When students face the task of writing for state mandated tests, there are always a few that want to vent their spleen by describing how much they hate to do this kind of writing. The hapless scorer must read through their litany of insulting rants, so the scorers typically return the favor by giving these students the lowest score possible. In this situation, I always discourage students from writing about writing.
Instead, I assigning students short compositions in which they answers questions like:
- How do I feel about writing?
- What do I like and dislike about it?
- What kind of writing do I enjoy doing the most?
- What kind of writing do I find the hardest to do?
- When are the best situations for me to write?
- What kind of writing do I want to be able to do?
What you want at this point is not necessarily polished essays (do not be surprised if you might receive something better than expected) but raw ideas. Students can then use the ideas and create their own plans for improving writing skills. They need to understand that their compositions should be driven by what they want to communicate. Writing down words may take more time and effort than talking, but it serves a similar purpose. Plus, the results last longer and can spread further.
The next step is to have students create work and then write a critique of their own work. If they are mature enough, you can establish rules for them to critique other’s work. Basic rules are be honest, be constructive and avoid being insulting. They need to look at the techniques they use to get ideas across and evaluate what works the best and what to avoid.
Eventually the students should be able to do this same thing for the literature that they read. But, be aware that as students improve in their own skill, they will not feel the need to place literature on a high a pedestal. A middle school teacher asked her students to describe the bravery of the mongoose in Rudyard Kipling’s Riki Tiki Tavi. One student decided to challenge the conventional wisdom that Kipling was praising courage. Instead she provided details how the “brave” mongoose, who destroyed the snake’s eggs and intimidated other animals, showed more characteristics of a bully than a brave creature. Coming up with new ideas for writing helped this student think critically about what she read.
How can we ever expect students to create papers examining the work of an author, for whom they have no way to see what was really inside of their head, unless the students first master how to analyze what they have written themselves?
Art from The Illustrated London Reading Book – Project Gutenburg