FEBRUARY, 2012

3 Great Reasons to Collect & Use Your Own Student Writing Samples

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New Dates for Suzanne Klein's Appearance on Lifetime Television



"We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, therefore, is not an act,
but a habit."

           
~Aristotle

3 Great Reasons to Collect Your

Own Student Writing Samples
 
3rd grade student writing samples, from Common Core WriteSteps 3rd grade Curriculum Creator.
Binder of 3rd grade writing samples collected by Denise Dusseau for next year's class. Once teachers have a strong foundation in the WriteSteps lessons, collecting class samples can be a great way to honor student work.
Today I'm pleased to welcome back our 3rd grade curriculum creator and incredible teacher, Denise Dusseau. Here's Denise, on using anonymous student writing samples to enliven learning for K-5 writers:

Denise: WriteSteps provides dozens of excellent anonymous samples for each grade, but I started creating my own collections before I had them, back when I was still using the Lucy Calkins program. If you have lots of authentic sample writing to demonstrate your teaching points, collecting samples from your own class can still be powerful. Why?
  • It honors your students' work
  • It reflects the unique culture of your school
  • It can help your evaluations
Inspiring Confidence by Honoring All Ability Levels

I mentioned in an earlier issue of Inspired Writer that when I started using WriteSteps, I saw a wonderful change in the writing of my students who have learning disabilities or ADD. They used to have a hard time getting anything on the page, but now they're motivated, they're staying engaged, and they're making real strides.

What happened?

We're looking at a lot of student sample writing, and the samples we’re using now show a range of ability levels. As teachers, we may want to show our students only the very best models. Don't make that mistake. The weaker samples show students that any piece of writing can be improved. They show struggling writers that as long as you have something to start with, you can work with it and improve it. 

If you only show your class mentor texts that illustrate exemplary writing, your students will miss out. Not all samples we use should be models of what we think our students can achieve. What we want from sample writing is to improve it and learn from it. Weaker samples can be highly effective as long as you teach students to be very respectful in the way they analyze all writing.

In my class, we look at a poor sample and say, “It’s not a bad piece, it just needs more work. This is a really good foundation. Now what does it need?" As a result, my struggling students aren't ashamed of their writing anymore.
3rd grade student writing sample used to analyze a research piece using a 6 Traits rubric. From Common Core WriteSteps.
Click above and scroll to view all three pages, including a student writing sample. In practice, teachers display the sample and use this accompanying guide to lead students in identifying the strengths and weaknesses in the piece ("glows" and "grows").
Reflecting the Culture of Your School

This is the reason I originally started collecting my own samples. The samples from the Lucy Calkins program didn’t work for my students. They were very urban, but I live and teach in a small Midwestern town and my students just couldn't relate to them. There was one piece about a friend’s parent getting shot, and others about going to the opera and symphony. Those things just aren’t a part of my third graders’ experience.

Here's how I create my own sample collections to engage my students:
  • I use a 3-inch binder to save four to five samples of my own students' writing from each genre.
  • I include writing samples from high, medium, and low performing students, blacking out the names.
  • I keep the samples anonymous.
At the end of the year, I'll have a binder full of examples demonstrating all the genres my students have practiced: explanatory writing, personal narratives (real & imagined), informative writing, opinion writing, folktales, and research. I'll keep these out in my classroom for next year's 3rd graders to look at when writing their own pieces. I often include a student's planning tool with the final piece, so they can compare these and see how the writing evolved.

My students love reading through the binders of samples from previous classes, which is one reason I still do this even though I now get amazing results with WriteSteps samples. My students are also very proud to have their work saved for future classes; they’ll often tell me privately, “It’s okay, you can put my name on there!”

Help for Evaluations

I only started creating these class binders a couple of years ago, but I wish I had started earlier. I can see that my students’ writing is getting better, because my instruction is getting better. I can also use my sample collections when I am evaluated. I can pick six students, track their progress in a binder, and give that to my administrator to demonstrate the skills I have given my students. It’s a wonderful way to show growth!

If You're New to Teaching Writing...

I think it’s important for new WriteSteps teachers to wait a year before collecting their own samples. Seeing a range of WriteSteps samples prepares you to recognize the different levels of writing you’re going to see. Give yourself time to acclimate to the process, watch your students improve over the course of the year, and try these ideas next year. Let us know how it goes so we can share your successes!


New Dates for Suzanne's Television Appearances: February 21 & 28

WriteSteps Founder & CEO, Common Core Specialist Suzanne Klein.Lifetime Television has revised its on-air schedule! Tune in February 21 and 28 at 7:00 a.m. to see WriteSteps Founder & CEO, Suzanne Klein. She will discuss empowering teachers with well-designed Common Core writing lessons.




Receive an Apple iPad for Your Classroom

We're still celebrating the launch of our online teacher portal, eWriteSteps, featuring nearly 600 Common Core writing lessons, 28 teaching videos, and hundreds of student writing samples, rubrics, and other instructional aids. Teachers, take notice! If you help bring WriteSteps to your school, we'll give you a FREE Apple® iPad2® in three easy steps!

 
Praise for Our Coaching Program

Ours is not your typical "talk at you" professional development. We gather grade-level teachers together in small groups to refine skills and address specific classroom needs, giving teachers tools they can use immediately to improve learning outcomes.

From a principal in Saginaw, MI in a recent email to our coaching director, Arlynn King:
 
This is exactly what I was looking for!
You have made a friend for life Arlynn. :) 

 


"The only mistake is the one from which we learn nothing."
       
  ~
John Powell, American Composer
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