Don't get me wrong! I love to teach writing. I love to see the progress my students make as they work through ideas, logic, drafts, and reviews. And I firmly believe that the best way for students to improve their writing is to write -- a lot.
Students need practice and feedback.
It's the feedback part that gets me. I often say I need to install a seat belt on my chair to keep me in it until the stack is gone. However, I'm willing to stay in my chair weekend in and weekend out in order to get my students to write -- a lot.
I use writing workshop, and this provides a lot of flexibility. But I feel like I am writing the same comments over and over again on papers. My solution is to differentiate student tasks during our workshop time by using "teacher notes."
So here is what I do to reduce my grading time, but also give my students feedback and purpose for their time during writing workshop:
1. I read through the student drafts. I always review graphic organizers, idea sheets, and prewriting. This allows me to catch students who are running off the rails. There is nothing worse than reading a draft or (worse yet) a final essay and realize the student didn't follow the directions. I generally collect student graphic organizers or idea sheets as the students walk out of the room. This is their "ticket out." I can quickly sort through the papers to see who is ready to move on and who might be stuck.
A colleague of mine uses a red dot on papers that aren't ready to go forward and a green dot on papers that are. If you have a red dot on your paper, you need to meet with the teacher before moving on. Brilliant.
2. I print up the "Notes from your Teacher" document for the mode of writing I'm using. As I'm reading a draft, I can quickly check off the items I want the student to work on.
There is space at the bottom and room on the back for me to write notes if I feel the student needs more. There is also a space for "see me" if I want to have a conference with the student.
As I'm reviewing papers, I stack them in groups. Students who are ready to move on go in one group. Students who need to work on similar issues (a thesis statement for example), go in another group.
The next day in our writing workshop, I can meet with groups of students, review what their next steps are, and set them to work. All of my students are focused on their task for the day.
3. Mini lesson magic. The "teacher notes" also help me determine what my mini lesson for the next day will be. I know my lesson will address my students' needs.
4. As students work during our workshop time, they respond on the right side of the "teacher notes" sheet. My favorite part is the little cartoon at the bottom. It gives me instant feedback on how the student feels about the writing done that day.
At the end of class, the "ticket out" is the writing and feedback on what the student completed that day and how he or she feels.
So even if I don't get to conference with each student during our workshop time, I get feedback from them.
5. And the cycle continues.
6. I have my students keep ALL of their graphic organizers, idea sheets, drafts, and teacher notes. They just staple the most current work on the top.
This is the best thing for students. They can really see how much work writing requires. They look at their stack and see their little "seed" of an idea grow into a real narrative or an argument. They can look through drafts and point to where they revised weak sentences or used vivid details or provided supporting evidence when there was none there before!
7. Okay, so back to Sunday afternoon. It's crisp. There are leaves. And I still have time to play in them with my dog. Partly because I read my students' writing every day. Partly because I use a checklist feedback form like my "teacher notes." And partly because I installed a seat belt on the chair at my kitchen table.
Write on, my friends,
Ps: If you want to try out the teacher notes I use, I'm offering them for FREE for the next 24 hours. Jump on over to my store and snag 'em. Just Add Students. Be sure to let me know how they work for you...and I'd be remiss not to ask you to be my bff and follow my store (okay, you've read this far in the post...surely you want to follow me??!!). Happy writing!! mp