in this instance, it works. Feel free to disagree, but it really isn’t as exact/demanding/I-can’t-think-of-the-right-word as I’m making it sound! I’m just not good at description at the moment :-).)

I mentioned to my co-op that I was finding some of the questions difficult to answer because it’s been a long time since I wrote in terms of organization like that. The next day, she handed me copies of each sheet and told me that she ALWAYS does the writing that she asks her students to do, and suggested me writing my own name report might help me better respond to students. I filled out the graphic organizer and the paragraph worksheets and came up with my own first draft of the name report. And I felt much more effective in answering student questions that day and the day after. I encouraged students to try an idea, reminding them that this was only a draft and that they could come back to make changes at any time.

While I think I *must* have realized (how could I not? It seems so obvious!) that it is easier to respond to student work when you yourself have done the same assignment, I was pleasantly surprised by how at ease I felt afterwards. Smith captures this perfectly when he states, “The assertion is that children will learn to write and to enjoy writing only in the presence of teachers (or other adults) who themselves write and enjoy writing” (31-32). I gave better advice when I had gone through my own name report process. When a student came to me with questions about how to write her conclusion, I shared mine with her and gave her some jumping off points based on what her own opinion on the importance of names might be. After assisting a student and asking, “Does that help?” the smile and nod I get in return remind me what is so great about teaching: about reaching the students and providing a good positive role model. After all, if their teacher AND Mrs. Moulton (who is a super cool University of Iowa student) both like writing, it must be pretty great! 😉

Question: Have you had an experience like this, either with modeling for students or that “it’s-great-to-be-a-teacher” moments? I want to hear!



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2 responses to “That Writing Thing

  1. Randi,
    Great post. It is funny how “simple” the ah-ha moments can be, isn’t it? I have heard Bonnie say 1,000 times, “A good teacher never asks her students to do something that they themselves will not,” and I nod in agreement and then proceed to plan my lessons without actually doing the thing I’m asking them to do. This is a good reminder. Thanks!

  2. My co-op does a great job of doing the work along with his students. I think that that is a great mentality to have, although I have yet to write a character analysis paragraph like the 8th graders I’m working with were required. I think I’m going to reconsider after reading this… Thanks!

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