Project Title: A Recipe for Writing Success:
1 part Creativity
1 part 6-trait writing skills
1 part Technology
1 part Cooperative Group Work
1 part The writing process
3 parts Motivation
Put all of the above in your lesson plans and stir. Continue to stir and add small touches for taste over the next nine months, and serve.
I have found, over the last 7 years of teaching middle school that it is difficult to get seventh graders to really use the writing process (L.A.8.2.2). They are fine with brainstorming, but tend to skip it if they can get away with it. They would rather just start writing, even though they may not know what direction they are headed. They are used to being handed a subject and beginning to write right away. I have also found that it is difficult to get them to really revise their writing. I bet I have tried 20 different ways to revise. I have tried to demonstrate, to show, to explain, to beg, to plead? you get the picture? Let?s just say that editing is the only thing that gets done in this process, and that is usually limited to a few commas, some spelling correction and a few comments of “I like your story.”
Motivation seemed to be just the thing I was lacking, until I stumbled upon “track changes.” Now, I don?t pretend to be a computer guru, but this was definitely an epiphany! With the help of one little click, I found the route to salvation of the writing process. Within most word processing documents, (we use Word 97 in our district) there is a capability to highlight the changes you make within a document as you are working on it for the second time. With Word, it is under the Tools menu and you choose “Track Changes.” This enables the computer to make all new additions, deletions, corrections, moves, and formatting changes to show up in red font. (If you print at this point, it will print with red lettering and underlining where the changes have been made.)
Now the motivation part, middle school students, over the past years, have proven to enjoy any task that involves the computer. They see it as more enjoyable and like they are getting to “play” with their ideas, and not have it be so constricting. So, we began by discussing voice of authors, as well as voice of individual people. We talked about how people of different age groups, geographical living arrangements, educational levels, and economic backgrounds, tend to speak differently. We brainstormed as a class different distinctive voices (i.e. horse race announcers, begging toddlers, grumpy old men, southern belles, ax murderers with masks, angry mothers, etc.) Then I had the students brainstorm to put these people in a believable situations and places. Eventually they came up with a creative rising action map (just like they use in their Reading classes for stories that are written by someone else). I asked the students to write their rough drafts based on the best ideas of their brainstorming, and their newly formed rising action maps (L.A .8.1.3).
The part that really threw them off balance, and made the assignment more challenging, was they wrote their rough drafts right onto the computer screen without writing on paper first. Most of the students found this freeing. On the average, the students wrote more pages, and put in more detail, because they could skip the tedious task of typing after doing all of the writing. I made them promise the concentrate on the writing, instead of on how beautiful it was, with the stipulation that they could do title pages, clip art manipulation, pictures, etc. at the end of the unit.
Once the rough drafts were typed (with no consideration for errors, and perfection – this was a vomit draft – very ugly, but everything was in front of them), they then asked someone in the class that doesn?t know them very well, (or I picked their partners to insure they weren?t friends) to put in suggestions on how to change their papers. We made a short checklist based on the Six Traits of Writing (L.A .8.2.3) of what to look for (excluding spelling, grammar and punctuation since the computer would do that for them later), as well as a grading rubric:
1. Sentence Fluency: Sentences that don?t make sense.
2. Organization: Information that doesn?t seem to fit in this location. Events in the story that seemed out of order or if they skipped an event that they should have included.
3. Word Choice: Need for description when you can?t create a mental picture in your mind as you are reading. Changing of words that don?t really say anything specific.
4. Voice: Needing more dialog between characters instead of so much “telling”
5. Ideas: Suggestions for additional information you wanted to know as you read.
6. Conventions and Ideas: Things that don?t make sense or you couldn?t figure what they were they were trying to say.
Before the revising, students began looking for these elements; they went to the Tools menu – Track Changes – Highlight changes – and click Track Changes while editing. The revising student then typed directly into the document with their suggestions, corrections, etc., which showed up in red fonts. The more the student worked on the revising, they could actually see the help they were providing. The red font also gave a heads-up to the author and the teacher about the amount of time and effort put into helping the author. The revising students really worked a lot harder! This often took at least 2 class periods to just to revising a person?s paper, whereas before the computer process, the students would revise several papers in one class period.
The most interesting and rewarding moments of this unit, for me as the teacher, came when the students were allowed to return to their own computer and their own writing. These authors suddenly became more critical of the suggestions given by others (whereas before they just accepted them whether they liked them or not). Through the Tools menu again – Track changes – and choosing Accept or Reject Changes, they began the process of going through the changes one at a time. These authors were also more apt to make additions, and moves, and deletions from their writing because it was so much easier and less time consuming to do on the computer. They were also able to reject ideas they thought would take away from their story, but in the process they realized that the reason the revising student made the suggestion was because the author had probably left something out, or been confusing.
By the time the student went through the accept and reject stage, they had also revised their own paper without really realizing it. One student even said later, “When will I get the chance to revise my paper. I only had time to accept or reject and fix those errors. I need to time do some more work with what I thought of after I wrote the paper the first time.” Wow! I have never had a student “beg” to continue revising!
Then the time came to turn off the track changes, accept and reject one last time to get all of the red and the lines out of it, and go through the final grammar and spelling check (L.A .8.2.1). Now this sounds like something no English teacher in their right mind should encourage their students to do, but by this point, most of the errors have been found, and the students do it just as a final crutch before handing in their assignment. Of course, those students who work faster than others, they received extra time to create their title page, dedication page, about the author, illustrations, etc. to include in their final hand in. The slower typers and thinkers, had plenty of time to concentrate and ask more individualized questions of me, since everyone was at a different place in their writing process.
With the success of this unit, I plan to run my research paper in much the same way, and my literature analysis writing for Reading classes this way (L.A .8.1.7). The kids have now discovered that they are writers. Students, who normally won’t read their papers aloud, will volunteer. More students are willing to put their papers in the hallway on display. More are willing to bind them and put them in the library. What more could I ask for?
Subject and Grade Level:
Any Grade Level is appropriate, I used it with MS students and HS students
Intergrated Subject Areas Also Covered:
This could be anything, depending on the subject of the writing.
I like to have a grading rubric for the writing assignment handy when the students begin to write. Also the student editor could use it to give a “grade” based on their opinion fo meeting the assignment requirements.
I also like to have an editors rubric, so that the student who is receiving the suggestions and edits can give a “grade” based on their opinions of the editor’s skills and effort.