Barbara Ganley continues to inspire me. Her post, Responding to & Evaluationg Writing is so timely. I’ve had “writing on my mind” for one of my thinkpieces for some time.  She is headed to a Faculty Writing Retreat where she will be leading a discussion on how they respond to student writing across the curriculum including evaluating the work. She will then follow this post with one outlining how and when she responds to writing in her classes and how she evaluates writing. I can’t wait! Her post yesterday though raised questions for her group. She wants to see how they respond.

This post made me think about the discussions I’ve had about writing with my elementary students. I use the Six Traits of Writing and build the blogging experiences around that framework. I did this with The Write Weblog and that worked well. They culminated all they had learned in their final PowerPoint presentation called The Blooming Bloggers Show. They did a superb job. I’m thinking though that this year I need to build in questions similar to Barbara’s early in the year. Get the kids thinking about this process. Here’s how I may adapt some of her questions to apply to the writing the kids will be doing on their blogs. Also, the great links she provided gave me a springboard for questions I’d like to ask.  Here goes!

  • Think of a time when a teacher responding to your writing that made you really put forth effort to improve it. Can you give details so that we understand better what it was that motivated you? On the other hand, can you remember a time when you wished the teacher had stepped back and resisted giving you feedback. Try to explain why it would have been better if the teacher had waited to help.
  • Who do you like to comment on your writing? Why did you make these choices?
  • What specific types of comments would be helpful for you in regard to your writing?
  • If you were going to comment on one of your peer’s posts what would you say to help the writer develop skill and confidence? You might want to address your comment around one of the six traits.
  • How does writing help you learn? What kinds of writing would you enjoy using to help you learn?
  • Think about times when teachers have given you a writing prompt in class. Is this helpful? Why or why not? Would it be helpful for students to create writing prompts for each other?

Elementary students don’t get much time to reflect on these types of questions. At first it is quite hard for them but I am convinced we need to promote those conversations. We can do it through the curriculum they are studying each day.
The last question above made me think about writing prompts that may help them with curriculum and assignments in class. I think the first step is to get them to write about what they were expected to learn from an assignment. Then maybe have them get in small groups and check to see if they are all on the same page. Just clarifying this in their minds really seems to help. Then extend this. Why learn this? What do they already know? What do they want to know?
A follow-up could be to talk/write about the steps they took to work on the assignment, any problems they had, how they tried to overcome the problem, what worked well and what strategies helped them the most. Then see if they have any feedback they want or would like to give.

I plan to continue thinking about “good questions” for mini writing activities that may help us understand what’s going on inside our students’ heads as they write. Blogs are good spaces to get kids writing to learn!

Points to ponder read here and there on Barbara’s links (mostly on the Middlebury’s Teaching Resources page): (which is a great resource you need to explore)

  • Recognition of growth as a writer and thinker is facilitated by documentation. 
  • To become better writers we must all read our own work critically.  We will comment on each other’s writing to achieve this goal.
  • Has the writer made the subject worth reading about?
  • Have you learned something about writing so far? What do you consider most beneficial? Least?
  • Use informal writing techniques (freewrites, responses, field notes, postings): writing to learn.
  • Publish good writing. It’s infectious.
  • Share the pleasure.