Well begun is half done. My grandmother used to recite this phrase at the start of any project we did together. Whether it was collecting ingredients for her favorite bread recipe or gathering garden tools when we transplanted flowers, she believed that starting well was a good guarantee of future success.
As teachers, we know this to be true. We spend countless hours setting up our classrooms, choosing the perfect read-aloud for the start of the year, and planning activities for teaching routines the first week of school. When you think of designing your writing instruction, you may want to consider the following ideas in order to be “well begun.”
Students will need easy access to paper and writing utensils. Think about how you want students to store their needed supplies. You don’t want students to have to get up or wait for paper to be passed out to them when they are ready to write.
Colored pencils are an important tool when improving writing. Students will need easy access to colored pencils when they are revising and editing their writing.
Writing is a process. Students need a way to store their in-process writing. Think about what works best for you and your class. Do you want primary students to keep their writing in composition notebooks? Do you prefer pocket folders? You may choose for intermediate students to keep their writing in either spiral notebooks or 3-ring binders. If you are having students compose on the computer, have a designated space to store their writing. For more information, read the previous Write Now – Right Now Newsletter.: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5609f7afe4b02872f51f680b/t/5d5339bfe1f15f00014fa7ff/1565735361916/September+-+October+2017+Newsletter.pdf
Provide students ample opportunities to practice their organizational skills at the start of the year. Keeping items in order is an acquired skill.
Sharing Student Ideas and Writing
Writers learn from other writers. We all want a classroom community where members feel safe to share their ideas and receive constructive feedback. A classroom where students can both give and receive feedback should be a goal of teachers everywhere. Think about what routines will need to be put in place from the first day of school which will support this goal. Some ideas:
- Have students stand and face the class when they are sharing their writing. Have that student wait until they have their classmates’ attention before they read their piece. Practice having students look away from the speaker and then quickly focus in on the speaker. See how quickly students can complete this step. They may choose to thank a student who shows they are actively listening.
- Students can listen for specific items in each other’s writing. For example, students may raise their hands when they hear an interesting word in a classmate’s written piece. Have students share why they found the word interesting.
- Model specific constructive feedback. Feedback which focuses on one specific aspect – “Your detail sentences helped me understand why you enjoy being on a team.” – is much more powerful than a simple “I like your writing.”
- While there should be a time for quiet writing, allow students time to share and learn from one another. Provide them a specific purpose during this time. For example, “Read your partner’s paragraph on their favorite sport. Think of one thing you would like to learn more about from the writer.”
Students and teachers can be overwhelmed with the number of assessments at the beginning of the year. While a writing assessment at the start of the year can provide you with important information about your students, carefully consider the assessment’s purpose and the time it requires.
- Choose a prompt that you can also use for your mid-year assessment. Provide students with a prompt that is accessible for all students. Opinion writing will work best for your students.
- Provide students a specific amount of time to respond to the prompt. When the time is over, gather everyone’s assessment. Note students who didn’t complete the assessment during that time.
- Assess writing using end-of-year standards. This is the goal for which you are striving.
- Streamline your beginning-of-the-year writing assessment grading. It may not be necessary to use a detailed rubric for each piece of writing. We recommend grading by piles: Outstanding Writing, Average Writing, and Low Writing. This is enough information about students’ skills for teachers to start the year.
- Keep the beginning-of-the-year writing to share with students later in the year. Both you and your students will be amazed at their progress!
Your students will reflect your attitude towards writing instruction. Reach out for ideas when you are struggling. We love to talk writing with teachers and are always available for questions!
Have a wonderful start to your school year!