Lack of Time to Teach Writing-How I Solved the Dilemma
Over the years I encountered several dilemmas when teaching young students to write. First, there was the issue of time. There was never enough time:
The third dilemma was locating a curriculum that met my needs, but more importantly met my students’ needs. I found myself spending hours hunting for materials, running off notebooks full of papers on teaching writing, buying books on how to teach writing, and of course the “dittos” as we called them, later called worksheets, I’d find. It was odd, my school provided us with a math and reading curriculum, but for some reason writing was left up to me to create.
Something Had to Give
I watched many teachers give up around me. They resorted to monthly themed writing assignments. For example, they’d have all students write about a leprechaun in March. That was “teaching writing”. There was no real writing instruction that went with it, but they called it “writing time.” Teachers would get out the red pen, correct spelling mistakes and capital letters. Students would grudgingly rewrite and their work and color a picture to accompany it. The product would be posted on the wall for everyone to see. There was no meaningful feedback. There was no attention directed at growing the actual craft of writing for students.
I took a graduate class on the teaching writing. I became interested in the writer’s workshop model. I hunted again and found what I could gather together. The workshop model helped with organization of class time. I also found the Six Traits of Writing as a way to measure growth and also to provide the structure to what was being taught in the lessons. I remember creating my own binder full of lessons with mentor texts that I found in a variety of places. Still, it was taking too much time to search for lessons and materials. Fortunately, technology in the classroom began to boom!
Why I Changed—Blending the Writer’s Workshop
I needed a solid and complete curriculum. I didn’t have the time or money to keep searching for engaging curriculum materials. I needed something that I could follow and know that my students were being taught all of the standards. I lead my school in adopting a new K-5 writing curriculum based on the workshop model, WriteSteps. It was based on the workshop model, was very easy to follow, had all the materials needed, and met all writing and grammar standards. It was also divided by grade level. This provided our staff with fidelity in implementation of writing instruction. We finally had a spiraling of skills and continuity in instruction. I spent a year or so becoming familiar with the program and seeing major results in student writing scores. My next step was to change my delivery method; not the curriculum, only my delivery method.
How I Made the Delivery Model Switch
Teaching the entire lesson still took time. I was perched at the front of the room preaching to students like a parrot creating anchor charts by the dozen. By the time the lesson was over, there was very little actual time left over for practice. This was when it hit me. I now had a classroom full of iPads. I learned that by blending my workshop with technology, I could solve all three of my dilemmas. I recorded my instruction using Explain Everything on my iPad. I taught the exact lesson that I normally would teach, however, there were no distractions. I could make them as creative and engaging as possible. The lessons now took less time! The 30-40 minute lessons now took about 7-10 minutes. I put the lessons on a Learning Management System, Edmodo. My students could access the lessons easily when they were ready for them.
This meant that I could rove around the classroom while my students watched my writing lessons on their devices. It was as though I had cloned myself.
There were three noticeable changes. The first noticeable change was immediate. I found that I had more time to meet one to one with students. I could conference with them during the entire workshop. This really helped me differentiate instruction. The second noticeable change was that students had more time to actually practice writing. They no longer had to sit and wait for class directions. They had it at their fingertips. They could move at their own pace. The third noticeable change was that blending instruction created more time for students to publish creatively. This was a huge motivator! Before long students were creating drafts and revising so that they could create eBooks, movies, and even use the green screen to publish their work. This was the writer’s workshop model I had been dreaming of! I had it.
Looking back, I wonder how I ever taught the lessons without technology. I considered myself to be a great writing teacher, but technology allowed me to be even better.
I’ve noticed an increase in “texting” type lingo in student writing. I’m not talking about when students text each other in on the go instant messages, or write short Tweets that are limited in the number of characters that can be used. No, I’m talking about when students write and are publishing their work to a broader audience. Formal writing deserves more than text type language.
As a long time writing teacher, it looked to me like it was a conventions issue at first—not capitalizing “I” when necessary, or misspelling you as u, or are –r, or even for-4. Where do our young writers learn this? It’s not in our writing curriculums, that’s for sure. Perhaps it’s being modeled in the mainstream media? For example, when celebrities post on social media they often use text type slang. Example: I M L8 C U L8R. This might be acceptable when you are limited in social media platforms such as Twitter where text characters are limited to 140 characters— but not in blogs and opinion pieces where the purpose is to make our message crystal clear to our audience. If our students want to be taken seriously as writers, we need to help them understand the importance of formal writing.
It’s being modeled for young writers as acceptable. But is it acceptable? Recently, a well-known personality posted about a serious topic. It wasn’t that what she was saying or expressing was inappropriate (although some thought so), but rather her use of texting type slang. It was hard to take the information seriously because of the text slang. The piece was all over the internet and news due to the topic, but I was more disturbed by the lack of grammar and conventions she used.
I believe that correct grammar and punctuation must be taught and continually reinforced and modeled for our growing writers. By reminding students of the purpose of their writing, whether it’s to entertain, inform, or persuade, we can help them to understand that in order to be taken seriously, our writing must look and sound credible. If the work is to be published to a broader audience, it should be free of blemishes---or convention errors. Do not allow published work to include text type slang, lack of capital letters, and words such as R U 2 L8 4 it or allow the I to be lower case. Let’s model publishing correctly and insist that the writing we share with others is our very best.
See you later! (Not CUL8R!)
As a veteran teacher with a background in special, general, and technology education, I knew the importance of a strong face-to-face presence in the education setting. I also realized that the world of teaching as I knew it, was changing quickly. Our district received iPads for all students and teachers. We went from one or two computers in a classroom to 1:1 iPads. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, waking up after the storm. I was suddenly in a new place. Always the educational adventurer, I knew there had to be a way to use this new technology to optimize my limited time in the classroom. I had the tools, now I had to figure out what to do with them. I surrounded myself with Professional Development, attended conferences, and used Social Media to learn more. Blended and Flipped Learning were just coming to the forefront. I recognized that an online presence could benefit my students. Students could reference my teaching 24/7 and they could move at their own pace. I searched for a way to provide myself, the face-to-face component, with more time to work 1:1 or in small groups with my students, rather than lecturing from the front of the room. I said to myself, “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I polished and slipped into my ruby slippers. I set off on my journey to the Oz of Teaching via the Yellow Brick Road. That was over six years ago. I made a goal to blend all elementary subjects within three years. I used my technological know-how and progressive mindset to “blend” all subjects in my classroom with technology. I met a tin man, Erik Cliff from CBD Consulting. He reassured me that I was headed in the right direction and helped me navigate. I began by using a learning management system (Edmodo) and by using my iPad to record my direct instruction. I tried one subject at a time. This was the magic! I was hooked. I persevered with the task of recording all of my elementary subjects in the same way. By changing the delivery method of instruction I gained more time. This also allowed students to learn to self-direct by choosing what and when they worked on assignments. They could work at their pace, not mine. Best of all it allowed for more opportunities for my students to create 21st-century examples of their learning on a daily basis. Students were now fully collaborating, creating, thinking critically, and communicating with the world outside of their classroom setting. In doing so, I was named the 2015 Outstanding Technology-Using Pre K-12 Classroom Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL). I thought I had reached my Oz. I was mistaken. I still had a long way to go.
Sharing the success of the Blended Writer’s Workshop with other educators at state, national conferences, and edcamps became my passion and led me to new places in my life and career. I met Suzanne Klein, CEO of WriteSteps, in my eyes; she is like Glenda—the Good Witch of the North. She believed in what I was doing. She had kept in contact with me because I was a passionate WriteSteps teacher. She asked me to consult and to help create a blended writing platform to be used by other teachers and students worldwide so they could share this experience. I began to create the video teacher portion, Captivators, for WriteSteps’ new digital writing platform, CaptivationStation. I retired from the classroom to complete the project and to share my passion for blended learning with a wider audience. I refined my focus on how to teach writing, a subject that is often put to the side by teachers due to a lack of time and resources, using a blended model.
I still wear my ruby slippers even though they may need a polish from time to time. Some may think that I have reached Oz. I don’t think any teacher ever reaches Oz. Teachers must be lifelong learners, continually on that Yellow Brick Road. Join me on my journey as I continue to learn and share what is ahead of me. I’ll share tips, tricks, and many resources for teaching students to write in the digital age. I can’t wait to meet more munchkins; I mean rock star teachers and leaders (like you) along the way. We’re off!