Saturday, July 11, 2009

Teaching Writing

Writing instruction continues to be a weakness in my skill set. I have great confidence that I can take a student who writes well, and guide them towards truly effective writing--or what I call refinement.
Taking a student whose skills are still in the development stage and moving them towards a higher level of communication, that's where I struggle.
I can point out a student's weakness, but I don't know where to begin the instruction. Here's an example from student work as it appeared:

I am an Insider... very popular and known throughout the school. But, I feel differen because they always are talking about others and I don't want to be the blame. The feeling of picking on others makes me feel different. When, you want to be that nerd's freind or that girl/boy who's very quiet and stay's to himself but you are afraid about what the Insiders would say about youthen and you'll no longer be Them.

Her thoughts turn out to be excellent as she describes her desire to move out of the "insider" group in order to be kinder and more compassionate. But the thought gets lost in the writing mistakes. I started to mark up the essay by eliminating the elipse and deleting what followed in order for the first two sentences to read as follows:

I am an Insider. People know me.

But then I thought, I can't mark up every error and provide an alternative, can I? That's where I struggle. What type of feedback on an essay is appropriate and more importantly, helpful.
Another student's essay had already developed sentence structure and grammar proficiency, so my comments were more stylistic in nature. Here's her work as it appeared:

In the car, I began to feel nauseous. I didn't know what to expect, going to a new school with new people and new teachers. However, I knew for sure that the car ride was going by way too fast and I began to feel butterflies in my stomach. I opened my backpack to check and see if I had everything...pencils that were already sharpened, 3 new notebooks, a few folders, and extra paper. I began to squirm in my seat as we got closer and closer to the school. I didn't want step foot through the door of the massive building that I would now call my school.

Not bad at all. So my advice was to make a few stylistic changes by reducing sentence three's word total and turning sentence four into shorter, quicker sentence fragments to add to the tone and speed of the car ride itself:

However, I knew for sure that the car ride was going by too fast. I felt my stomach flutter. I opened my backpack. Sharpened pencils. Three new noteboooks. A few folders. I began to squirm in my seat as we neared the school.

By the way, I feel like I am baring my soul to my readers by telling you all how I would provide feeback on essays--there is something personal to it. However, I truly feel as if I am on a Feedback Island. I have never had a conversation with a colleague about how to give formative feedback on student writing.


At 7:39 PM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

First of all, I wouldn't make the stylistic choices you made without conferencing one-on-one with the student. That's imposing too much of your own voice on the writer, and sentence length is not the only criteria for editing. Proper connecting words instead of an ellipsis would have made that third sentence a good one, and it might have been closer to what the student wanted.

Secondly, learn the basics of sentence diagramming. Teach it to your students--no, you don't have to go into the complex/compound diagram forms, but do the basic subject/verb diagram, then talk about what you do to make a correct sentence, as well as making a sentence flow correctly.

Thirdly, look up a few works targeted toward helping aspiring professional writers critique the work of others. The science fiction and fantasy genre has a lot of good information in that vein. I have spent a lot of time in critique groups and it's been very helpful for me in establishing my comfort range in critiquing student writing.

Finally, what I often find that works best with students who are reluctant or struggling writers is to conference with them and have them read it to you. Yes, it takes time. No, you probably won't be able to give feedback more than once a month. It's the quality of the feedback, not the quantity, which counts. As you review a piece of writing with a student, you also are able to discern what they do or don't know much better than what you get off of the paper. Often, when a student reads the work out loud to you, they "see" the mistake and correct it themselves.

I'm pretty opinionated about remedial writing teaching, though...

At 7:54 PM , Anonymous Jude said...

I have lived successfully for 54 years without ever having learned how to diagram a sentence. I think that the first student needs to read her writing back to herself so she can recognize that it doesn't make sense. I preferred the first draft of student number two, so this reminds me of the main thing I learned about writing in college--that you have to modify your style to meet the desires of each teacher, but you can ultimately write however you want. I learned how to write one Thanksgiving break when one of my brother's college girlfriends critiqued an essay I wrote for a contest. She went over each line, pointing out my wordiness and incomprehensibility, and I could write from then on.

At 9:56 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Boo to the Tower of Aion...I can't delete the comment.
Thanks so far for the two responses. As I said, it really was difficult for me to put that out.
When it comes to style, I always wonder to what extent I am forcing my own style upon the student.

At 2:53 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Are you a member of the National Council of Teachers of English? I recommend joining, and subscribing to English Journal if not. It's a fantastic magazine that puts out some great stuff about authentic and effective ways to teach writing in each issue.

Two criteria that students should keep in mind for ANY writing assignment are audience and purpose. To whom am I writing, and why? Audience and purpose should guide students' writing and editing endeavors.

As a teacher, you can help students see the effect their writing has on you (audience), and you can ask them questions to help them see how their writing either does or does not express their objectives (purpose) for the piece.

Serve as a mirror. Offer feedback from the position of a reader. Articulate your reaction to the writing. Give them time to make their own edits and adjustments.

Help them express their ideas the best they can. You might consider reading about the non-directive approach to writing instruction for more ideas.

I've never been much of a fan of correcting grammar mistakes. Research shows it's generally ineffective in creating better writers. Students need to be taught to proofread and read outloud and read backwards and read again and again before submitting.

They need to learn to identify their own weaknesses - not have the teacher decide and then correct them. THEY must start to care enough about their audience that they're willing to work to submit quality writing.

Your role is to assist them in this process, teach them HOW to do the right thing, and then let them try to do it.

Help the students find something worthwhile to say. If the writing task is authentic and meaningful, they will be more motivated to consider audience and purpose, and thus be more inspired to produce higher-quality work.

At 7:20 PM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

For most students, writing really is one of those techniques which requires explicit, direct instruction, especially for those reluctant writers. The model, prompt, check methodology (I do, we do, you all do) I've found to be the most effective for getting students up to speed quickly. I'm not fond of many approaches proposed by educational writing consultants or English teacher councils, because most of those people can't write their way out of a paper bag themselves. As someone who's both a teacher and a writer, some of the statements I've heard about what good writers do from these people are patently absurd and nowhere near the reality.

Additionally, we can go on forever about how writing needs to be "authentic and meaningful," but it won't mean much when the student's asked to write to one of those prompts for statewide tests. Very few of those prompts are "authentic," much less "meaningful."

But that's another rant. Meanwhile. Here's a bit for for you to consider.

Several things need to happen to improve student writing.

First, you have to get their fluency levels up. Can't critique what isn't on the paper, and students need to relax and get in the habit of writing. The word amongst professional writers is that your first million words are throwaways, and there's a lot of truth to that. "Overnight sensations" have a lot of trunk novels and usually about ten years of writing and submitting before they finally start selling regularly. While our students aren't aspiring to become professional writers, they do need regular practice to learn how to get those words out of their brains and onto the paper. That means daily guided writing. I've found that using a blog format (only on paper, since we don't have access to blog software) where I blather on for 2-3 paragraphs, then invite a response using a simple outline (Intro, Detail 1, Detail 2, Detail 3, Conclusion) and requiring five sentences works best. No grading on spelling, handwriting, or grammar. Simply--did they make a sincere attempt at an outline, did they write five sentences, and were the sentences responsive to the daily topic? Do that three days a week, then do a five minute free write where you measure word count and tell them their rate per minute.

Works amazingly well. Once you get that fluency rate up, and get them in the habit of writing responses, then you can effectively work on grammar and composition. I alternate grammar instruction and composition instruction. Both use graphic organizers, SIMPLE graphic organizers, not those huge fancy things some like to use. If you look at sentence diagramming as being a type of graphic organizer, and keep it simple (subject, verb, prepositional phrases), it ends up making a lot more sense to kids than grammar rules without visuals.

Plus it can be great classroom entertainment when the kids start arguing about where a word goes in the sentence diagram. They really do get involved with diagramming. It's visual and it makes sense to them--and it's often the struggling students who grasp the techniques of diagramming more quickly than the higher students. I'll do a complex diagram on the board just to show them what it looks like, and the visually-oriented students really do get into it.

At 8:16 AM , Blogger Joep said...

This is wonderful, this is what edu-blogging is about: teachers exchanging their expertise by commenting on each other's work.
I wonder whether some of you would bother to comment on my writing with respect to my English. Being Dutch I am compelled to write in a foreign language if I am to learn from the international debate on education. It feels like using pincers for a job that warrants tweezers. I would be most grateful for scathing remarks on stilted language, recurrent mistakes, awkward constructions, poor grammar, spelling errors, the lot.
My blog is to be found at

At 9:34 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Interesting feedback joycemocha. I have to question, though, the wisdom of dismissing the NCTE.

Some of my most effective lessons and ideas have been borne from journal articles I've read from other English teachers and professional writers.

I also disagree with your premise that because statewide tests aren't meaningful or authentic, then the writing we do with our students shouldn't be either! As teachers, we owe it to our students to make their eduction as meaningful and relevant as possible.

The approach you mention here is very formulaic. I could see it working, initially, with very low-level students, but beyond that, it's much too prescriptive and stifling.

As someone billing yourself as an authority on writing, you would know, then, that the five sentence, five paragraph, intro, detail, detail, detail, conclusion type of writing is a construct that does not exist outside of the classroom.

Why would you recommend teaching students a form of writing that they'll never be asked to do in real-world situations?

At 5:34 PM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

Mr. B-G--

When was the last time you sold an article or short story? Be careful before you make such assertions that the five sentence paragraph formula doesn't exist outside of classrooms. I can think of several types of writing where it still applies--the corporate memo, the how-to article, the instructional memo, certain types of technical writing, and formal business letters are all good examples. The majority of our students are much more likely to encounter the need to do this sort of writing than more creative endeavours.

The old formula works to get students started; it's not an end in itself but a means to get them comfortable with the writing process. Throwing it out at the early levels of writing performance where it is effective is not a good idea. It is a starting place; once the student has grown comfortable with the ability to write and can write more effectively, then it is time to move on. I see far too much writing from middle school general and special education students where they haven't a communication clue and they would have benefited from starting with the five sentence formula, then moving on.

Given the abysmal writing performance levels, including the fact that writing performance has not improved over the past twenty to thirty years, perhaps it's time to take a hard look at prescriptivist methodology and work with the majority of students who are struggling with the basic concepts of expressing their ideas rather than shooting at the top ten percent.

Additionally, you quite conveniently overlook the statement that I'm addressing the issue of reluctant writers. Differentiation is how you handle the difference between the lower level writer and the higher level writer.

"Authentic" and "meaningful" have been tossed around so much that they've become nothing more than edujargon. I am sure that there are many out there who would argue that the very same prompts I dislike (and have heard many student complaints about) are, indeed, "authentic" and "meaningful." I think we've gone way too far on the constructivist bandwagon to the degree that the students are suffering; a little bit of prescriptivist methodology, especially in the early stages, is not going to hurt anyone.

For example, when I first start working with a horse under saddle, I don't expect it to understand sophisticated rein, seat and leg aids. I teach it using very prescriptivist methodology. As it advances, the methodology becomes more intuitive and constructivist (in equine terms). The same holds true with any skill you are teaching a student--for that matter, teaching a student to ride shows the same progression from prescriptive to constructive; from direct to intuitive. Why should the teaching of writing be any different?

At 5:45 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Strangely, perhaps, I enjoy teaching both the formulaic writing needed for state exams:
Topic Sentence
and the sort of freestyle associated with narrative prose in which one sentence can technically equal a paragraph.
I don't struggle with the forms so much as I have yet to discover that meaningful method of regular and consistent feedback on writing.
The most effective way it seems is to sit down and conference with the student, but I struggle with finding a way to fit that effectively into the classroom experience. I suppose I am not so trusting of my students and so I need to control the room by never diverting my attention away from the group.
This year, I really want to make writing a daily component to my classroom. Perhaps writer's notebooks or something like that.

At 9:43 PM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

I like doing my one-sheet blog better than when I did the notebooks. Easier to monitor and a bit more structured than when I did the notebooks (but I'm also working with middle school students).

Some of the classroom management pieces you need to make this work (at least, what I discovered with middle school students) is a strict rule that when you're conferencing, it's totally private. No comments allowed by eavesdroppers (that's a very hard one to teach, especially if you have a social class). If you can set up a conferencing location where you can keep one eye on the other students and conference, that's a good thing as well.

If you can set up a time during class which is always set aside for conferences--preferably when there's silent individual work going on, that's perfect for a quiet conference. At least, that's what works with middle schoolers--may not be as effective for high school students.

Also, less is more. Even just working on a single paragraph will help develop writing skills over the duration of a term or school year. Again, with middle school students, I found that being a bit more directive was helpful--that may not be as much of an issue with high school level students. Or put up a single sentence response, give them five minutes to write while you take roll and get them settled in for the class, then have them turn that in. The little pieces count.

Teaching students to turn out something coherent in five minutes is a useful skill, no matter what they end up doing in life. I know several writers who worked their way toward publication by snatching bits and pieces from their day, any way they could.

Feedback does not have to be big. Perhaps you can choose something to work on for a week or month, and focus on that.

At 11:17 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...


According to your logic, anything that isn't written in five sentence structure is "creative." I'm sorry, but I just don't share that sentiment. I also disagree that the structure of business and technical writing is the same as the five sentence, five paragraph essays students learn for state tests.

I maintain that the five sentence, five paragraph essay is an artificial construct that does NOT exist outside the classroom. Rather than teaching students how to actually think and organize for themselves, it narrows students' choices and forces them to conform to a fill-in-the-blank formula regardless of their writing task or intended audience.

The longer students are confined to the five sentence, five paragraph structure, the more ingrained it becomes, and the harder it is to get them to make independent decisions about length and content and organization later on.

Do we want to teach students how to write for a variety of audiences and multiples purposes, or do we just want them to fill up the five paragraph container for a state test? To provide anything but the former is to do them a disservice.

At 11:47 AM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

Mr B-G--

You just don't get it, do you?

Learning to write to the formula is a beginning purpose. It's a beginner's tool. You explicitly state that it is a tool. You teach it, and when they master it, they move on to other structures. I see too many kids who can't even write to the level of the five paragraph formula in middle school. How on earth are they going to produce sophisticated analysis later on, in high school, when they can't even formulate a coherent sentence, much less a coherent paragraph (and no, these are NOT students eligible for special education. They are general education students who are resistant to the very idea of writing and who have not been taught the five paragraph formula).

Additionally, in real life, a lot of people have to write to formulas and artificial constructs. I was chatting with another writer last night and we both agreed that there's a lot of mandatory writing formulas out there which need to be taught--not just the five paragraph formula, but others. Learning to write to one formula teaches you to identify and write to other formulas as required.

Even the world of professional fiction writing is not without mandatory formulas.

First, you learn to write to the formula. Then you learn how to break the rules. Unfortunately, too many people are so allergic to the concept of formula that the basic structures of coherent sentence and paragraph writing get forgotten--much to the detriment of the students out there. Yes, there are many who "get it" anyway. But there are many more who do not.

A formula is a tool--not a be-all, end-all. Discarding it, along with useful tools such as graphic organizers (among which I include basic sentence diagramming) is a folly.

At 11:54 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I wish I could remember how my teachers went about this process. Grammar practice certainly was included, as was sentence diagramming in high school. I recall finding the diagramming helpful for my somewhat right brained approach. It provided structure.
Perhaps we must begin with structure in order to move into our own style. Something like mimic writes which allow the writer to approach another author's style as a way to see how various thoughts might be expressed.
In the end, it certainly seems like both sides of the argument are valid--much like the reading process debate over phonics and whole-language.

At 3:07 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Perhaps the reason students resist writing as you say is because they are given strict limits on the ways they can express themselves.

What if a student wants to write a paragraph with four or six sentences instead of five? What if a student has four supporting ideas instead of three? Or what if two ideas will suffice? Or maybe there's one strong argument that deserves to be explored in multiple paragraphs.

The five sentence, five paragraph structure is absurd. It limits critical thought and the expression of ideas, and makes writing something that either conforms or does not conform, that is either right or wrong based on its outward structure. It's taught because assessing it is easy for standardized test evaluators (and, perhaps, teachers too).

You seem to be arguing, Joyce, that if students don't get a good hearty dose of the five paragraph essay, they won't learn proper sentence and paragraph construction. I'm not aware of any research that supports that premise.

Just because I don't support the five paragraph essay does not mean I'm against format and structure in writing - nothing could be further from the truth. What I am arguing is that the format and structure of a writing piece should depend on its purpose and audience, not what a testing company dictates.

I certainly support the use of organizational tools like graphic organizers, outlines, notecards, freewrites, brainstorms, etc. As a teacher of journalism in addition to English, it's paramount that my students understand the inverted pyramid and know the elements of a good lead sentence.

It's my belief that there are better and more authentic structures and writing formulas out there than the five sentence, five paragraph model. One only needs to pick up a magazine, book, or newspaper to find them.

Rather than teach five/five, expose students to a variety of real writing formulas. Show them different examples of persuasive, cause and effect, analysis, or compare/contrast essays and help them understand the structure the writer used. Encourage them to do a pastiche of a structure they like on a subject that's meaningful to them.

Expose students to writing that's exciting, varied, and alive, then help them break it down so they can learn to build their own pieces.

At 3:23 PM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

Mr. McNamar--

In the end, it certainly seems like both sides of the argument are valid--much like the reading process debate over phonics and whole-language.

Exactly. Precisely. It's not black and white. The more direct instructional methods are your initial scaffolding. As you move through the process, you back off and integrate higher level forms, higher level thinking, and more diverse methods.

I think one of the big problems was when that one study came out arguing that explicit grammar instruction did not improve student writing. As a result, it all got tossed out, and now we have students in the middle grades who can't reliably identify parts of speech, especially the parts of speech that happen to be missing in a sentence.

My experience suggests that grammar has to be taught separately from the actual writing itself, and that it has to be kept relatively simple (I enjoyed sentence diagramming, but I was amongst a handful of students in my high school fascinated with it). Teach it as a basic editing tool. Students also need to work on fluency apart from being critiqued--and then I think looking at good writing and examining why it is considered good is important. You don't just mimic the writing; you talk about the word choices, the flow of phrasing, all the literary devices. Only you don't look at them from the comprehension POV, you look at them from the point of view of a writer. Why would the writer use this tool instead of that tool? How does this word choice, this image choice, change the flow of the phrase, the feel of the scene, the imagery evoked?

One of the things which saddens me is that the highly approved coaches I've seen come through the system seem to recycle their reading comprehension tools as writing tools, without that necessary switch of the mind set from comprehension to composition. While you need to understand a passage to think about the devices used, the priority needs to be on the use of the word as tool.

At 3:36 PM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

Mr. B-G--
Perhaps the reason students resist writing as you say is because they are given strict limits on the ways they can express themselves.

Nice try. Your snark failed, however. The students come to me from constructivist backgrounds and they sure as heck aren't already writing--and this is at 5th or 6th grade. I've managed to turn some of them around by 8th grade. I'm getting results, so I know that my particular program is working.

Working at the levels I do, I've seen both the instruction and the writing produced. You missed your target. You're so obsessed about proving the failure of a particular model (and, dear God, building up such a substantial strawman that it could be its own effigy at Burning Man) that you cannot admit that one method does not work at all stages. I at least admit that, and know it full well.

You've conveniently overlooked my stress that the particular model I used was a writing fluency exercise, and not necessarily the sum and total of my instructional methodology. You're so passionate in your hatred of the five sentence, five paragraph methodology that you're reaching way beyond what was stated.

Whatever. Clearly you're committed to the value of your One True Constructivist Way. I think this is probably best left dropped, since we're hijacking this blog and I sense a certain nervousness in the blog owner's comments.

In the meantime, for future reference, I would ask that you show me the courtesy of using my full handle instead of shortening it. I show you the respect and courtesy of using your full user ID of Mr. B-G, and don't call you B-G. I notice that you choose not to do so with me. I would appreciate a reciprocal courtesy in any future responses, here, or elsewhere. Thank you.

At 10:30 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...


No snark or disrespect intended. You also conveniently ignored what I said about the need and benefit of teaching formula in a number of instances. And where do I say that one method has to be taught at all stages? I don't. That's not even something I believe!

You, joycemocha, seem to be trying to label me for your own rhetorical purposes. I am committed to whatever works best with the students I have, not "One True Constructivist Way" as you sarcastically reference.

Given your work as a professional writer, and your interest in education blogs and discussing craft, I am sure you are a fine teacher joycemocha. I am glad to hear you are getting the results you want with your students. That, ultimately, is what matters.

At 1:32 PM , Blogger rambandgeek said...

First of all, I want to say that part of why kids struggle with writing is evidenced in these comments. Lots of attacks, but very little documented proof. Which is a problem at the secondary level. In general secondary teachers do not read a wide variety of research on teaching. It's the nature of the beast. And because we (and I am including myself in this, since I know I have been guilty of it)do not in general pay attention to it, because we tend to be very isolated in our classrooms,because we don't take the time to truly analytically reflect on our practices, we struggle to have productive, professional discussions. And as a result, our students suffer.

So Mr. McNamar, I commend you for taking the risk to examine what you are doing in your classroom and for striving to improve and reach out for others' ideas. Communication and collaboration are 21st Century skills that we,as educators, need to do a better job of practicing.

That said, I must say that to a certain extent, I agree with all the beliefs put forth on here. But it all boils down to the how of the instruction, not the what. Too often we get caught up in the what. Do we teach a formula? Do we not? Do we teach grammar in isolation or not? Ultimately, if the teacher has sound instructional practices, the kids are going to get better regardless.

By sound instructional practices I mean the workshop model, gradual release of responsibility, scaffolding, modeling, etc. These are instructional strategies that work regardless of the content or the grade level. And they are instructional strategies that often are not employed at the secondary level. I suspect that both Mr. B-G and joycemocha both use at least some of these strategies on a regular basis. Which is why both are so convinced that their respective "whats" are right.

In reality, we, as secondary teachers have a lot to learn from our elementary school colleagues. Their methods are usually research based and get results. And are easily adaptable to the secondary level. Richard L. Allington published an article entitled, "What I've Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers". While the article focuses on elementary and reading, both those words could be taken out and substituted with secondary and writing and the article would still be accurate. He states, "Much of what many teachers consider teaching is little more than assignment and assessment." I feel that is probably more true at the secondary level (high school in particular) than at the elementary level.

At 1:33 PM , Blogger rambandgeek said...

If we want kids to get better at writing, we need to teach them how to write. And everytime we introduce a new genre or format, we need to teach it explicitly. (By the way, I teach test writing as it's own genre).

You teach it explicitly by using a workshop model. By doing Write Alouds so that the kids can see your writing process. By making everything about writing transparent. The kids must write every day (see Because Writing Matters for some data on why this is important). They also need to learn how to give effective feedback. My students write and meet in peer revision groups everyday. Note - I said peer REVISION groups. There is a huge difference between revision and editing. As they meet and discuss, I record the feedback they give each other so we can then discuss that. I model giving feedback using a think-aloud. I use the same strategy to show them my thought process as I "grade" their work. We study model texts - we do read alouds - I model how the grammar we cover can then be used to improve their own writing - in a rhetorical sense, not just a "is the comma in the right spot?" sense. This year I experimented with an "on-line" writing workshop using a blog. And got fabulous results. It takes time. A lot of frontloading. You can't make excuses that you have too much "other stuff" to cover. You just have to do it.

So Mr. McNamar, my advice to you would be to read and study model texts - texts like what you want your students to write; make your own writing process visible to your students; create anchor charts with your students, and then commit to using them. And don't give up. Keep at it.

Also, there are some wonderful books and articles out there that can help a lot. And many of them are written for elementary school teachers. In addition to the things I already mentioned, here are some suggestions to start you off: Teaching Adolescent Writers, Image Grammar, and anything by Katie Wood Ray. And if you have access to an instructional coach - go see that person, especially if the coaching program at your school/district uses the cognitive coaching model.

Good Luck!

At 1:35 PM , Blogger rambandgeek said...

And it looks like blogger isn't allowing hyperlinks in comments anymore. Or they have radically changed how you create them in the comment section. Sorry they aren't there.

At 6:51 PM , Blogger TeachMoore said...

Working with struggling writers is the one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of our work as teachers of English. In my experience (20 years high school), several different approaches have been successful; some working better for different students for different reasons. It is important to know the students as individuals.

Sentence diagramming, being able to breakdown a sentence into its components, is a useful skill; however, I am not a fan of using the old line schema to do it. You can create your own methods for visually differentiating the parts of the sentence (remember to think about those students who may be dyslexic or have visual perception problems).

Some students learn the five-paragraph model too well, and never un-learn it. I also teach at the college level, and my colleagues and I have experienced much frustration with students who believe the five-paragraph essay is an eternal edict.

The advice to check out NCTE is good; there is much there from several perspectives--not just the constructivist one. You might want to check out some of the affliates of NCTE, especially the Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG) and the very interesting grammar instruction method put forward by Ed Vavra.

By the way, rambandgeek, it is a gross overgeneralization to say that "in general secondary teachers do not read a wide variety of research on teaching." We do not help the image of our profession when we promulgate stereotypes.

At 9:07 AM , Blogger rambandgeek said...

I don't feel it is a gross overgeneralization at all. I know several exceptions to the rule. I also know hundreds (no exaggeration there) in all content areas who do no professional reading at all.

I also don't think it is their fault. The way our educational system has been set up, teachers for the most part have not been encouraged to grow in that way. We've been "encouraged" to do as we are told to do. The problem stems, in my opinion, from a combination of top down management that hasn't respected teachers as knowledgeable professionals and the traditional tenure system which removes motivation for improvement.

I can't seem to find my reference right now, but a study was done looking at a variety of professions examining cognitive and professional growth over the course of people's careers. Guess what. Teachers were the only group to show negative growth.

Regardless of what you may think, teachers in the past 50 years or so have rarely been viewed as qualified professionals even in the ranks of education. The only way to change our image is to openly accept our flaws and work on changing them. And the first people we have to convince are ourselves.

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