Friday, February 26, 2016

Just Tell Students What You Want and How You Want It

Okay - well I might just be old-fashioned, but I truly believe when it come to writing, students just need to be told what should be done and how it should be done.  I had a conversation with a brand new, fresh from college teacher  about writing.  She said that students don’t need lots of instruction; they just need time to create.  My question was how do the student know what to create if you don’t tell them - I was truly confused.

I teach 7th and 8th grade Language Arts.  When I give a writing assignment, I tell the students what I actually expect them to do.  For example, my students write a letter to the editor for composition assignment.  I tell them that I expect it to be in a business letter format, with a persuasive focus, and have a call to action in the conclusion.  I tell them that I expect that they revise for clarity and edit using CUPS - capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling (Step Up to Writing).  I give them a model of exactly what I am looking for them to do. I give them the rubric of how I am going to grade them. I have taken a generic 6 Traits rubric and adapted it to my own assignments.  The only aspect of the assignment that I don’t give is the topic.  I let them choose their own topics for two reasons:  first, students are more likely to write if they like the topic; and two, I like variety and don’t really want to read 50 compositions about the same topic.  

When I explain this to the new teacher, she was truly befuddled because she was taught that students need to explore how to do assignments and have freedom to interpret the assignment.  I have found that students, regardless of the age group,  get very stressed and parents get very confused if assignments are not clear. Also, I find myself very stressed and confused if I don’t know what is expected.  I mean, really, how am I to grade an assignment if I don’t know what is expected from the students?

Now I understand that students need time to be creative and explore.  I love free writing, journaling, creative writing, but only if it is not a graded assignment.   I also have found that once students have been given the basics, then they are more comfortable taking risks because they feel they have a firm command of the basics. I feel that my job is to give them the basics, then they can be as creative they want.  

Auman, Maureen E. Step up to Writing. Longmont, CO: Sopris West, 2003. Print.

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