The Science of Teaching Writing

A blog on teaching, with an emphasis in teaching writing.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Out of the Dust

Four weeks into the third quarter and it's already time to worry about the CSAP tests that will be coming in the third week of March. Aye. I feel I've done a better job teaching this year than any other--my students progress in writing is wonderful, their ability to read and understand fiction and nonfiction is great--so now come the time to teach deeper thinking, making an argument and supporting that argument. Sometimes, it's fun. Sometimes I'd rather run into a fence fielding a fly ball.

How I teach this is by using the novel Out of the Dust, where I write questions my students respond to. I find this is a great way to give them feedback on their answers, something I feel they need in their academic writing, but also as a way to understand their thinking and how well they are understanding instruction. It also is great for losing hair--I pull some of it out while I grade. It has also lead to some great reflection on my part as to what I need to do better so they will do better. Here are some of what I'm seeing.

I'm seeing a lot of kids who will list two reasons, but not support any of them. One question reads, "Why do you think the speaker chose to write that she has 'stayed red ever since' in her poem?" One student wrote, "I think she stayed red because she was embarrassed. I also think she stayed red because she had a sun burn." The first one I could see, the second one told me she was reading on a very literal level and needed to think deeper. Now, just telling this child to think deeper isn't going to get her to where I think she needs to be. I need to teach a lesson incorporating the differences between literal and figurative, between explicit and implicit. Another way I can do this is to talk about symbolism (colors, symbols, archetypes), and as a class, reading a passage that makes use of this and having kids write down everything that comes to mind when they read it: "playing notes sharp as tongues"

For some kids who really need to see how to answer, how to state a reason and support it, I need to overhead some excellent answers to show how it's done, but have the kids explain why it was good. I'm also going to do this with some from last year that aren't very good, and talk about what needs to be changed, how they can be improved. I'm going to have students revise these answers to make them better--it may take some pain out of revising their own answers if they get to do it with other people's answers.

Another reason why I think their thinking isn't great is because they see things from their own point of view--they aren't seeing it from a 15 year-old girl in 1934, forgetting how girls were supposed to act, and what their inspirations were supposed to be. We already had this conversation once, a good one at that, but it needs to happen again. I'm thinking how I'll remedy this is to have kids break into smaller groups and have them talk about struggles of girls today, and what they were in 1934, both comparing and contrasting. I'll do it around specific issues, each group getting a different issue, and them have them report out and discuss.

With all the feedback I'm giving on their responses, I need to make time for them to read. With the first few, I assumed they would read them. Nope! The diligent kids do, but they aren't the ones who really need to. As much as I gripe about not having enough time for this, that and the other thing, if I'm spending an hour plus a night giving feedback, I can take ten minutes each day to have them read over them--I'm going to do it in small groups to make sure my space cadets are reading them, not just feigning the act.

For those of you who are interested in what I'm doing with this and would like to see the "Lit. Pages" as I call them, with the questions I've generated, please drop me your email and I'll share resources.


At 7:15 PM, Blogger rambandgeek said...

One of the many reasons I am frustrated by my school and district right now: I check out your blog and find you are teaching the same novel to your students that some of my colleagues are teaching to theirs. I know some books can span ages, but is Out of the Dust really one? Are we challenging our kids enough at my school or are we doing a disservice by watering things down? I haven't had a chance to read the book myself, so I am curious as to what you think.


Post a Comment

<< Home