Maybe you hate teaching writing. . .and that’s true even though you love to write (or to read really good writing!) but you just hate teaching it. You may love teaching personal narrative and story because it’s fun, but certainly not the “5 paragraph essay using two texts” type of writing.
Why is that?
I used to hate teaching writing. I knew how to write—I’ve written tons of research papers, and a thesis and a dissertation—but I didn’t know how to teach it. Scratch that. I didn’t know how to teach it well.
As with anything, through experimenting, learning from other teachers, and failing (lots), now I truly enjoy teaching non-fiction writing. . .also known as opinion or informative essays. And what’s more, I absolutely love seeing the growth my students experience along the way.
I’m not going to lie to you though. Teaching writing is not easy—but it can be easier than it is now.
Step 1. Use a structure. Acronyms are one way students can remember facts or a strategy that requires multiple steps. If you’ve ever read Robert Marzano’s books about instructional strategies that work, you know that using acronyms helps all humans remember memorize facts and multi-step structures like writing.
Our district uses POW-OREA (opinion essay) or POW-TIDE (informational essay) across grade levels. Whatever the structure you adopt, you need to use it consistently. You may already use one. The key is here is to have one—but that’s just the first step.
Step 2. Teach the process first, not the content. Many teachers make the mistake of trying to teach too much at once. When you’re teaching the process of writing, be sure to use texts they’ve already read multiple times. You need to take baby steps when it comes to writing. Teach how to pull apart a prompt one day, writing an introduction paragraph the next, a body paragraph the next, and so on.
Step 3. Model. I’m sure you’re familiar with the gradual release model. If you’re not, basically you model something with a think aloud, do one together (we do), do one with a partner if needed (we do #2), and then they’re ready to do one one their own.
You might get stuck in the process by just explaining how to write instead of modeling OR having low expectations for your students. It’s called gradual release because at some point, you have to release them to do it on their own.
Step 4. Practice and provide feedback. Have students practice the process throughout the year. I’ve tried teaching writing two ways: (a) over a two-week period every 9 weeks as an ELA teacher and, (b) as a self-contained teacher, teaching it one day every week.
Regardless of your schedule, continual and immediate feedback is essential. Holding mini-conferences for students to learn from their mistakes and make corrections is huge in growing their brains and learning from the feedback process.
Teaching writing can be a challenge but seeing their growth is incredibly rewarding. When students use multiple texts to integrate and synthesize information, their brains are growing more than from almost any other activity!
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