At the end of last school year, the administration of my district decided it would be in the best interest of the students to separate the reading and writing curriculum (a 90 minute course) into two separate 45 minute courses. This came as a shock to me because I had to choose between my two favorite things: reading and writing. Because reading and writing go hand-in-hand, to teach one without the other broke my heart. So, I let my colleague decide; she picked reading, and therefore I was left with the intimidating task of preparing and implementing a writing curriculum for approximately 180 seventh graders.
Prior to this change in the curriculum, our district had already implemented three separate initiatives into our classrooms. The first one was the Collins Writing program which was implemented to create a structure for teaching and grading writing across all content areas K-12. This system is based on 5 types of writing. The other two initiatives were the use of Learning Targets and Essential Questions. Both of which must be posted in every classroom and referred to by every teacher at the beginning, middle, and end of each class session.
So amid the daunting task of designing a writing curriculum that not only covered our three main districtwide initiatives, but also addressed the PA Common Core standards, I found myself in my own land of uncertainty. However, I had a clear focus on what I didn’t want to do. My class would NOT be a course taught directly from a grammar book. Over the years, people have conducted too many research studies that have proved writing skills and grammar/conventions knowledge doesn’t improve when taught outside of the realms of students’ own writing. I believe too often people separate grammar from writing, rather than seeing grammar as the conventional tools for writing (a great book about this idea is Tools, Not Rules Teaching Grammar in the Writing Classroom).
My biggest challenge was creating a course in which students could write, edit, and revise to improve their writing while, as the teacher, I had the time to read and provide support/feedback to all +/-180 students (all while still having a life/family outside of my classroom). Our district Literacy Coach gave me a book that seemed to help create a guide for constructing a course that would fit my instruction, The Art of Teaching Writing. Love it or hate it, the writing workshop model has been integral in helping me create a curriculum that has fostered an atmosphere of learning in my classroom.
Obviously, I have modified the workshop to help it mesh with the initiatives set by my district, and the initiatives have actually complemented my workshop model. The class itself is divided into three separate parts: 1. The ten minute mini lesson, 2. 25 minutes of writing time, 3. Ten minutes of share time and a Type 1 exit ticket. To begin the school year smoothly, I developed a specific learning target in “kid language” for every PA common core standard I teach; then, I determined which targets would be taught during each nine weeks and decided to make each nine weeks a genre study (1st-Narrative, 2nd-Informative, 3rd-Argumentative, and 4th-Poetry/Research). I organized these learning targets into the following 5 categories (modeling the Collins Writing program): Content, Organization, Style, Conventions, and Reading (used as mentor texts for each unit). Then, I created six specific essential questions for each nine weeks that connected to the genre and grammatical concepts covered in each unit. I took every single area and created a nine weeks packet for the students to use daily in my classroom.
On a daily basis, following the mini lesson, students write in the specific genre of the nine weeks. As students finish writing pieces, they begin editing and revising for 3 Focus Correction Areas (FCAs) of their own choosing (these FCAs are the learning targets from within their nine weeks packets). Then I read, provide feedback, and score their writings for only the FCAs. Because each student turns in pieces as they finish, I am not bombarded with writings from 180 students at a time, and because most learning targets (FCAs) are repeated in multiple units, all students are given many opportunities throughout the year to focus and get a score on every learning target. At the end of the nine weeks, there is one specific due date and that due date is for the Type 5 publication piece which is graded based on a rubric that incorporates all writing components taught during the nine weeks.
There are many more specifics to my course that I haven’t gone into great detail about; however, this blog was created to celebrate the works of my students. If you would like more information about the course itself, please feel free to contact me, I’d love to help.
After having successfully finished the first nine weeks of this new curriculum, I have found that my students have become better writers who are more thoughtful about not only their content choices, but also their use and knowledge of grammar and mechanics within their writing. This site celebrates the pieces of writing that, for whatever reason, have stood out to me.
Some of the works I will showcase will have errors in them. I want to remain true to each student, so be aware that you are looking at stages of growth. I will not be showcasing only my high achieving students. This site will give you a glimpse of all of the beautiful personalities that make up my classroom and their unique/creative minds. I have also done my best to spot plagiarism, so please let me know if any of these posts have been taken from another source, and I will remove the post immediately.