"We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, therefore, is not an act,
but a habit."
3 Great Reasons to Collect Your
Own Student Writing Samples
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:
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
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?
Inspiring Confidence by Honoring All Ability Levels
It honors your students' work
It reflects the unique culture of your school
It can help your evaluations
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.
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
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
Reflecting the Culture of Your School
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").
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’
Here's how I create my own sample collections to engage my students:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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