Brendan Bradley – ELA teacher Skyline High school
Summary of Key Findings:
This past year I altered the way I teach writing and revision techniques. My goal was two-part: to teach students the revision techniques that would produce award-winning senior projects and also to learn about the role of revision itself. I wanted them to learn about the role of receiving feedback from peers and teachers, the role of an authentic audience, the role of becoming resourceful, independent revisors of their work, and the role of engaging larger audiences because of their resourcefulness.
With the help of Young Whan and colleagues, we reviewed samples of student writing and came up with a consensus on two specific areas to revise writing for engaging: selection of examples (or “evidence” that convinces) and revising word choice for fresher, more vivid terms.
English teachers rarely get to adequately prepare, let alone perfect the students’ writing for college, career and community.They need to express themselves in the written word for a variety of reasons, but most of all they need to fit their views into the community discussion coherently, to make change.
In our discussions as teachers of the civic engagement framework – analyzing issues, taking action, and reflecting, we see a need to help students relate meaningful experiences coherently. My students are given two workshops to present to freshmen, fall and spring. They prepare games, discussion activities, prizes, and well-prepared scripts and notecards to deliver school-success lessons (Pass2 – Peers advising students to succeed). They have amazing learning experiences in these workshops, as it calls on their performance in public speaking, articulating, focusing on goals, and relating to peers in a constructive way. But how do they relate this experience to others? How would a student convey their commitment to Oakland youth and interest in professional education to a college admission officer?
What I wanted to track and collect as data were the types of improvements students could make from draft to draft on their final senior project (which includes a write-up on their Pass2 workshops).
When I shared my senior project student work with colleagues, we raised some helpful areas for the writing (and results of revision lessons) that include:
-Students could select more exact, in-the-moment examples when coached to do so, for example the dialogue and exchanges they had when delivering Pass2 workshops – higher- interest-grabbing anecdotes – revisions that will help them in job interviews, written letters of intent, and communicating realities in a civic realm.
-Students still need to improve writing conventions and staying formal in writing. This includes avoiding slang, organizing their writing, and revisiting word choice.
I’ll include an excerpt from an anonymous student’s senior memoir that demonstrates the revision skill “product,” a granular-level, tangible anecdote from their Pass2 workshop that demonstrated to me and other colleagues an improved selection of examples (highlighted in green):
Excerpt from Chapter 3 by a student
Another great experience in high school would be the Pass2 program (Peer Advising Students to Succeed) where I had to work and interact with ninth graders this year. I really enjoyed connecting with my group because I saw some of me in many of them. The highlight of it was seeing their reaction when I told them how I only have four classes but only because I did well from ninth to eleventh grade. I hope that that pushes them to pass all their classes so they can have a chill senior year.
The significant findings I found in teaching revision in the interest of preparing them to be Oakland-ready started with my analysis of their work, the effective practices for teaching revision, and what impact a real audience has on the quality of writing.
I saw what happens in the student’s writing process – what mistakes they commonly and individually make. They often write drafts without a word processor – one that would clean-up more than half of their errors automatically. Revisions aren’t satisfying to them naturally – in fact they are more often the opposite. Students need an understanding of how a better selection of supporting examples and more clear, vivid word choice improves coherence.
Practices that proved most effective in teaching these included showing examples or modeled revisions with a discussion of how these help coherence to get these two focus revision skills strongly internalized. I modeled think-alouds about the selection of supporting examples in passages on the projector, asked students to practice these on their own, showing their work much like a math problem works. Sometimes we just had teams use thesauruses to challenge a word choice in a sentence or phrase, expanding on how careful choosing words can be.
We used some feedback from other teachers on their workshops to engage an authentic audience. Students would see how their written word impacted other teachers than myself. A student would receive a grade on their delivery of the workshop material – how well the greeting lines worked, the crafted questions, and their written reflections on the workshops.