Aim Higher: Know Students as Writers

Aim Higher Blog SeriesBy late January, you know who can solve word problems in her head and who is still counting on her fingers.  You know who will offer to help you staple papers and who will offer to run an errand to get out of class.  You know who offers to answer a question and who pretends he’s invisible when you ask a question. It’s late January, so  you know who’s who in your classroom.  But how well do you know your students as writers?

By this point in the year, students have published multiple pieces of writing.  You might have a list of things you’d like to help your entire class with, but you might not know what your next steps will be with each of your students.  Here are four ways to find out what makes each of your students tick as writers.

Know Your Students as Writers -- TWO WRITING TEACHERS: http://wp.me/p57D8-51EObservations: Build-in time before you confer and in-between conferences to walk around the classroom to see what’s happening.  (Teach kids not to get your attention when you’re doing this.)  Record what you notice about students as you move around the classroom.  You can also observe and take notes on your students as they work with writing partners and participate in full-class share sessions.

Yetta Goodman coined the term kidwatching, which is when teachers are “watching kids with a knowledgeable head.” If you’ve never kidwatched before, I highly suggest it for the analysis of your observations can lead to highly individualized instruction for every student. Click here for more information about implementing kidwatching in your classroom.

RELATED: We used to hold reading stamina days four times a year when I taught at The Learning Community. The purpose of these days were to observe our students’ habits during independent reading.  (Here’s an example of what my notes looked like from a stamina day, http://bit.ly/1wxesfK.)  Teachers can use a similar record-keeping system if they wanted to watch what writers are doing during a writing stamina day.

Self-Evaluations: You may have handed out a writing survey when school began last fall.  With half of the school year gone, check-in with students to see how it’s going. When I was a classroom teacher, I disseminated a midyear self-evaluation to my students.  (They were adapted from Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Know-How and Janel L. Elliott’s Using the Writer’s Notebook in Grades 3-8: A Teacher’s Guide.)  Click here to view the midyear self-evaluation I gave my fourth graders.  Feel free to customize it so it will help you learn more about your students.

RELATED: You might want to watch this minilesson about goal setting, which can be found on the TCRWP’s Vimeo page.

Family Member Questionnaires: Ever wonder how it’s going for students at home?  Consider asking your students’ parents or guardians for more insight into pupils’ at-home writing life. Click here to download a one-page questionnaire you can disseminate to students’ families.

Interviews: Schedule time to talk to students after you review the observations you made and the responses you received on the self-evaluations and family member questionnaires.  You could schedule these conversations during your next open cycle. Interviews might be an excellent opportunity to set some short- and long-term writing goals alongside your students.

We talk about teaching the writer, not the writing. Watching our students, reading their reflections, learning about their writing life outside of school, and talking with them are the best ways to get to know them beyond the writing they produce.

Please join us on Monday evening, February 2nd when we host a Twitter Chat about aiming higher with our students.  The chat will begin at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  Just search and tag #TWTBlog to participate.

Aim Higher Twitter Chat -- Two Writing Teachers