Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Write Beside Them ( with a nod to Penny Kittle)

Nearly every workshop on teaching writing that I have sat in over the last few years, from Linda Rief to Penny Kittle, to Kelly Gallagher, has emphasized the idea that I am the best writer in the room and that I need to write beside and in front of my students. In fact, Penny Kittle wrote a book by that very name: Write Beside Them, (Heinemann 2008). It is very helpful to write with my students. They need to see me modeling writing, from the struggle to focus or find the right word, to getting into the flow. It also helps me to understand they struggle they may have with a particular assignment. Unfortunately, I don't always get to write with them or I have the best intentions but don't follow through with completing the assignment.

I have a unique situation with my sophomore English Composition and Literature class this year. There are just three students in the class and two of them are ELL students whose native language is  Chinese. Because of the ELL students, I have another teacher in the class with me. Her job is to work one-on-one with the ELL students, both in the classroom and outside of class, to improve their English and be able understand and complete the work in their classes. She always tries to do the assignments so that she can best help the ELLs. That inspired me to make a greater effort at doing the writing assignments with my students.

We are wrapping up our study of Romeo and Juliet. I'm not completely happy with how the unit went. Things took way too long, November was broken up with days off, half days, special events, and testing, and we weren't able to cover everything I would have liked to. Still, I tried my best to stick to the lens of relationships that I use (thank you, Jim Burke, for the idea of this lens as well as many of the textual analysis assignments!) and I think we've done enough that they can write the final paper on relationships. We reviewed the characters and their relationships to each other, I gave the students the prompt and guideline and took them through the thesis generator (again, thank you Jim Burke!)

We are taking this week to write the draft in class because the ELL kids need a lot of support. Today, after getting everyone rolling on their writing, I sat down and started my own essay. As I got going with the thesis generator and then moved on to planning out the examples I want to use from the play, I realized that this will be really good prep work to show to my 9th graders as they start the same process in our next class. They need to see the steps and see the model for this paper. This is when I wish I had a document camera! But I'll do what I can. I would like to try to carry through on writing this paper. I need the practice and it will be good for my students. I'm also excited about apply to this an idea that I read yesterday on Kate Baker's blog. Rather than use the term "Final Draft", use the term "Best draft (for now)". I love this idea! It makes so much more sense!

I'm excited about the thesis statements the sophomores have crafted and I am looking forward to what the freshmen will come up with. I like using the lens of relationships for the study of Romeo and Juliet because it allows for such a broader understanding of the text- it's not just about Romeo and Juliet, but also about the other relationships in the story.