“It is our job to teach students to recognize their thinking.” – Dr. Sam Watson, UNC Charlotte
Writing weekly reflections
Another story – this one B.D. (before daybooks). Every week I sent a newsletter to parents couriered by their students. One day the photocopy machine broke and I couldn’t run my newsletter. I changed to Plan B – the fifth-graders would write a letter to their parents. To get started, I asked my kids what they’d learned in math. To my dismay, no one could explain. As we ran through the subjects, maybe one or two students could share with me. I stopped writing weekly newsletters as a result.
Instead, once a week or so, I ask students to write what they learned for the week. In elementary school, students write the gist of what they learned in each subject.
Upper grade students address three questions I consciously design to ease them into deep reflection (Yancey): an easy question, a harder question, and an application question.
For so long, I thought students should share only their successes with me. Now I ask them to direct me to their low points too and say,
- “I learned more from this activity than any other because…”
- "I failed this test, but that made me come in for extra help. That was the day I learned..."
- "I was so frustrated trying to write what I wanted to say so I went through my paper and cut it to the bone. Simpler is better and I like it now."
- "I figured out that if I keep with it, I get it eventually. I need to remember that for life!"
It takes a half-year or more before students trust their classmates and me enough to admit their weaknesses. I build the community that allows students to take that risk by modeling my own challenges and self-reflection. Together, through discussion we find steps that help us improve.
ASSESSMENT: I know who understands the writing process at the definition level and who can actually use the process. I also know who can apply the strategies to new situations. I know who is trying a new strategy and who takes risks. I know on what personal projects students are working.
Samples of reflection-question sets
- What are you writing?
- How many drafts did you write?
- What have you learned about writing first drafts?
- What prewriting strategy did you use?
- Why? (Where did you learn it?)
- Will you use this same prewriting strategy for all your projects? Explain.
- How did you start writing this piece?
- How did you find out what you wanted to say?
- What advice would you give others for finding a topic?
- Generally, how pleased are you with your first draft and why?
- What was the hardest part of writing it for you?
- The easiest part?
- What are the characteristics of “good” writing?
- Is your writing “good” writing? Why or why not?
- Pick out two things you think are good in your writing today. Sticky note those places and explain the improvement.
- Are you keeping a topic page?
- Is it helpful to you?
- If not, do you think it is your fault or the idea’s fault?
- If so, how do you keep up with your topic page?
- In writing your first draft, did you try anything different that helped you? Explain. (Skipping lines, forcing yourself not to worry, writing the ending first, etc.)
- Have you tried to improve your writing by doing lots of writing, daily writing, and a variety of getting started strategies or revising strategies? Explain. Point me to specific writings as examples.
- What did you revise in your paper? Use a highlighter to help me understand.
- Are you good at revision? Explain.
- How do you determine what needs to be revised?
- What revision strategies do you know?
- What revision strategies did you try?
- Is revision always necessary? Explain.
- What steps did you follow to edit this paper?
- Did you try any new editing strategies?
- How do you know when your writing is finished?
- About how much time did you spend on this paper?
- About how much time did you spend prewriting, writing, revising, editing?
- Was it too much time or too little? Explain.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how successful do you feel you were in making this paper interesting?
- How successful do you feel you were in getting your thoughts into the reader’s head?
- If not 10s, what areas need work?
- Explain what is happening in your writing life inside and outside of school.
- Have your daily writings changed, improved, progressed, evolved? Explain.
- What’s your plan for personal writing for the next few weeks?
- What is your plan for proofreading?
- Is your plan for proofreading working? Explain.
- Point to improvements as evidence that your plan is working.
- How do you think your writing methods would be the same or different from a more experienced writer or a less experienced writer?
NEXT: Reflective letters