During the first few weeks of school, I did not collect much of my students writing because much of their writing occurs in their journals. My students write every day in the beginning of class. Sometimes I ask them to freewrite and other times I ask for a focused freewrite, specially addressing a topic we have covered or will cover. I have found success in starting our classes with writing to get the students ready to engage in the class.
Recently, I decided to collect a low-stakes writing assignment. This piece was a written response to several questions I asked. It was supposed to be a reflective journal. While I was reading the work, I started to notice trends and patterns in the mechanics of their writing. Their content was spot on and addressed the questions, but their errors made it difficult to focus on the content. I decided to list the common patterns and hold a few writing workshops.
When I handed back the journals, I told my students what patterns I saw, and I realized very quickly that they did not understand what I was talking about, especially the terms I was using, such as “comma splices,” “run-ons,” and “sentence fragments.” That is when I realized I needed to “break it down to build it up.”
So for the next class, I decided to hold a Wednesday writing workshop. I began class with a quiz asking them about the terms and concepts we were going to cover in class. This quiz gave me a heads up about what they know or do not know about grammar, and the quiz provided them some background or basis to know what they were about to learn.
After the quiz, I started with basic terms, which led into examples. My students asked engaging questions, and I could tell they wanted to learn more about the concepts. Before I knew it, the lecture part of the class was over, so I had the students apply what they had learned. Using Writer’s Help, we practiced some examples of sentences that had the common errors the students had originally struggled with in their writing. They also had to do this for homework.
At the end of the class, I checked in with my students about what they had learned, and they felt good about the lesson. I know that they are not experts from that one lesson, but I can guarantee that they felt extremely comfortable with having me break down and then build up the concepts. I am looking forward to finding more ways to build on this foundation in my class.