On Raising Strong Writers
This is always a powerful exercise, leaving my first-grade writers more aware of their own writing "moves" and helping them become more engaged in the writing process. The quality of writing typically rises when we have these discussions around anchor papers... I highly recommend trying it out in your own classroom. You can gather up student samples OR (an idea I like better) you can draft samples of your own, but they need to correlate to your grade's, school's, or district's expectations for student achievement.
In this example, I wrote four different samples based on the same topic: Going to the beach and seeing a stingray. (I live in Florida. Everyone in Florida knows stingrays, some personally... ouch.) Then, based on my district's criteria for this time of year, I wrote four versions of varying strength. These four writing samples have become the inspiration for several minilessons during our writing workshop this week.
On Monday, I read each of the samples and teams of students were challenged to study the stories, discuss their thinking, and put the stories in order from weakest to strongest. (All but one team actually put them in the correct order. The group that didn't, only reversed samples 3 and 4.)
On Tuesday, I asked the same teams to study only samples 3 and 4, the two strongest samples. The challenge this day was discuss why the 4 was stronger than the 3. The students came up with amazing thinking and, as a group, they discovered everything I hoped they would. I recorded some of their comments on sticky notes and we used sticky-note-arrows to highlight specific examples in the story.
On Wednesday, we studied sample #1 and talked about why that sample was difficult to read and I asked them, "What would make this writing stronger?" I loved it when one of my most fragile writers said, "If this writer was Stretchy Snake or used the word wall, it would be easier to read. He's only using the first letter. You have to guess what it says." (Brilliant observation, I thought.)
So, tomorrow is only Thursday, but I'm already seeing the benefits of these three days of discussion. It started with an inquiry question: How do writers know if their stories are interesting and strong? It developed into a rubric the students can refer to when self-evaluating their own stories as we move through this narrative unit. (A tool like a rubric can be a powerful parent-piece, too. It's very "visual" and helps parents see what "meeting expectations" and "exceeding expectations" looks like.)
What early writing lessons have you done with your children to help them monitor and self-assess their writing?