The first two interviews that I have completed show two very different kinds of writers. These two students are in the same class, and are asked to do the same kinds of tasks in class, from teacher input, to formative assessment, to summative assessment. By comparing their responses to a similar set of questions,we can begin to peek into the predilections and behaviors of the adolescent vis a vis writing.
you may, refresh yourself on these two students, reader, by watching their interviews here:
M believes not only that she is a good writer, but that her maximum effort isnt required. is taht a sign of her giftedness or of how teachers assess writing? Many English departments come up with a standard set of requirements that a piece of writing should meet in order to earn a certain score. These requirements include things like clarity of thesis statemnt, sufficient textual support and elaboration, overal organization of thought, and basic spelling/grammar/fluency. While these are good paramaters with which to engage the vast majority of writers, it’s possible that some writers, like M, may need more nuance in assessment of their writing. A “4 out of 4″ is a goal to which D, the second student interviewed, can and does aspire to. He, and most students, work toward creating topic sentences that capture what each paragraph is attempting to support; he, and most students, are working on using specific words and phrases from a text as their evidence, and then explaining to the reader how they support the topic sentence. I have a sneaking suspicion that I could ask M to write an essay in 30 minutes based on a poem that she had never seen before, and she would write something that meets the “4 out of 4″ criteria. After drafts and drafts, peer and teacher revision, a significant percentage of my students would still not reach that mark.
But what could that kind of differentiated assessment look like? Should a teacher, who knows that she is an exceptional writer, assess her using different criteria than the other one-hundred-plus students I teach? Lets assume that a classroom already is differentiated for standard/honors split; if one or two students write at a level that is consistently a level above all the others, should I create a new category, a “super-honors” that challenges them to refine their skill? Or should the school/system have avenues for high-achieving students to enrich their writing in extra-curricular clubs/groups? Sorry for posing these difficult questions, but they are ones that trouble me, ones that I feel driven to contemplate.
To those ends, M and D cite a few other differences in their writing habits. M writes poems every once in a while, as a way to relieve emotional stresses; D really does nothing of the sort. D, although he may dislike the tedium of the writing process that teachers emphasize, realizes its value, and has notices a significant improvement to his writing once he began implementing them with gusto. M cites a kind of ease with which she generates ideas, compiles effective support, and creates an organizational logic that supports her arguments. While D claims his main problem with writing lies in a lack of vocabulary, I would argue that at a deeper level, he doesn’t as naturally or confidently generate, support, or organize his thoughts in words. To make matters worse, even when invited (but not required) to draft and revise, he may dislike writing to a significant enough extent that he prevents himself from engaging with and practicing those skills.
I found it interesting, but not particularly enlightening, that both D and M enjoy reading histories, memoir, biography. If I had to peg one of them as a fiction reader, it would be M, because she is young, creative, creative, and female, though it seems my presuppositions are again inaccurate. Similarly, both D and M agree that students may write more when encouraged, but should that encouragement bleed into the excessive or punitive, they would push back against it. While they didn’t go into more detail, I could imagine that resistance be an overt refusal to write, or simply a slackening in effort leading to a less refined product. Frankly, I have seen both
Finally, I think it is important to note how these two students describe their relationship with writing when they were younger. D, who professes talent in math and science, and hopes to be an engineer, was encouraged to practice math skills when he was younger, at the behest of his father. M, who claims no set career goals, notes that she was encouraged to read and write quite a bit. more than anything a teacher can do in one meager year with an adolescent, I think having a foundation in which a child is encouraged to read and write, has success with it, and perhaps most importantly, is not allowed to quit when he or she struggles, is most crucial to having success as writers.
As per usual, reader, I encourage you to suggest areas where I might improve my query or where i might focus my analysis. Until we meet again, happy writing.