Narrative vs. Formal Writing Styles
Lesson 9 of 13
Objective: Students will analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches to communicating information about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Students will be asked to describe which of the two articles, "Surviving Hurricane Sandy" and "After the Disaster", was the most effective using evidence as support. They will begin by reading both articles and then completing a T-Chart on a dry erase board as a table group. They could also use a sheet of butcher paper.
As they read, the students were asked to mark spots where evidence was utilized in the article particularly effectively. These markings help to facilitate the table chat about which article was more effective.
*One thing of particular note here is that the students were pretty evenly split in which article they felt was more effective, so there were many great conversations happening. It was awesome because I was able to hear students using evidence to politely argue with one another. Commonly, there is a group of students who feel the more formally written article is clearly the most effective. These students use the facts and figures that are put out there without (in their opinions, as shared in table chats) personal bias. The other group of students argues that the article with the first person narrative approach is clearly the more effective article. They argue that it uses evidence in a way that is rooted in personal experience, which these students typically argue "feels" more reliable.
I ask the students to wrap up their last thoughts in their table chats. I move to the center of the room and ask the students: "Which one was more effective?" and a majority of the students have their hands in the air. Usually, when working in a table group, there is one or two students from each group that try to answer such a question. In this case, with such a topic that had the groups so divided, many of them wanted to share their personal perspective. I do not allow this discussion to happen as it is my intent to use this split in opinions to get them thinking about persuasive versus argumentative communication. While both articles remained factual, the narrative article was clearly emotionally charged and persuasive, whereas the other article was more evidence and fact based and an argumentative approach. We then discuss how the intended audience determines the approach's general effectiveness. This particular topic, with students as the intended audience, left room for both to be well-received and effective. This brief chat allows for us to continue building our understanding of these two very important communication approaches and their places in the world.
Students will then be paired up to write a brief essay discussing the pitfalls that can be associated with each approach - formal and narrative. The essay is expected to have four paragraphs: 1) Introduction with thesis 2) Pitfalls of first article 3) Pitfalls of second article 4) conclusion with restated thesis.
The students will be paired with another student based on recent writing scores using my Color Coding Scores process in order to connect struggling students with those who are demonstrating more success. I do not pair my highest achieving students with my lowest achieving. I believe in establishing 4 levels: high, high middle, low middle, and low. I then pair my "low middle" students with my "high" students, and my "high middle" students with my "low" students. I have found that when students are disproportionately paired, there is limited to no growth demonstrated. I find that when the students are more closely paired in ability, they are able to truly help one another in a more effective partnership.
As students are working on their essays, I make it a point to move between the groups, paying specific attention to those writers who tend to struggle more with writing. I read over their shoulders and offer advice if and when necessary. Most groups that need support or advice are struggling with their thesis/claim statement, so I remind them to look back to the Writing a Simple 3-Pronged Thesis handout they have been provided. Writing a strong thesis is something we continue to work on throughout the year. Some students are confident and ready to experiment with format and structure, while others need to stick to a more structured and formulaic approach, and that is fine as well. As the year progresses, the number of struggling writers will decrease as we will continue to practice and discuss and reflect.
Writing an essay as a means to demonstrate comprehension and mastery is a logical task following our chat about the format and style of formal and narrative communication. It also allows for continued writing practice, which is always a good thing. Essays are graded pretty lightly and are treated more as formative than summative. Students are not given the opportunity to follow the complete writing process, so they are not graded on conventions and the like, instead, they are graded based on the overall content and structure. This particular writing task provides for a great opportunity to give them meaningful formative feedback that is focused and will be manageable to implement entirely in writing as the year progresses.