Laying The Foundations For Young Writers

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Standardized writing tests are an unpleasant fact of life for today's teachers.  Gone are the days when we taught students to do good for goodness's sake, when our goal was to create doers, thinkers, and leaders.  

Now we are mandated to produce good test takers.  So, how is a teacher to come up with the most efficient way of preparing his or her students for the ever-present state writing tests?  It can be done, and very effectively, if a teacher keeps a few basic principles before her.

Wendy Gerber works in the Georgia public schools.  She understands the importance of maximizing writing instruction during limited class time. She starts her students in August using a model she's developed to individually assess each student. Then Wendy carefully measures her class's strengths and weaknesses.  She keeps records and writing samples to build a profile of each student's performance.

The students are taught, right from inception, the characteristics of strong writing. Wendy often helps her students set their own goals for improvement-one characteristic at a time, one challenge at a time. 

Her charges move from writing that is barely legible to writing that is original, creative, and interesting.  This kind of progress is typical in Wendy's classroom.  All of her students improve during the course of the year because they've been taught what good writing looks like.

How? Wendy targets her lessons to areas of the class's greatest need. If she finds that the class, on the whole, has a pretty good handle on sentence structure and feels confident about experimenting with new ways of expressing themselves, Wendy doesn't emphasize those skills in her lessons. However, if she notices an area where her students are weaker, she provides the instruction and practice to help them.

In other words, Wendy instruction is driven by her assessment - a methodology every good teacher knows by heart.  In Karen's classroom, however, it really works because she gives each student specially tailored instruction so that each student gets what he or she needs to succeed. Everyone gets better.

The more experienced writers become even more creative and self-assured, and the less skillful writers make quantifiable improvements on a consistent basis.  The students are pleased because they achieve the class goal of measurable improvement.

By teaching students to evaluate their own revisions, and then teaching them how to get better, Wendy  gives each student the tools for being a good writer. With application and practice, students become capable of producing pieces of writing that demonstrate mastery.
  
This ability to critically evaluate personal writing is often what's missing in students, particularly the inexperienced.   A teacher's mission should therefore be to provide practice and experience. Students will then become self-editors. 

It all starts with understanding the state standards.  If a teacher follows the path of revealing expectations, providing a framework for success, and instituting the practice necessary for building experience and confidence, these methods lead to repeated success.

Darryl S. Ellrott is a twenty year veteran of Georgia's public schools.  He has seen it all teaching English and composition to students of virtually ever age and ability level.  He is also a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Darryl is the Editor-In-Chief at Big Rock Publishing.  Darryl's blog can be found at dsellrott.com.

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