My forty-eight students are heterogeneously grouped throughout the day in three blocks of approximately seventy minutes each. I teach every aspect of the Language Arts: grammar, writing, spelling and reading comprehension. I consider my students to be a reflection of the greater group of students you can find in any sixth grade classroom in our state. Seventy-five percent of my students are White and the other 25 percent are Hispanic or mixed race. More than half of my students come from disadvantaged households, and we live in an economically depressed area of the state. Some of my students are working at an advanced level while others are proficient. However, at least half of my students are working one or more grades below their assigned grade level. My students’ writing skills vary widely, as do their reading levels. Therefore, I rarely give whole class writing instruction except when I am introducing a new genre of writing. I mainly work in small groups to target common learning targets, only pulling larger groups of student together when I observe a common misconception or gap in their skills. Before this year, I admit that my writing instruction was mostly limited to how to answer essay questions found embedded in our reading comprehension exercises. I rarely, if ever, gave the students opportunities to have choices in their topics or types of writing, and definitely didn’t foster a love for writing with my students who do NOT see themselves as writers. I do not blame the lack of writing skills on anyone other than myself, because up to this point I haven’t had a clear plan of action to rectify this situation.
My goal for this semester is to increase the time my students spend writing for authentic purposes. Although learning to write answers to essay questions is an authentic task for students, it is not an authentic task for adults. Therefore it is my goal to improve my instruction on opinion/persuasive/argument writing, which is an authentic task for all individuals. Of the many possible entry points into writing from which I could have chosen, I decided on argument writing because, not only is it in the Common Core State Standards for sixth grade, but it is also the type of writing that I feel best fits into the reading comprehension piece of my curriculum. While I am developing my skills in writing instruction, I felt that I need the scaffold of reading comprehension. I will focus on the questions of how to support my students’ acquisition of writing skills as related to argument writing. I expect they will need assistance in everything from basic sentence structure to final steps in publishing using technology. Yikes! The first step in any change of habit is the recognition for the need for change. I see that need very clearly, but I am still struggling on just how that change is going to occur. The next step will have to include just picking a spot and jumping in. What’s the old expression? “A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well. That first step happened last semester when I began writing poetry with my Sixers. They didn’t hate it, and I learned some valuable lessons on how I can include multiple genres in writing. Last semester my students wrote poetry for two voices using nonfiction texts! They learned a lot of factual information about their topics while deciding which information to include and leave out. I also learned from them by observing and listening closely to their conversations. One idea for a lesson that I overheard from a student was how to change the perspective of the characters in the poem. This is an important aspect of opinion and argument. The only thing standing in my way is the fear of the unknown. Together, with my students and peers, I CAN DO THIS!