Sunday, November 17, 2013

Transferring Skills Between Narrative Writing Units (and others, too)

Last month, I wrote about transferring skills of writing between various types of writing, thinking mostly of moving between narrative, information, and opinion units. However, the other day, I had a student remind me of the need to transfer skills as they move between narrative units, as well. 

Many of our students have moved from writing personal narratives to writing realistic fiction at this point in the year. Sometimes, reluctant writers find more success in writing fiction because they don’t have to put down their own feelings on paper and they don’t have to buy into the idea that their own lives contain worthy events for creating stories. 

Teaching transfer is so important during these writing units. Because we emphasized the importance of focusing on a small moment during personal narrative, it’s easy to assume that this concept will stay with students as they move into a different form of narrative. Narrative is narrative, right? However, when I asked one of the stronger writers in the room what was his “somebody”, he looked at me like I was in the wrong room.

“That was in the last unit,” Andrew said. “This is a different kind of writing.”

What are some thoughts for teaching transfer, not only between the different forms of writing, but also within the same form of writing? I have written some posts about moving from and between narrative, information, and opinion, but what about between personal narrative/memoir, realistic fiction, and imaginative fiction? Here of some ideas that I have as I have thought about this a fair amount over the last few days.
  • Explain the completion of the previous unit and the beginning of the next unit. I’m wondering about even having a bulletin board or a place set up in the room that indicates what unit of study the class is currently doing for all subjects. Something like this, with the right column being velcro or strips of paper:

I think that we assume that students know when we move on from a unit, but I’m not sure that they always do, and I’m sure that we all have students who forget what they are studying or what they just learned on a daily basis. I know that many students do not register the shift between various forms of narrative writing. As an additional perk, this sort of a chart would help the other people who work in classrooms on a part-time basis--special educators, para-professionals...
  • Especially for writing, and especially moving from one narrative unit to the next, clear out charts that are not relevant for the next unit, and make a big deal out of keeping the charts that still are relevant. I can think of several charts that apply to personal narrative as well as realistic fiction. I would do this as a lesson, interactively with students.
  • If you have access to them, use the Teachers College checklists for the three forms of writing. If you don’t have access to them, make a checklist for students and use common language whenever you can in order to describe the three forms of writing or the skills required for reading, regardless of genre. At a recent workshop I attended, Mary Ehrenworth, the Deputy Director of the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, shared that while teachers prefer rubrics, their research has shown that students do better with checklists. 
I’m sure that I will think of more to say about teaching transfer between writing units, but please, please, feel free to add some additional ideas in the comments. 

Enjoy the rest of the weekend,

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