Reflection: Writing Across the Disciplines Refracting Telescopes: Day 2 - Section 3: Mini Lesson: Sound like a scientist, not like a 7th grader!

 

Sorting student writing samples in order from "sounds like a 7th grader to sounds like a scientist" is a quick, yet powerful way to involve students in writing across the curriculum.  Students benefit not only from identifying areas of improvement, but they benefit from seeing what effective writing might look like.  

Ordering student work forces students to put into words what effective writing looks like.  I have found that once they can put words to effective writing qualities, they can implement those elements more effectively.  I frequently save student work that demonstrate common mistakes and successes that students make to use for these sorting warm-ups.  I typically put them all on one piece of paper and then cut them into slips of paper that the students can physically move around to order.  I found that leaving them all on one sheet of paper didn't provide as big of a visual impact for the students.  

One of the keys to this strategy is that students have an innate sense of what quality writing looks like, even if they do not have a set of criteria in front of them.  Allowing students to formulate their own ideas of what "sounding like a scientist" means is really important to me.  I find that if they can identify those criteria, they have a greater likelihood of carrying their learning over.  And, I am always amazed that students (even ineffective writers) can accurately sort student work in the appropriate order.  There is an innate sense of "what sounds good".  Asking students to put that into their own words and identify themselves is a big step for struggling writers.  Those writers, the ones that struggle, in many cases have been told over and over by teachers how to write.  However, there is just something about it that doesn't work for them.  This way, they say it in the way that makes sense for them.  For example, a student might look at one of these pieces and say "This one sounds like a 7th grader because it doesn't use as good of words.".  Now, I can take the opportunity to say, "Yes!  That is what I mean when I say use strong vocabulary!".  At that point, the connection they make is greater because they discovered it on their own.

Now, that is not to say that students don't need a reference or set of criteria in writing.  I use this strategy a lot throughout the year.  As they identify these writing elements, I do provide them with a set of notes that specifically states them so that they can reference them as they write.  I have included some of these notes/references in the resources section here.  My point is just that when doing the sorting activity, I find that it is best not to "tell them" what to look for.  If these elements are really becoming mastered, they will begin to use the wording from the resources on their own!  And, when they are writing for a lab or conclusion, they can take that opportunity to reference the notes you provide them.

  Writing Across the Disciplines: Sorting Student Work: From 7th Grader to Scientist
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Refracting Telescopes: Day 2

Unit 2: Waves and Engineering: Using Waves To Meet Societal Needs and Wants
Lesson 2 of 7

Objective: Students will be able to engage in scientific discourse about characteristic properties of waves (refraction) to design a solution to a problem.

Big Idea: Students use text to engage in scientific discourse and then use their knowledge of refraction to design a telescope!

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