Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Slice of Life: If students can't do the work without us---

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

I thought about skipping the slicing life tonight. Truth be told, I've been writing all day. I've worked on my first three chapters of my novel, I've revised my query letter, I've edited some descriptive paragraphs for summer programs, and I've written a critique of a book proposal. I've also made charts and written some demonstration pieces. All in all, there's been a lot of writing done today, and sometimes it gets in the way of a good slice.

Then, almost simultaneously, one of my favorite (I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but) teachers texted asking if I'd take a look at some of her students' recent on-demand writing samples, and a tweet came through my feed from #tcrwp.

Of course I'll look at the writing samples, I texted right back. She went on to share how disappointed she was with the quality of the writing. I responded with the standards. They met the state standards--just not her standards. And now in our upcoming unit, we have a new bar set, and that is one where they go above the basics and into the realm of independent demonstration of all of her great instruction.

 We teach well beyond the standards, and sometimes the work we see in process pieces exceeds the work students produce in an on-demand situation. Let me revise that statement. Sometimes the work we see in process pieces exceeds the work we ALL produce in an on-demand situation. That being said, I think it's crucial that we are constantly and continually assessing students' internalization of our instruction because yes, if they can't do the work without us, they can't do it.

So here are some questions to help us build independence and repertoire regardless of unit and regardless of level:

  • How long can the student sustain productive work without adult intervention? Is that amount of time increasing?
  • How strong is the scaffold, and what is the plan for removing it? 
  • What is the student's understanding of the work they are doing?
  • Are we valuing the process and growth more than the product? 
When left to their own devices, sometimes students will wow us and sometimes they will disappoint us. Our job is to give them the instruction, power, motivation, and pride in becoming independent writers, regardless of their level.  

And now, I've completed my writing for the day, including a slice!

All good things,


  1. I love that you responded by saying that it met the standards, just not her standards. I think that's something that's often forgotten. Yes, we can have high standards for kids, but we have to keep them realistic.

    Love the questions.

    BTW: I'm going to text you a piece of Isabelle's recent writing that she did SITTING ON HER OWN -- 100% devoid of Mommy's help -- over the weekend. Took her 45 minutes to complete. It was as if she gave herself an on-demand assessment. I've gotta tell you, I'm pretty proud of her. Details shortly.

  2. So right on with the reminder that we teach well beyond the standards and to value the process and growth more than the product! Thanks!

  3. Love the questions and your thinking. It's hard for some teachers to not value the product over the process in students' work. I'm saving this post as one I want to discuss with teachers as they reflect on their journey into creating writing workshop.

  4. This is just what I needed to read today. As PARCC and a million other tests start popping up, I need reminding that we need to value the growth as well. These questions have me thinking about some of my own students' writing and I plan to incorporate these into my weekly reflection notes. Thank you for this.

  5. I often think of state standards/national standards as the minimum, not the maximum expectation for student achievement. The people who wrote them don't know our students and care for them the way we do. Thanks so much for sharing this sentiment of how we can really beat ourselves up when we raise the bar and our students may not be able to reach it yet.

  6. This post is very timely. I teach 5th graders. My students just completed an on demand assessment in which they had to write about reading. The expectation was that they had to be able to understand how one part of the story was important to the whole story and be able to explain, in depth, why. They were also expected to be able to identify at least two themes and provide supporting evidence for each. We did extensive work with this for 5 weeks through interactive read aloud and in our daily mini lessons and small group instruction. Students were provided with scaffolds during instruction along the way (sentence starters ect). Prior to the post-assessment, I showed them their pre-assessments so they could remember how they did the first time they answered these types of questions, prior to all the learning they had done. We also reviewed our Learning Progressions (from Writing Units of Study-Calkins/Teachers College). During the post assessment, I had several students asking for sentence starters. I am wondering, is it okay to give them those to jump start their thinking, like I did during the instruction of the unit, if they are not yet independent in finding their own beginnings? I feel very torn because I wanted them to get to the point where I could evaluate their comprehension and I didn't want them stuck on trying to find the words "This part in important because". When I read the text that was sent to you, it really hit home, because I am always struggling with how much help is too much help as I try to guide them to independence. I am also struggling to know when to pull the scaffolds away, especially since students are in so many different places of proficiency.

  7. I really appreciate this conversation about scaffolding and independence. Those on-demand pieces can really skew your thinking about your students as competent writers. The 4 questions you pose are great ones for all of us to reflect on.