Today’s citizens need to be fluent in the art of language. They are bombarded with social media, false advertisements, and propaganda. They have to sort through all of this information to make educated, well-informed judgments. In order to do this successfully, they have to be taught the communication skills of argumentation. However; I am just one little teacher. I can’t do it all alone. I am learning not to be alone by incorporating as many authors as I can into my lessons so that students can learn author’s craft from a diverse population of real, authentic writers. I am also learning that I have other professional educators working side by side with me that I can utilize to share the load. Students don’t learn in a vacuum. If I am the only one teaching writing skills, the students will learn the skills, but will also learn to compartmentalize their learning and only apply it to language arts instead of across content areas.
One way that I can help support these “non-language arts” teachers is to help develop cueing systems that help students, and teachers, make the connections they will need in order to transfer these skills to other content classes. These cueing systems will include anchor charts, mentor texts written by authentic authors, exemplar texts written by students, checklists, and rubrics. For more information check out the article “Why Argue?” by Mary Ehrenworth in this month’s issue of Educational Leadership. Young writers also need repeated opportunities to write. In the past I have been guilty of “getting through” a writing unit and thinking about how glad I am that I don’t have to worry about it again until next year. (Head is hanging in shame here.) One thing that I have learned about my students is that they are not on grade level when it comes to their writing skills. For that reason, I have decided that I must meet them at their level and bring them as close to grade level expectations as possible with the remaining time we have together.
We have been reading the novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe during class. Some of the students are reading independently, some in small groups, and some with me or the inclusion teacher. After reading, they have a “worksheet” to fill in with vocabulary and short answer questions. (My purpose here was for the students to be creating a study guide since my district uses Accelerated Reading and will expect the students to pass the test when they finish reading.) There is also a short answer prompt that asks them to respond on a deeper level.I did a random “spot check” in order to make sure that the students that were not working directly with me this week were understanding the unfolding plot. I was surprised by the poor quality of the students writing. They were writing short bulleted lists instead of the complete sentences with textual evidence that I know they can produce. Without explicit, directed guidance, they revert to poor writing habits. Aarrgghhh!After a brief conference to refer to the anchor chart and discuss “what good writing looks like,” the students were able to produce better written responses. Why aren’t my students applying what we are learning in class to their everyday writing? This question needs more research.