Friday, July 27, 2012

New Thoughts on How to Use the Standards - Writing

Writing has taken center stage in the new standards. When you study the PARCC Model Curriculum Frameworks ( or the documents they have put out for Publishers, you see very clearly the relationship of reading, writing, and discourse to the expectations for success in our new standards-based classrooms.

Look at the anchor standards for writing. When planning, choose from among the first three standards to provide students with the reason to write. Part of thinking about that reason is to imagine and plan for the audience that will read the argument, explanation, or narrative. Students should be writing like a reader and testing their written thoughts through that lens as they write. It will be easier to do so, when the audience is someone other than the teacher. Researchers tell us that providing authentic reasons and audiences for student writing enhances engagement and motivation (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003; Irwin, Meltzer, Mickler, Phillips, & Dean, 2009).

Next, integrate one or more of the grade-appropriate standards from among 4 - 6. Use these to decide which of the elements of the process of writing you will be teaching. Process is subsumed under the more important considerations of purpose and audience. Process is not the reason for writing anymore than fluency is the reason for reading. The elements of process support writing comprehension. We have in the recent past been focused on process, sometimes to the detriment of purpose.

Match the elements that you have chosen to research, standards 7 - 9. Look at the PARCC model - research goes hand-in-hand with that reading-writing connection - always. The implication here is that writing calls for the reading, listening, studying, and/or exploration of several texts (used in the broadest sense). Even writing a narrative calls for exploration of either the style/format of several mentor texts, or the subject matter of several like texts.

Students should not be asked to write merely on the basis of a single prompt, such as, "Tell about a hero in your life." Students may be asked to do this after they have read/explored a number of written depictions of heroes but not without that support. This is another way in which the rigor of the classroom experience has been elevated by these standards.

The goal is Standard 10. It presumes that many experiences with writing, for many reasons, every day will lead to flexibility and grade-appropriate maturity as a writer. The call for routine writing for many purposes and in many situations puts writing to learn, as well as to demonstrate learning, at the heart of classroom instruction.

Though the standards separate three main reasons to write, the mature writer flexibly uses all three in many situations. Consider a famous speech or written treatise such as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, each contains argument supported by explanation and anecdote. Mature writers incorporate all three purposes seamlessly into their writings and make choices based on the audience they imagine will read or listen to the work. Our high school students should be able to write that way, gradually demonstrating a flexible understanding of how the purposes interact and support one another.   

Duke, N., & Bennett-Armistead, S. (2003). Reading & writing informational text in the primary grades: Research-based practices. New York. Scholastic.
Irwin, J., Meltzer, J., Meckler, M., Phillips, M., Dean, N. (2009). Meeting the challenge of adolescent literacy: Practical ideas for literacy leaders. Newark, DE. IRA.