by Dina Secchiaroli
Professional Learning Specialist at Area Cooperative Educational Services
Membership Chair for CTCTE
Have you ever read student writing that looked good but didn’t say much? You know the kind of writing I’m talking about - the grammar is mostly correct, the writing is organized, the evidence is detailed, the voice is inauthentic, and the thinking, regurgitated.
When it comes to writing instruction, too often we spend classroom time focused on how to write rather than on how to think. We have lessons on how to write a thesis or claim, how to incorporate evidence, how to hook your reader, how to use a comma, etc. That’s not to say these aren’t important components to effective writing, but they won’t improve writing if we don’t also provide instructional time for students to figure out what they want to say. What percentage of class time do we allot towards exploratory writing and discussion, where students are writing and speaking to discover and clarify their thinking, both during and after reading? What strategies and protocols do we teach students to have these meaningful conversations? What structures have we created so they can capture the thinking of the class and be able to return to it throughout the year?
One way to explore thinking is through a Discovery Draft where students, in paragraph form, think through their fingers without worrying about structure or correctness. Students reference their reading journals and discussion notes to inform their thinking. Once their discovery draft is written, usually a 20-30 minute endeavor, in pairs or small groups they read aloud their discovery drafts while the group listens for the following:
For all types of writing:
In addition to the above, for argument:
In addition to the above, for analysis:
In addition to the above, for narrative:
When we read student writing that while polished and organized lacks substance, we should consider how many in-class opportunities we provided for students to explore their thinking. Certainly polished and organized writing is important, but so is the quality of the content in the writing. If we say we value student thinking, then our lesson design and time structures need to reflect its importance.