- When we are thinking about ideas and/or content as the foundational trait, it requires a different approach at the middle school than at the the primary school level. Beginning writers - I think even intermediate - focus on coming up with ideas they are familiar enough with in order to write about them. While this applies to the middle school student, their role is extended by the length of the writing - they have now reached fluency and should be proficient - as well as the varied topics - many assigned through content areas - and genres. Younger students more often than not deal with narrative accounts of every day happenings. Whereas middle school students are entering the world of nonfiction and the variety of genres that presents - i.e. here in Maine, persuasive. While we discussed the challenges students at this level are faced with, we also covered the challenges the teacher is presented with frontloading the topic with enough background information for students to form cohesive ideas/content - and at the same time teaching students a new genre. From this point of view, it is obvious that genre and content are tied together tightly throughout a piece at this level, consequently, giving attention to content throughout the writing process piece.
- As our discussion moved out from this point, we thought about the cognitive strategies required for this type of writing/composing. Some of them are higher level and need to be taught directly. This is time consuming and requires an explicit approach from the teacher using - modeling, scaffolding small group practice, and then individual practice (Vygotzky's ZPD). For this group of teachers (and students), this will be an easy transition. Their district has participated in literacy work for 5 years now, first focusing on reading comprehension. Colleen Shink, one of our 5/6 language arts teachers, made this link for us. We were all excited about this since, for us, it was an extension of the reading/writing link we had witnessed at the lower grades and could build on up through the grades.
- Next, we examined our own processing when writing. As always, many of us were hesitant to share. The conversation was fascinating. Every person present discussed a different approach - some more comfortable with writing than others. The conclusion we came to, was kids need the same variety as well - BUT - how do we provide structure, sharing, and accountablitity for all. We revisited our discussion about the Vygotzky and talked about how we could use pair share, pair square, etc. to allow each person to share their method of composing. This seemed workable. We re-emphasized the importance of having a structure for the discussions to take place as well as a format for them to follow when reporting out - accountability in other words. One way we decided to do this was with timing sharing sessions - each partner has so much time to talk to the other partner - and then having each partner summarize the other partner's explanation.
Please stay tuned. We will be posting lessons and learnings from the classrooms.
See you then, Darlene