Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Writing a Convincing Essay

Our PLC is embarking on a collective effort to motivate, education and engage students with the process of writing a convincing essay.

During my multiple years of teaching, I have read many articles and books about writing.  I've also written a lot, and coached students with writing.  It's one of my favorite areas of the curriculum, an area where you can also continue to grow and develop your skill and repertoire.

As I think about this unit, the first issue is how can I engage students in this effort.  I will start with an introduction and rationale.  I'll foster a short discussion about the reasons why it is important to be able to write a convincing essay.  Then, I'll introduce students to the common 5-paragraph format for an essay. I'll note that this isn't the only way to write a convincing essay, but it is a well received format that is a good match for organizing information in a brain-friendly way. One of my favorite resources for this work is Barbara Mariconda's books and work--she's a classroom-friendly teacher-leader when it comes to teaching children well.

Next, I'll give students the grade-wide assessment prompt, and let them "show off" their essay writing skills.  After that, our ELA director and a consultant will study and score the essays for our upcoming PLC discussion (we won't share those scores with students).  I'll keep a copy to review myself.  I'm looking forward to our PLC discussions as I know that our collective experience, knowledge and skill will develop our grade-wide approach to coaching student writing with strength and intent.

After that, I'll start the special place writing unit.  I'll embed the notes and information we discuss and learn at our PLCs and also respond to students' interests and needs.  Students will publish their special place essays in print and with voice.  I'm finding that the addition of an audio recording with all written work contributes to developing a strong speaking and writing voice as well as reading fluency.

Following the special place essay, we'll write essays about special people in our lives and special events.  We'll also give students a day-long practice test day to get ready for the MCAS test.  We've done that in years past and it helps us to coach students through little issues they might face when they take the MCAS tests. Teachers are not allowed to help out at all during MCAS day (that's a painful aspect of the tests) so the practice tests gives us a chance to thwart possible test day anxieties, questions and distractions.

At the end of this unit, it is my hope that students will write with greater voice, organization, craft and interest. I welcome your thoughts.  I find that laying out the path to a learning event a week or two before we start the unit gets my mind, and the minds of the learning community (children, families, educators, staff and administrators) ready for the vibrant learning events ahead.