July 29, 2015

Perspectives on the Best Standards Ever Written!

           As I wrote about yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a Key Note presentation by Dr. Jim Cunningham that was held in my district.  If you missed my first post, it is found here.  During this presentation, Dr. Cunningham shared why the Common Core Writing Standards are the BEST writing standards ever written!  He enlightened the audience to some hidden gems right in the standards themselves.  Then, he went on to talk about some very different perspectives than those that most teachers have about writing and the Writing Process-that’s what we will focus on-perspectives!  Here we go!

            DON’T grade all of their writing!  Students are reluctant to write because of a lot of reasons, many of which come back to the fact that they are worried about how and what will be grades, even in the very early grades.  My first graders would always ask things like, “How long should it be?” “Is it for a grade?”  The first question I wouldn’t address except with, “What do you think is acceptable to me,” but the second one I would always answer with “Yes!”   How else would I determine how they were doing!  Boy, was I wrong!  We should let kids write and SHARE-lots of sharing should go on!  By sharing, students begin to write.  By writing more, they become less reluctant!  By answering NO to grades, they become less reluctant!  By grading less, we actually practice the Standards, especially in grades K and 1.  Language Standard 1 actually speaks to this very thing!  See, perspective!  By practicing the standards, we can actually open up kids’ hearts to this whole process and eliminate reluctance!  Amazing! (Hang on, because he talked about assessing!)

            Write more and in more ways!  He talked a lot about Quick Writes, including ideas such as writing DURING learning.  One of the best ways to address rigor in a lesson is to conduct a Quick Write that gets them writing in a different way!  A great question to respond to that adds rigor is “What was the hardest part for you?”  Again, perspective!  How to look at writing in different ways!

            Next, Dr. Cunningham pointed out that the Writing Process is NOT a skill!  We make it a skill, us big people!  We blow it!  Why?  He quickly pointed out that the Writing Process is for TEACHERS not students!  We use it to focus on skills to teach, to guide our instruction.  Yet, we want kids to do it.  It’s like we get it totally backwards and his perspective opens thoughts and ideas about a whole new world of understanding!  And publishing!  According to the latest research, it is over rated!  Students learn NOTHING from publishing!  WHAT!  He has a good point!  Think about how kids REALLY feel about publishing!  Just go there for a second!  Perspective!  What should we focus on?  Dr. Cunningham quickly points towards 1.  Planning, 2.  Revising, and 3.  Editing! 

            Let’s start with Planning!  “If we are to teach them opinion, informational, and narrative writing, then we better teach prompts.”  Thank you Dr. Cunningham!  Can I say I almost stood up and cheered!  “We aren’t doing kids favors with free writing.”  WHOOT!  I know this breaks the mold of most primary teachers, but I’ve believed this for years!  I’ve tried free writing and it was a mess.  Most kids didn’t have a clue of what to do!  Dr. Cunningham points directly to the fact that if kids are going to grow into writers for the real world, then they better be able to write to a prompt.  Think about almost everything you write right now-prompt writing, isn’t it!  Even this piece!  What is my goal-to communicate information!  What is my prompt-changed perspectives about writing!  Changed perspectives are key!  The nice thing is, Dr. Cunningham points to mentor texts as being a key element in teaching kids to write!  Think about all the fun you can have with prompts based on ideas from mentor texts!  So, kids need to have a prompt, create a plan (used to keep their writing focused) and write, write, and write some more!

Here’s another perspective breaker-Have students write, share, and store FIRST DRAFTS!  Huh??!!  That was my perspective.  What about that whole great Writing Process deal he was going to be speaking about?  Perspective right!  Well, he explained that since kids are already reluctantly writing, they’re even more reluctant when it gets to revising!  My experience speaks to this totally!  They will edit, but when asked to do more-no way!  And he says research points to this!   There is no benefit to kids revising because they DON’T WANT TOO!  That is so TRUE!  However, there are ways to fix this!  Get ready for some real perspective!!  Don’t do any revising UNTIL you have written at least 3 of a type of writing!  For instance, on your third narrative you can begin to revise.  Kids by then will have learned to write without the fear of something else “coming”.  He also points to providing guidelines for revisions-and guess where they come from?  The Standards also provide the guidelines for revision! I LOVE this guy’s perspective!  Use the Standards to find your guidelines and then have kids go through ONE guideline to improve.  Slowly work through them, with EVERYONE revising-either by adding to the piece or creating a more in depth piece (such as the opening).  Genius!!!  Follow the same plan for editing because, guess what, they are in the STANDARDS! 

One more thing that he really opened a new perspective to was grading-and it was eye opening.  He stressed using Formative Assessments a lot.  It is a relatively simple idea-pick ONE skill and check how students are progressing and changing.  Use that information to guide your instruction with either small groups or whole groups!  This can be used in looking at the type of writing they are doing, focus skills such as organization, steps in revising (one), and editing skills (one).  And, here’s one more real perspective changer-when we do assess kids formally, it should be a FIRST DRAFT document!  Dr. Cunningham stressed that this draft was what the student could really do, really write!  That is where we should be looking, investigating our student successes and strengths!  This is where we should find new perspectives! 

Wow, that’s a lot of new perspectives to share!  I am excited to try a lot of these in my class this year, to brighten my students’ views on writing, and to add rigor!  Thank you Dr. Cunningham for sharing such great insights into our current writing trends and The Best Standards EVER! 

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