Friday, February 7, 2020

What’s in a Name?

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay originally appeared on June 1, 2018.

During school visits, I often ask students to walk me through the steps of their nonfiction writing process. My goal is to learn the terminology they use, so I can literally speak their language during my presentation. For example, do they use “rough draft,” “first draft,” or “sloppy copy."

What I've discovered has surprised me. Many groups have a lot trouble with this task. And I can see that their teachers are just as surprised as I am. Sometimes they even whisper answers to students sitting nearby. Clearly, they're frustrated.

Why is this happening?

Here are two things I've noticed, again and again, as I patiently provide a string of clues to help students list the various steps. 
1. Within the same school, each grade level often uses different terminology. That can certainly lead to confusion.
2.  In some schools, the process itself isn’t consistent from one grade level to the next. For example, students in grades 3 and 5 do peer critiquing (a.k,a. reading buddies, writing partners), but students in grade 4 don’t. That can also lead to confusion.

Researching, writing, and revising nonfiction can be daunting for children. But knowing that it’s a process composed of distinct steps can make it more manageable. By practicing those same steps over and over, students will become more confident writers. 

That’s why I recommend that schoolwide or even district-wide terms be adopted for each step in the process. Here are my suggestions based on my 10-step writing process:
  1. Choose a Topic
  2. Do Research
  3. Find a Focus
  4. Write a Rough Draft
  5. Let It Chill Out
  6. Revise à Second draft
  7. Writing partner review
  8. Revise and add visuals à Third draft
  9. Proofread à Final draft
  10. Send to editor (Give to teacher) 
K-2 students won’t do every step, but once a step (such as writing partner review) is introduced, it shouldn’t be omitted at later grade levels. This kind of continuity will help students take ownership of the process and prepare them to work more independently in middle school

I’ll be talking more about teaching and reinforcing the steps of the nonfiction writing process on Monday.

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