The writing process itself is, of course, what we’ve been working up to during this series. This is show time. This is game day. This. Is. It. During the writing process, students really have to show what they know. The process itself takes time, and hopefully, you’ve allotted for that. In my writing curriculum, I include a pacing guide for the resources included with it. Here are the steps I follow with my students. (It’s important to note here, too, that I am discussing in this post a writing assignment and not a writing assessment.)
1- Model Paper: Before students take off down the road of composing their own essays, I like to have them see an exemplar first. I usually don’t show them an essay on the same topic on which they will write, but definitely in the same mode. It’s a pretty in-depth look that we do with the exemplar paper because we really take time to break it down. I really like to use my model paper analysis task cards during this step because it helps guide students in the direction of how to effectively analyze an exemplar. Multiple exemplars are included in my full writing curriculum, and I always save excellent student essays each year, too, for future reference.
2 – Planning and Prewriting: In this step of the process, students receive the prompt and stimuli (if they aren’t looking for the researched materials on their own). I also like to have students write from an outline, especially if they are new writers. All of my students, though, are given an outline to consider. I think that an outline helps tremendously if you are preparing students for timed writing assessments, so they can get used to a clear plan of action in that time-restricted setting. The biggest part of the prewriting for me, though, is the thesis statement check. Once I assign the prompt, and students have time (usually over night or one class period) to work with it, I require them to submit a thesis statement. We use Google classroom, and that has been an amazing tool for conferencing during the writing process. Students typically submit an entire intro, but the thesis is what’s required in this first phase. Since the thesis statement is the road map to the entire essay, it’s critical that they are on the right track immediately.
3 – Drafting and Conferencing – When possible, I schedule time for students to work on writing assignments during class because I want to see how they are doing. Maybe it’s kinda English-teacher nerdy, but I like to watch them work. Some dive right in and just get words down. Others will sit and think and ponder before they put pen to paper. Plus, requiring them to get something done right there in front of helps with both plagiarism and procrastination. I think that’s why it’s important, too, to give them the tools they need and then just step back and let them go. If it’s a longer assignment, I’ll do another check point after a day or so where they submit a draft online and I give feedback. I always keep that door open, though. If a student wants me to read his/her paper during the process, I always do. I tell them I’m not a proofreader, but I will most certainly read the content and give feedback. Guided conferencing sheets are included in my full writing curriculum.
4 – Workshopping – Once students have a had a chance to dig into the body of texts they will be using and have composed several paragraphs of their essay, it’s a good idea to stop and gauge their progress. If you have done a draft check at this point, consider what has been working and what students are struggling with. If you’ve not done a draft check but you know students are going to need work in a certain area (citations, sentence variety, words, etc.), during this step, you’ll be pausing their writing to conduct a short lesson on that topic. To me that’s what a writing workshop is: a short, focused lesson on one area of writing that students practice and then apply. Depending on your students’ level, you may need a full-blown lesson on the topic, or if students are more advanced or just need a refresher, then you could just do a mini workshop. I have both types of materials available in my full writing curriculum. During an assignment, I do one workshop for sure, and sometimes I do two. I really believe that doing focused lessons allows flexibility in planning and instruction, and it chunks the information for students. That’s why, for me, writing is a process all year long. I don’t teach it all at once. That sets unreasonable expectations on my students and me.
5 – Revising and Editing: Once students have participated in the writing workshop, it’s time for them to head back to their papers and begin revising. I call this “revising your live paper.” In other words, I’ve looked at them, give feedback, helped with how to make the paper better BEFORE they are turned in… I actually say, “Before I get out my red pen.” (But I guess that can be a topic for another day.) In some cases, especially with new writers, I’ll use my revising and editing task cards, so students are sure to work through the process genuinely and accurately. Young writers aren’t the most adept at going back through their work to check for errors and make general improvements, so these cards ask questions to point them in the right direction.
I also encourage students to use an online software or program that edits like Grammarly or Paperrater. These will give students free and fast information about what they should correct. I also worn students that there is nothing better than the human eye, so it’s important they do their own proofreading and maybe have our early morning English tutor look over it, too.
Remember that the process is just that – a process. That process can look different for each student and each classroom. It’s the struggle through that is productive and produces great writers.
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