Saturday, November 24, 2012

Independence and Repertoire: Part 2

In a recent post, I wrote about developing independence for student writers. One of Teacher's College staff developers, Emily Smith, had used independence and repertoire in a sentence together and I have loved thinking about the two terms together.

For me, a writer's repertoire is all of the skills he/she has and the ability to use those skills across genres in order to add depth to various types of writing pieces. One of the problems that I see in classrooms is that students don't  always internalize lessons and make the skills their own; I love to see explicit teaching that what we teach during one unit is completely applicable in other units, as well. Here are some of the repertoire skills I have been thinking about:

1. Backpacks
Melanie Swider wrote a post earlier this year about writing backpacks, emphasizing the fact that students need to have writing territories. If a child is a soccer player, chances are he/she has narrative, persuasive, and informational ways to write about soccer. If he/she has a sibling, there are probably several writing opportunities across the three genres. So many times, we hear that students have nothing to write about. Developing notebook pages of writing topics offers students an increased repertoire of what to write about, a part of the writing process that can really muddle students. I created this chart as an example of how we can teach students the repertoire that they don't always know that they have.

2. Maintaining focus and purpose
When students understand that thesis is to essay as heart/climax is to narrative, their sense of repertoire develops. Just as their essay should weave in ideas and evidence that support a central idea or claim, their narratives should drive the central plot. The more that they understand the purpose, the more they develop this key skill of their repertoires.

3. Elaboration
Again, we should be developing elaboration skills across genres as closely related entities. If a student can use quotes and conversation in narrative, then he/she should have that skill available for argumentative and informational writing. If a student has learned how to capture and ground readers with strong narrative beginnings, that skill should show up in other genres. The list goes on, but the idea stays the same.

4. Conventions and grammar
The more that we can teach students that conventions and grammar exist in ALL types of writing, regardless of the content area, the more that they develop these skills and the repertoire to use them. If we teach them that spelling, conventions, and grammar offer power to writers, then students are more likely to develop mastery of these skills and strategies, developing an increasingly sophisticated repertoire of how to express themselves.

The more that students can take a step back and understand that the skills they learn in one unit apply to all of the units, the more that they build repertoires for themselves. One other chart that I have designed was with the Common Core in front of me, thinking about the sub-skills for each type of writing. It's easy to see the repetition of the skills as you look across the rows so it can become clearer to students how to apply skills that they have learned across genres of writing.

More than anything, thinking about repertoire reminds me that students learn more powerfully when they understand the "whys" behind their learning.

Happy learning, teaching and writing!

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