Wednesday, March 12, 2014

13/31 - Hurrah,It's A Palindrome!

           All the wonderful writing this month can be found at the Slice of Life Challenge at the blog, Two Writing Teachers.  
          As a literacy coach, I wear a lot of hats: book groups, lessons with classes, lessons for small groups, book talks, meetings with teachers, special things like the Newbery club with the librarian. I am always happy to work with students and enjoy that bit of ‘being back in the classroom’.  What cannot be helped, even with a talk with the teacher, is that I can’t know all that has gone before. I can’t know how much students are used to revising, or if they’re in and out with a couple of drafts, and then moving on.  I do ask both the teachers and the students, yet still nagging in the back of my brain. What's different is that they're not my students and I have not spent hours with them.



           When planning, I do talk with the teacher to outline most of what I’ll be doing, but it still isn’t enough. We all work hard to make it work, and talk later to plan what’s next.  I’m not complaining, just telling how it goes. A few weeks ago I shared that I was starting a class of our middle school students on an assignment to research and write a spoken word piece about their names. I led the lesson, showing several examples of writing about names, and during the rest of the week, the teacher shared other examples of  personal essays about names, some poetry too. The expectation was open ended, parents were asked to help by making themselves available for interviews, and students brought a first draft the following week. I paired them, twice, and they left with two responses from classmates. This past Monday, with a second draft ready, they worked with two classmates again, made notes on their work, but turned them in. The teacher and I each have a copy.
         This work with these awesome students, by the way, brings more questions to the work:
          I will respond to the content and flow of the writing tonight only, and have finished about two-thirds. Some are not very exciting; some are wonderful. I have settled in, like several years ago, like many of you, to a few hours of response. I never minded this in the past, and I am enjoying reading.  This time, however, my dilemma is that I don’t know the students very well, and am unsure about response.  And because of these thoughts, I remember sometimes being unsure as a teacher too. How much is too much? When is it time to settle and finish with copy edits on the next draft?

         When you have to read your students’ work,
                       How much do you critique?
                        How much do you stay away, even if you have an idea that it could improve?
                        Do you tell how to improve (if large changes needed), or do you allow the student to go with his or her own idea, after some conferring?
                       When is it time to stop?

                        What are the questions I'm not asking?


        Because I’m pondering all these as I read, I thought it was a good conversation I would pose to you readers. If you have time to share, I’d love to hear your ideas. Thanks!

32 comments:

  1. Ooh, good questions. As my students bee writing poems, I have been asking them questions to push them on thinking about word choice. It's a fine line, isn't it. I think it depends on each individual.

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    1. You hit one thing I so agree with Jone, it depends on the individual. There isn't any one thing to do with everyone. Thanks!

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  2. So difficult to answer these questions. I usually go with less is more. I try to find what they did well and push into that. There is a fine line between suggesting something you see that they may have felt but couldn't put the words together for and the thing you see that really wasn't in there, but now that you mention it, if that's what you want teach I'll add it. We want something that speaks to us, but I try to resist that and push for what speaks to them and edges toward what the reader (me) wants.

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    1. It is tempting to give too much advice, and it becomes my writing instead of theirs, agreed. Back to the individual that I know, and that goes first to a talk with the teacher. Thanks Julieanne.

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  3. You are making me think very deeply early in the morning:) Because all of my students are ELLs, I try to think of their level of proficiency and previous writing pieces when giving feedback. Some are at the level that I can say "revise" and they will find a way to do it. Others need a one-on-one conference to make a plan for revision. I will have to think about more as I look over papers that are due today.

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    1. Thanks Jaana, sorry for the "too early" thinking! Yes, knowing what has gone before seems critical to me, too, so like my comment above, back to the teacher and his knowledge!

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  4. "This time my dilemma is I don't know the students very well." This is the kicker really, who can you push or stretch? Which child is fragile and needs kid gloves? classroom teacher should be able to help with this some, but it isn't the same as really knowing them is it?

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    1. No, it isn't the same at all. It's what drove me to write this, and perhaps the additional message is that knowing the student is critical in order to teach them well. Thanks Amy.

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  5. Sorry Linda, I can't offer any light to your questions. This is something I struggle with also when I go into classes to model. It's tricky, but I know your response will be appreciated by each student. Just the act of responding validates attempts.

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    1. Thanks Elsie, I appreciate that you feel similar in some situations!

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  6. I'm with Jaana...deep thoughts, age old thoughts. I usually go for the big picture first...simply does this make sense here? Or I'm having difficulty understanding what you are trying to say? Explain to me out loud what this is about. I don't try to do it all in every piece of writing (especially editing for grammar). I think you nailed it when you said that having a relationship and knowing the writer is so important. If we don't have the luxury of including in a the class often, of course it is an almost impossible job. xo

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    1. I "think" that's what I did most times, the overall message, marking where a simple change would work better for clarity. I left a few alone until I can talk with the teacher-we're meeting today! Thanks, Nancy!

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  7. I hadn't thought of this, but it is so hard to respond when you don't know the kids. Makes me think of the start of the school year. I tend to only focus on one area and compliment where I see growth until I know them more.

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    1. And your connection is so right, starting the year with more tentative conferences, feeling one's way with each student is exactly what we do. Thanks for reminding about that too.

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  8. This is a great conversation to have, Linda. I do think having a shared system for assessment helps so much to unify feedback across a school. If the goals for every genre of writing are clearly spelled out and spiral from grade to grade, then it feels easier for me as a coach to give feedback because I know exactly what the students are working towards. Also, the students get to hear the same goals reinforced again and again, which they really need. In my talks with teachers, I might ask which goals they are emphasizing. For example, some parts of units lend themselves to structure goals, some to elaboration goals. I'd love to keep "talking" about this!

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    1. Terrific to hear, Anna, yet the dilemma for our school is that we do emphasize the individual path, and this is a mixed class of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. That said, the youngest still may have a "writer's voice" already while others do not. There is no exact goal and that creates a problem for response too. This writing business is quite subjective, isn't it? In this particular assignment, the goal ultimately is to create for speaking aloud, so rhythm, repetition, something in a 'story-telling' style are a few of the expectations.

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  9. Great post! As a specialist, I know exactly where you are coming from. It's only in one class that I have just recently began looking at work. The only advice I can say that has helped me, is to sit with the classroom teacher. Both of you have such different insight - the teacher knows the background best and you have the understanding of where you want them to go - it does make the going a little smoother. Of course we don't always have the time for that collaboration, but when we do, it does help! Good luck :)

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    1. Yes, you're right Michele, and we're meeting this morning before the writing is returned to the students. It will help immensely! Thanks!

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  10. I'm not sure if this adds to the conversation or not, but something that stuck with me is that most people need to feel 80% successful to want to keep going...so 5 complements for every correction :-).

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    1. I've never heard it quite that way, great idea to follow! Thank you!

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  11. A very important dialogue. IT must be so more challenging because you don't have the back history with each child. That makes so much difference - who needs to be pushed, who needs more support, who needs an oral meeting. etc. Going with you heart will be the best I think.

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    1. Thanks Beverley, as I get to work with the group, I will learn more, and yes, I'll use my heart's intuition too.

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  12. I find myself in similar positions a lot. My mantra has become that I teach the writer and not the writing--whatever I teach has to be within that child's ZPD so that they are able to transfer the skill into the next piece of into another portion of that piece. It helps-- and I have been coaching teachers to have students do this-- if students are setting their own goals, because then you can start the conference with "so what are you working on." Wow, there's so much to talk about in this "conversation." I may have to write a post about it! Thanks for the inspiration to think!

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    1. Thanks for thinking about that 'next step" too, Melanie. That makes good sense, that all the words I'm offering, will be for a broader context! It is a big conversation!

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  13. Like Melanie, I think that is is a post worthy sort of question, Linda. On the rare occasions I go into someone else's class, I try to do a quick pre-reading the writing conference. Sometimes I ask to see portfolios ahead of time. I guess I am looking for a quick thumbprint. I try to get to one area of weakness and one area of strength: here's where you can build up, here's where you "did awesome". But this is inherently a bit frustrating - you are not the everyday teacher, you can only do the extra bit. But...now you have me thinking, as you usually do!

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    1. Thanks Tara. One of the nicest things about everyone's response is that, like you, they understand the dilemma. I always do look for what is good first, and thank goodness I know the students well enough through the teacher's tips that I can also see who "should" have pushed a little harder.

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  14. I thought I would answer some of the questions:) How much is too much? When is it time to settle and finish with copy edits on the next draft?- I think it depends on the student. Some students require that extra push, some need me to pull back. It is so hard when you don't know the students. When you don't know the students maybe look for patterns. Was the work strong in the beginning? Did the student get fatigued? Maybe they will be ready to put in harder work after they step away. You can also consider how close they are to the next level on the rubric. If small revising them ramps up their work to the next level, maybe it's worth it.

    When you have to read your students’ work,
    How much do you critique? I find two stars (two good things) and two wishes (two things I would like them to work on), sometimes I may have more or less wishes depending on the student.

    Do you tell how to improve (if large changes needed), or do you allow the student to go with his or her own idea, after some conferring?- Conferring, we come up with wishes together after talking.

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    1. Love the ideas, Latisha, looking for the good things, like others shared above, and then ideas for revision. I know that students welcome direction, it's just that not knowing "these" well, don't want to ask for too much. I'll be conferring with them on Monday-all these tips are so timely! Thank you!

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  15. Great questions! I usually try to push students on one thing at a time (i.e. more details, word choice, etc.) Unless grammar/mechanics detracts from meaning, I save that for "finishing touches" -- content is first for me. Lately, after listening to Penny Kittle, I'm also trying to start by listening --- letting the student tell me what they WANT help with, and guiding them on that! (For those that have something in mind, which isn't everyone!)

    You must be an awesome coach to have... I wish you could "coach" me! :-)

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    1. I wish we could work together, too, Jennifer! You're so right, content first, finishing touches later. When I get a chance to confer, which I will this time with some, I do listen first. Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them showed me that, and so much more! Thanks for the comment!

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  16. Thanks for raising these important questions, Linda! This is a post I need to reread and think more carefully about, but my first instinct is not to overwhelm students. Rather, pick one or two skills that will help them grow as writers and go from there.

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    1. I think we all agree, Catherine, to work a step at a time with the individuals. Thank you!

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Having a conversation is a good thing!