How do I teach them everything they need to know? How do I make relevant to their lives–both now and later–the things we do and learn? How do I push them, stretch them, without breaking them? How do I get them to understand that my earnest intent is not to do something to them but for them? How do I…?
Of course the list goes on, the list of concerns and questions that are ever-present in my mind as I daily–sometimes hourly–attempt to make the best decisions for my little darlings in 219. Truly a torment. Yesterday, out of concern that we are not writing enough, I decided to breathe life back into “weekly essay.” As one might expect, it wasn’t necessarily warmly received. You see, I dwell in a world where, for many, any writing is too much writing, so it was no great surprise to me that my fellow dwellers in 219 didn’t raise a cheer at the news. However, despite their not-so-quiet protestations, I stood steadfast, for I know that, like it or not, it is good for them–now and later. I call it the broccoli factor.
Green is generally not the most loved color on one’s dinner plate. In fact, many avoid the color all together, and this is seemingly true for young and old alike, but it seems especially true for the young, who wanting and having many so many other palate-pleasing options generally avoid if not not outright shun, the less savory parts of the meal. True, too, they–the young–don’t often get a choice as their dutiful, diligent parents make them eat what is good for them, a perennial parental battle. But we–the parents–take up arms anyway, and fight the fight for we know it is good for our kids. And this is how I feel when I put on the plate the less savory parts of the curriculum, in this case–writing. And sadly, it is often a battle. But some fights are worth fighting.
Writing, I believe, may be one of the most important skills that kids learn in school. It is both a gate-keeping (getting in the door) and a ladder-climbing (advancing in one’s career) skill that can have lifelong implications. But it’s hard to get kids to buy, much less own, that at this age. Still, I fight the fight. But, to be clear, it is not always an easy fight, for teaching writing is perhaps the most difficult thing to teach. It is a demanding experience for both students and teachers, so much so that it generally is not given its due place in the curriculum, sometimes getting avoided all together. Or on the other end, teachers fall into the assigning-versus-teaching trap. It is easy to assign writing. It is not easy to teach writing. So teachers often overcompensate by assigning and not teaching, or they undercompensate by generally avoiding it. But this cannot be. We cannot neglect that which may in the end be the most important. We cannot let generations of kids leave the table without the proper nutrition they need to reach their necessary potential. We can no longer perpetuate malnutrition because it’s hard for teachers or disliked by kids. We have to feed them writing.
So, as an ongoing effort to do different, I am seeking to strike a careful balance between assigning and teaching writing. For the assigning part, practice is necessary. We know. We know that if kids are to become better writers, they have to write. But that also means that they will have to write more than I can possibly read or grade. So what to do? Well, for the teaching part, I will give them feedback on each essay of the week, on a specified element that they and I will focus on to help each progress and improve as a writer. For example, this week the emphasis is on organization. Here I present a criteria-based performance standard in the form of a rubric, which I will use to assess their writing on a 4-point scale (4 = exceeds standard, 3 = meets standard, 2 = below standard, 1 = well-below standard). In addition to the scale number, I will give brief, descriptive, here’s-something-you-can-do-to-improve feedback. It is manageable for me and it is also manageable for the kids. I can give feedback without reading the entire essay (I cannot read 25,000 words a week), and the kids can take into consideration and put into practice one aspect that will help them improve as writers. They will earn 10 points for completing the essay, and the other possible 4 points will come from the performance scale, for a total of 14 points. With this approach, the kids are writing consistently, and they are getting feedback consistently. To keep our sanity, I set a 250 word limit. I want them to eat their greens, not choke on them.
In the end, this may not be the perfect approach, but it is my best go at present. A “go” that I have tried to make in the best interest on my kids’ health–now and later.
Happy Wednesday, all. Anybody put pen to paper yesterday?
- Little Things Matter: Morning Minutes, February 16, 2016
- Keepin’ it Real: Morning Minutes, February 18, 2016