Scaffold Writing Experiences
FAQ: What counts as a product in writing?
ANSWER: Many teachers presume that students should always generate pieces that they wrote all by themselves. However, when just learning a new genre or a type of writing, it may not be appropriate to expect such a large and complete product in the first assignment. (Access the PDF Kristina utilizes within this video.)
Rather than having all of the students struggle to generate their own pieces of writing, consider leading an oral writing by standing at the board or the document camera and capturing the students’ thinking for all to see. The students pool their ideas; they talk to each other and develop a whole-class product. This approach allows them to focus on the content of the message. The students put their energy into the gist of the ideas and organization of information, rather than on the mechanics of spelling, capitalization, paragraph indents, and other grammar skills.
The thinking behind such “oral writing” is that if students can’t think it to say it, then they can’t think it to write it.
There will be times when the end-of-mini-unit writing product needs to be a little more rigorous. However, students may still not be ready to generate a final draft independently. A next product to create may be a partial piece. Here are a couple examples:
- A persuasive letter-writing mini-unit may ask students to write only part of the letter. If students can’t develop one persuasive reason, they definitely can’t develop three different reasons with an introduction and a conclusion.
- A narrative-writing mini-unit might end with students developing and writing out the problem. Not the beginning with the character and the setting. Not the ending with the solution. But just the middle, the problem, the climax.
- A how-to-writing mini-unit may have focused on the introductions of such pieces (the instruction targeted revealing the topic to the reader and listing the ingredients or equipment needed). If that’s the case, then a product might be to only write those portions and turn it in.
Thoughts on Grading
These partial pieces should definitely be assessed. The teacher needs to know what writing skills are sticking, and consequently, what instruction needs to be tweaked or refined. However, the overall value of a first-draft partial piece would likely weigh much less than a final draft of an entire product.
Thoughts on Support
In addition to the size of the writing product, also consider the level of independence students are ready for. That oral-writing task was executed as a whole class. But a partial piece could be done alone if students are ready. If students need a little more support, consider allowing pairs or small groups of students to generate a product together. It’s not always that they need more teacher help or instruction. What they might need is more support.
At some point in the school year, students will be ready to generate a complete product–but perhaps not a beginning, middle, and end all written from scratch. This is where a framed writing might work well.
Many teachers already use frames, but don’t realize it. For example, somebody. . .wanted. . .but. . .so. . .then is a very common frame for asking students to write a summary. The power of a frame is that the teacher is indicating the type of information that must be included in the written product and the organization of that information.
Using the somebody. . .wanted. . .but. . .so. . .then frame, students would complete it with their own ideas. For example, Cinderella wanted to attend the ball, but her stepmother wouldn’t let her go. So, she enlisted the help of her fairy godmother. It’s then that Cinderella met Prince Charming.
If you think a frame will support your students, the next consideration for their writing is whether they will generate it alone or with peer support. (Check out these additional resources on frames in general and specifically, the Somebody-wanted-but-so-then strategy.)
First and Final Drafts
Over time, gradually release students to be able to produce a complete first draft all by themselves. Take note that a first draft could be a product. First drafts don’t always have to produce a final draft. Rather, students gain lots of writer experience in the generating of two or three first drafts. Eventually, though, a final draft is something to work toward.
When progressing through mini-units in writing, scaffold students’ experiences to honor their developmental readiness. For each assignment, pair the most appropriate writing product with a level of support that honors students’ current ability and understanding.