The ultimate goal of all writing instruction has to be to help students become active thinkers while they are independently writing. This is the foundation of my writing beliefs. We need to teach writing in a way that will allow students, when they are sitting alone with a blank paper or computer screen in front of them, to have writing knowledge and skills inside of them that they can apply, on their own, in any situation.
If this is our goal for our writing instruction and we achieve it, then students will not only be successful in our classrooms, but they will be successful in grades, on standardized tests, writing in the content areas, and beyond.
The Common Core State Standards demand this of our student writers. The authors of The Standards outline seven characteristics of students who are “college and career ready.” At the top of the list is that students “demonstrate independence.” As teachers, we need to embrace this thinking and take a close look at our instruction, reflecting on our practice to ensure that we are teaching in a way that will lead our students to independence.
In my new book, The Writing Diner 2: Creating Active Thinkers for All Types of Writing, I offer four areas of focus to help students meet the writing demands of The Common Core and take strides toward becoming confident, capable, independent writers.
The four areas of focus are:
- Purpose: Understanding and distinguishing the purposes of the three types of writing outlined in The Standards.
- Craft: Utilizing craft elements for all types of writing.
- Genre and Text Structure: Writing in a variety of genres and using various text structures.
- Content: Connecting writing to content.
A Focus on Purpose
As a writer, my brain works a little differently depending on my purpose. For example, if I am writing a story about a fun evening my family spent at a new pizza restaurant in town, a narrative piece, my writing brain is going to think a little differently than if I am writing a review, an opinion piece, about whether or not my neighbors should eat at the new pizza place in town.
In the narrative example, my brain will want to think about telling a story slowly. It will focus on writing in a way that will make my readers feel like they were there with my family at the restaurant. My brain will want to come up with writing that makes my readers feel something.
Conversely, with the opinion piece, my brain will focus on making my opinion clear. It will think about strong ways to support that opinion. It will think about coming up with a strong ending that will drive the opinion home for readers.
I want to teach in a way to help students have a clear understanding of the differences between the purposes of opinion, informative, and narrative writing. I want them to be able to articulate those differences and be able to think appropriately as they write within each type.
Using sorts, creating anchor charts, and making sure conversation is a big part of instruction are some ways to bring this level of thinking about purpose with students.
A Focus on Craft
If I say that active thinking is the foundation of my beliefs about writing instruction, then I would add that teaching craft elements of writing is the cornerstone of those beliefs.
Teaching students ways to begin pieces of writing, introducing them to figurative language to get details and depth into writing, and looking at parts of speech through a craft lens are just some ideas of how to put craft at the heart of teaching and learning writing.
If we explicitly teach craft elements to students and show them how they can be effective in all three types of writing, we will move students forward in their efforts to be active thinkers while writing. Craft elements are concrete. Teaching craft is an effective path to go down to create thinking writers.
That is part 1 for this blog post.
We will continue going through the focus areas next week. Tim Hargis will be leading a professional development session at Kent ISD this summer! Click HERE to learn more about his presentation and to register.
Tim Hargis is an academic support coach for the Kentwood Public Schools as well as an independent literacy consultant. He is the author of two books on teaching writing, The Writing Diner: Creating Active Thinkers in the Writing Classroom and The Writing Diner 2: Creating Active Thinkers for All Types of Writing as well as the children’s novel, Ol’ Man Caudill’s Hat. He has worked as a classroom teacher in the Grand Rapids Public Schools and as an adjunct professor of English at Grand Valley State University. Prior to teaching, Tim was a television news producer at WLWT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ohio. He holds degrees from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Tim lives with his wife and two daughters in Grand Rapids.