So, I opened an email from an 8th grade teacher this morning with the subject line, “I hate the flashdraft!” Then, the body:
“First of all, the amount of whining is obnoxious. Secondly, most kids have one crappy paragraph. I just feel like it’s a waste of time. Ugh. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow with assessing and setting goals…”
(The assignment: to compare two dystopian books they’ve read in the reading unit)
Clearly, this teacher is frustrated and rightly so. My first reaction is that our middle schoolers don’t do enough on-demand writing. This year, I’ve introduced writing warm-ups, and Linda Rief’s Quick Writes to MS teachers in an attempt to increase student motivation, engagement, stamina, and volume. These practices are working – but not when it comes to the subject of this Slice.
My second realization is that the writing instruction we do at the MS level is very structured – not enough time spent collecting ideas and drafting. We collect for a bit and then it’s on to minilessons taught on essay (or whatever genre) structure which then turns into a lot of time conferring (a good thing) and rinse and repeat. Our MS teachers are doing great with creating effective and purposeful mentor texts and modeling, but the “sitting with the writing” time that “real” writers do is very limited. How do you do it all in 52 minutes? And this is why there is an over emphasis on teaching and re-teaching structure as core instructional practice in writing units. (I’m exposing vulnerability here because I feel like a more effective coach would have focused on this previously. But, honestly, this morning’s email and writing this Slice have brought it all bubbling to the surface.)
This concentration has led our students to hate the “drafting a whole piece process” because they are uncomfortable with it. They whine. They complain that they don’t know what to write. They are afraid of “doing it wrong.” Of getting a bad grade (which they don’t even receive on a draft!!). Jeez. Writing this out is making me think that we are unsuccessful in creating 21st century risk-takers, students who are able to persevere and keep going through the muck – things that our district espouses.
As a coach, I need to figure this out. As a coach, I need to help my teachers feel more successful with the process. As a coach, I need to look at our curriculum and instruction to see where we can devote more time to the beginning stages of the writing process – collecting ideas, developing, planning, and drafting. But, as a coach, I’m not sure where to go next because our students at this level need to learn the foundations of essay writing (isn’t this the “right” way to teach – hook, reasons, evidence, analysis, thesis, body paragraphs, topic sentences, conclusions, etc.??) before we jump into Marchetti and O’Dell’s Beyond Literary Analysis – or do they????
Feedback and advice is generously appreciated.