Individualize Writing Process + Standardized Tests

Sometimes when I write in this forum it is about topics I have thought through and know exactly where I stand and what I think. Other times I write here in order to figure out what I think. These are the thoughts which make me most nervous to post. However, if I never post my raw, ever-changing, in-the-midst of developing thinking, then I won’t grow as an educator. When I post the thoughts tumbling in my head, I face issues  head on. Albeit a little scary, this is the way I grow.

So today’s post is snippets of thoughts tripping over each other in my head. They probably won’t be eloquently stated; my hope is they won’t be ridiculous.

  • As the pressure is increased to perform well on standardized tests, teachers are reverting to teaching a lock-step writing process. I believe the secret for students to do well on standardized tests is to teach them to personalize the writing process for their unique needs. By teaching students to become most efficient when composing a draft, we prepare them for standardized tests.
  • There are specific phases of the writing process which every writer goes through. The way each writer works through these phases varies. Some writers percolate on an idea for a long time before ever writing it; others play with a topic in their notebook, sketching, webbing, quick writing, and collecting ideas for a while. Still others consider an idea and draft as soon as possible, then go back and consider their project. The phase of getting ideas has a million different approaches; so do the others.
  • As far as the phases, I believe all writers: gather ideas; plan; draft; revise; edit; and publish. I also believe some of these stages happen in the heads of some writers. Although, I think the more proficient the writer, the more likely these phases can be done in one’s head as opposed to on paper. For this reason, I typically insist the writers in our classrooms put their thinking out on the page. Since they have less experience it is important to practice the craft of writing on paper. It also allows me to see their train of thought and help them refine it.
  • Do all writers publish? I think if they are truly writing, then there is an inner-drive to publish. I’m using the word publish very liberally. When we write, we want people to read our writing. Whenever we share our writing with someone we are publishing.
  • It’s difficult to teach students to personalize their writing process unless we are teachers who write. As writers, we learn ways to be most efficient. When something works for us, the process “clicks.” We train ourselves to get into a groove as writers. We must know the “click” if we want to teach our students to feel the same way.
  • Unless we study how others write, then it’s difficult to realize there are many ways to be an efficient writer. Once we understand how it feels to personalize the writing process, then we can recognize it in others. Our goal as teachers is to provide many opportunities for students to find their own unique process.
  • This sometimes conflicts with our need to “prepare” students for standardized tests. Because we want students to do well, we teach them a lock-step approach to writing for the tests. I’m beginning to realize the approach taught is the approach which works best for the teacher. This isn’t necessarily what works best for kids.
  • So the bottom line is to give students looooooooooooooooooooooooooooots of time and flexibility to find their own writing process and then a little bit of time to practice their process in standardized testing situations. Then repeat this process throughout the entire school year. This makes Writing Workshop even more crucial when preparing students for standardized tests. They must have plenty of practice time to find themselves as writers, then time to put this into practice on a standardized test. By giving a standardized writing prompt at the end of a unit of study, this allows the necessary time for students to refine their process, as well as the needed practice on a writing prompt.
  • Finally the purpose of writing is not to score well on a test. The purpose of writing is to make sense of the world and to help others do the same. The purpose of writing is to make this crazy world a little better. When we write for real, we are happier. Let’s not take this joy away from students because a standardized test scares us into teaching a lock-step writing process.

I’d love to know your thoughts as you weigh-in on these issues.