Teaching writing all day in a departmentalized model comes with its challenges. When focusing on planning for a writing unit, we often get wrapped up in what we need to include and what we should be doing. Very rarely, do we think about what we should NOT be doing. Going into my fourth year of teaching writing all day to fifth graders, and eight years behind that of teaching writing to first, I have learned many things about what does and does not work.
Here are five things I try to not to do when teaching writing:
Our writing program in fifth grade consists of nine writing units. We start with personal narrative, and cover fiction, nonfiction, opinion, poetry, functional writing, as well as an introductory and conclusion unit. Getting through all of these units can often be stressful, but skipping any of the writing process stages will just make life much more difficult in the end. This is why I am always sure to pre-write, edit, revise, and take the time to make sure we do it all correctly. In the end, taking time to do these stages ensures that when we enter into our final units, students are revising and editing as though it is second nature to them!
I understand completely that getting through conferences can be monotonous. We often don’t have time to meet with all students, and it can become extremely overwhelming. However I have ALWAYS regretted having to grade a piece that I have only just looked at for the first time. Conferencing can be as long as you would like, or as long as the students need. However, I feel a quick check in at least is important so a can be sure each student is on track.
Give too Much Feedback
This one is difficult for me. When we are editing pieces with students we often find many mistakes that we want to change right away. However, I urge you not to do this. Not only does it become overwhelming for the student, but the conference becomes unfocused, and the student often ends up more confused than when they started. I always try to have one or two areas of focus for the student for when they leave. Whether that be to work on their run on sentences, or to add detail, it has to be a focused area that they can change.
Give Hardly Any Feedback
Just as we want our students to explain their answers, we need to do this for them as well. Even if a student is doing very well on a piece of writing, I still try to take them to that next step. Are there more descriptive words they can use? Can they make their introduction more interesting for the reader? There are times I’m so happy that a student is on track that I forget to challenge them and bring them to that next level. This inevitably does not help them progress.
Avoid Giving a Due Date
I may get pushback for this one but I stick by my opinion. Not giving a due date for a writing piece is not realistic for the real world. When our students are in the real world they will be asked to meet deadlines so why shouldn’t we prepare them? I even go as so far as to take points away when they are late on the assignment. Many times this eliminates the problem of being unproductive during our writing time. Of course, I take different circumstances into account, and if I need to give students extra time, I will. However, in my experience due dates ensure students are on time, and we can give them feedback in a timely manner!
Hope you can bring some of these tips into your writing lessons this year!