Multi-Genre Writing, Part I
I am blessed with teaching partners who are extremely dedicated to their students, so much so, we rotate like a junior high school (which makes for more work, but we have amazing kids, and they are so worth the effort), preparing our students for junior high as much as possible, and one of the ways we have our rotations set up is to do writing with science--the thought being we'd provide the experience and expectation of writing with science while exploring different modes, genres, purposes and so on. I also thought it would be another way to make writing fun while showing them writing is something used in other content areas.
In an experiment in the Mixtures and Solutions F.O.S.S. kit, the student had to find out which things made a mixture and which things made a solution. Gravel and water was a mixture, as was diatomaceous earth and water, but salt and water was a solution. So, we wrote obituaries for salt since it was dissolved.
The first thing we did was write a rubric. I said that science had to be a category, but they decided what would be an A, B, C, Dog and Fred for that category. They were a little hesitant at first--no one had ever asked them to create a rubric from which they would be evaluated--but after a few minutes, they were into it. Each rotation (I have four of them) made their own, and the categories that they would be assessed on ranged from Voice, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, Detail, and the constant, Science. How they would be evaluated was fairly consistent, which I was surprised by, but what didn't surprise me was how high the bar was set by them--if you got an A, you had to bust your hump, and in any laziness, you'd be branded with a C. This whole process takes about 20 minutes for someone who has done it before. For those who haven't, allow 30-40 minutes.
Next session: I read them a few obituaries, ones I had saved over the years, ones that were a real celebration of someone's life and had a bit of humor mixed in. After that, we made a checklist of what needed to be in an obituary: the name, date of birth and death, personal information, where and if services would be held, where donations and/or flowers could be sent. I had them fold their paper in half (the long way, making a fold as long as possible) to simulate newspaper columns. I turned them lose for about ten minutes of writing, and had a few kids share what they had--I was circulating the room at this time answering questions, helping direct writing, but also seeing who had great start so I could suggest that they read--another great reason to do this is that your kids who aren't seen by assessors of CSAP as being great writers, but have natural voice, a wonderful sense of humor, and a lot of natural talent, albeit very raw, find joy and success from this; and when they read aloud and see the smiles from their peers, they feel like writers. So I have a few kids read, so that the ones who are struggling can hear some examples of what a good obituary is. I also let them circulate the room to read each other's pieces, get feedback on their own pieces of writing in the name of both facilitating the revision process, but also to allow them the chance to show what they've done--they're excited about what they've produced, so let them share and feel more like the writers they are fast becoming. This process takes about 40 minutes for those who have done it. For those who haven't, plan on an hour.
The next time we meet, I pass out the rubrics they created so they have a guide. The checklist they have, which is on the rought draft, in case you were wondering, is exchanged with a writer they trust, and they make sure they have all the components. I do something very different with the rubrics. The rubric is printed on a whole sheet of paper, even though it only take up half a sheet of paper, but the bottom of it has lines, put into groups of four, one for each category for the rubric. They can look at the rubrics, but not write on them. I'll explain more about this later.
On the final draft, kids fold the paper in half, the same way as in the rough draft, but they don't put the checklist on here. I want it to look as much like a newspaper obituary as possible. With that in mind, I tell them that if they want to draw a picture of salt, an animated one, they can, so it looks more like an obituary. For my kids who love to draw, this gets them more into it. Students work on either revising their rough draft or their final draft.
This lesson takes about 40 minutes.
The next lesson is evaluation. There are two ways to do this: fold the corner down on their name and staple the obit. To the rubric, or, assign them a number and they write that on their paper rather than a name. This way kids won't know whose paper they're grading. Now, back tot he rubric. Kids don't get to pick who grades their papers, I do. On the rubric, I explain they use a hi-lighter to put an X in the box they feel is appropriate for each category. Then, they use the lines to explain why they gave it the grade they did. They HAVE TO write a reason. This helps eliminate lazy grading, but it makes them read closely, looking for more specific grading. Now, you may be shocked by this, but I don't take their grades that they give each other, and I don't grade these. They need the practice to writing and close reading more than I need the practice of grading. Kids get a 4 out of 4 just for doing it. After they've had more experience with this, then I grade them. While they are doing this, I sit at the conference table, and if they have questions they come up and ask, but most of these questions I answer with, "As a writer, what do you think it is?" and they give me an answer, I smile, and they go back to their seat--half the time, I think they just need to hear their question, know and be reassured that they are an intelligent audience, and they make the decision.
This process takes about 40 minutes. I make sure they come with a book to read or other things they'd like to work on when they're finished. When they are done, they hand it into a big basket next to me. It's next to me so I can see if they've done their job or not. If they haven't, I send them back to finish the justification part of the rubric.
If you have questions, comments, or would like to see some student samples, post a comment with your email addy and I will get back to you as soon as I can.