Today I conferred with a fourth grade girl who was doing her best to write a feature article. I watched her for a few minutes before I conferred with her and noticed she had several pages written, but also seemed to be copying the research she printed (at home) about her topic.
I pulled up a chair beside her and began our conference. As we talked, I skimmed her draft. Most of it was copied from the research. As we talked, I realized that she knew a lot about her topic. It was evident she spent a lot of time researching (and reading the research) . As I complimented her on her research skills, she smiled, clearly proud of herself.
I shifted into the teaching portion of the conference by saying, “When I was reading this I noticed it doesn’t really sound like you. Why do you think that is?”
She shrugged, “Well, I’m using my research, but I’m not copying it. I’m putting it into my own words.” I scanned her draft again. It was clearly plagiarized.
“Will you show me how you are putting it in your own words?”
She read some of her draft and then read some of her research. She gave me a sheepish smile, “Well, it isn’t really coming out in my own words, I guess.”
I smiled back at her. I didn’t want to say the next part. She’d worked so diligently and had written more than three pages. Still, it was plagiarized. I took a deep breath and asked her to describe the three-toed sloth. Her energy was obvious as she described his looks. When she was finished I said, “Wow, that was so much more interesting to listen to than this,” I pointed to the subtopic describing the sloth.
She reread it and nodded, “Yeah, that feels like an old teacher is talking, not me.”
I laughed, “You know a lot about your topic. A lot of it is because you did an excellent job researching. Now when you write, you need to trust yourself.”
I moved into the teaching point, and encouraged her to put her research out of sight while she wrote her draft. This way she will discover her own ways of talking about the subject instead of copying someone else’s words. We also discussed how she can double check her facts if she’s unsure, but then to put her research away while writing.
“So, I should probably start over?”
I took a deep breath, hoping she wouldn’t lose energy for the project. “Yes, you should write another draft, only this time use your own words. I think you will find the writing better this way.”
She stacked up the draft she was working on, along with her research and tucked it into her folder. As she pulled out a new piece of paper she said, “It will be a lot better!”
I stood up, letting out a sigh of relief. It’s always tough when kids are in the midst of a project to redirect them. I was concerned she was going to lose energy for writing. Thankfully she was receptive to the idea.
Rarely do I backpedal a young writer. Usually I let them finish and then ask them to make a change on the next draft. However, when students are researching a topic it is a little more difficult to wait until the next draft. In this case, it is best to encourage what they are trying to do and make the task of backpedaling seem appealing. It is my goal to always, not matter what, leave the writer with more energy for the project after our conference than she had before talking to me. This helps me keep my eyes on what really matters — the writer, not the writing.
Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.