Friday, June 1, 2018

In the Classroom: What’s in a Name?

When I visit schools, I 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”? Do they say “buddy editing” or “peer critiquing”?

What I've discovered has surprised me. Many groups have a lot trouble describing their process. 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, 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:

Choose a Topic
Do Research
Make a Writing Plan
Write a Rough Draft
Self Critique
Edit/Revise à Second Draft
Peer Critique
Chill Out
Edit/Revise à Third Draft
Teacher Critique
Chill Out
Edit/Revise à Fourth Draft
Add Visuals
Final Report

K-2 students won’t do every step, but once a step (such as peer critique) 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.

1 comment:

  1. As a middle school teacher and writer myself, I wholeheartedly agree that common language for the writing process is key. In my school, we revamped our nonfiction writing curriculum a few years ago to include common language for key terms and I've seen the difference in student work. by the time the reach me (7th/8th grade) they know how to organize and proceed through the research/writing process. This allows me to work on the fine-tuning skills of word choice, voice, and sentence fluency.