Friday, September 16, 2016

The Writing Process: What Students can Learn about Themselves

Student writers need to brainstorm, draft, revise, revise, revise some more, and proofread.  So how can your students keep their work organized in a way that also helps them reflect on their learning as writers?

Hello!  Marypat here from Just Add Students to introduce you to BGP.

Let's start with the problem...

I ask my students to save all graphic organizers, prewriting, drafts, and revisions for each writing assignment.  But there is usually more than one student who struggles with organization.

Papers always go missing, get stuffed into the wrong binder/folder/book/locker.  That student may end up starting a writing assignment several times -- trying to remember what had been written on the graphic organizers or in a draft.

The writing "process" was more of an exercise in starting over when students couldn't find prior work.

Then something wonderful happened...

I went to a workshop put on by my hero Nancie Atwell.  I am telling you - she is nothing short of amazing.  I learned so much from that workshop!  Here is one idea I used with great success. Something that helped all of my student writers, not just the disorganized ones.

Grab your stapler...

I had my students save, and staple, all of their work on a writing assignment together.  Most current work on top.  This was what my students referred to as the "big, gigantic pile."   The BGP.

As my students write, I collect and review all of the steps of a draft (that's how I sort and set up mini lessons for the next day).  As we work through graphic organizers, intro paragraphs, thesis builders, drafts (D1, D2), revision activities, peer reviews, proofreading and then finally the published piece, the "big, gigantic pile" grows.  Always with the most current work stapled on top.

What the student ends up with is a "big, gigantic pile" of work stapled, marked up, and dog-eared.  On the very top, they add their published piece (usually not stapled so it can easily go into their portfolio or on the wall).

And the result...

Several really great things happened when I started implementing the BGP:

1.  Work was less likely to get lost.  All the pages were kept together and kept in writing folders. 

2.  Students were impressed at how much writing they had done!  I heard students say things like, "Wow, I did a lot of work on this!" and "Look at how bad my first draft is!"  and "My ideas really changed as I worked on this!"  

Students were thinking about, reflecting on, and rejoicing in their writing!  They could see that their writing was, indeed, a process.  (Insert happy dance here!!)

3.  Student self-assessments.  Before my students turn in an assignment, I always ask that they complete a simple self-assessment.  It consists of three questions:  
  • What was easy about this assignment?
  • What was difficult about this assignment?
  • What would you like me to know?
I ask students to flip through their stapled pile and consider what they've been working on, thinking about, struggling and succeeding with over the last few weeks.  This gives them a chance to really consider how the writing process worked for them.  Plus, it helps build goodwill that they know I care about their experience with this writing assignment.

4.  My grading got easier.  Yes.  You read that right.  Easier.  Because I reviewed each graphic organizer, thesis, intro, and draft as we worked on it, I knew what students were writing about.  I could quickly see where they were going off the tracks.  My comments gave them direction for the following writers' workshop task.

When I received the final product to assess, I could look through their "big, gigantic piles" already familiar with the topics, direction, and difficulties they had.  I could see where students worked on my suggestions and where they chose to ignore those suggestions (time for a conference!).

Usually, I had very little to write on the published text.  I'd already addressed issues in the prior drafts.  And because I always use a rubric and the students received that when the assignment was given, I could quickly assess their writing on the criteria of the rubric.

I love trees...

I do, I really do!  And I often think about how wonderful a paperless classroom would be.  However, when teaching middle school students writing, there is a HUGE payoff when they can actually see the writing process.  Specifically their own writing process from start to finish.

When I experimented with paperless writing, my students lost the ability to step back and look at their own writing process -- from where they started to where they ended up.  

Even if you give the BGP a try for one assignment, your students will benefit.  It can be used for any writing project -- in any subject.  But most importantly, it will help your students think about themselves as true writers.


  1. I guess the big giant heap of papers wasn't so bad after all! Back when writing every draft on paper was the only option, we wished for a paperless option.

  2. I guess the big giant heap of papers wasn't so bad after all! Back when writing every draft on paper was the only option, we wished for a paperless option.