Creating a 'New, Broader Picture' for Writing Instruction
Writing is a challenging instructional space because it blends a creative form of self-expression with methodical variables such as grammar, structure, style, etc. When I began teaching this skill, I had the freedom to decide which aspects of writing I was going to tackle, and naturally I chose the ones that I felt most comfortable teaching and the ones I felt the students were more interested in. But then along came the Common Core, which took some of that freedom away from me. It dictated what needed to be taught, pushing me to find a way to cover all of the major essay styles (persuasive, informative, narrative, and research) along with related elements and processes. Therefore, the real challenge was how to develop new habits to accommodate more writing quantity and rigor in the same amount of school days. At the time, it was like being asked to run a marathon without proper equipment/training. I knew at that moment that this transition was going to take a little reflection, time, and effort.
My first thought was look into how to be more efficient so I could maximize classroom time for my students. The first step was to closely read each of the writing standards and reflect on what each outcome really meant in terms of instruction, assessment, and student learning. Then, I grouped like standards into units, making sure that an equal amount of days were ear-marked for each of the four writing styles, featuring the content/process elements (sub-standards) for that style. Finally, once I knew how many instructional days I had for each unit, I began the task of creating lessons, visual instructional tools, and assessments that fit each writing standard(s). It was like taking a set of puzzle pieces, adding a few more to the mix, and putting them back together to make a new, broader picture.
Looking back at this redesign experience and how it has played out in implementation and ultimately my students' measured writing growth, I believe using consistent standards-based visual instructional tools throughout lessons helped me explicitly and effectively model, provide feedback, and show how each standard transferred to writing an essay. Then, by using those same standards-based visual instructional tools within each essay brainstorm, students were clear on how to plan for each precise standard so that it was accounted for in their essays.
My calls to action to make writing instruction work include:
- For teachers to redesign and expand curriculum to accommodate all of the common core's writing styles/standards.
- For teachers to use standards-based visual instructional tools to explicitly model the writing styles/standards for students.
- For administrators to facilitate and coach curriculum redesign efforts.
Today's students must develop their skills based on a set of comprehensive writing expectations, not only on interests and past habits.
Sargy Letuchy has taught ESL and Social Science throughout his teaching career in suburban Chicago. He holds a bachelors of education from Eastern Illinois University, a masters in educational leadership from Midwestern State University, and a masters in curriculum and instruction from National Louis University. He is passionate about curriculum engineering for standards-based outcomes and helping both teachers and students achieve instructional results. To learn more, contact him at [email protected]