To assess the students' understanding that an awareness of the function of language in texts is important for their own writing, as well as to challenge them to apply what they've learned thus far to their own writing process, I asked them to write a reflection on their own writing process in light of the 5 principles laid out by Constance Hale in Sin and Syntax. The goal is really for them to think deeply about their writing in terms of language; internalizing the parts of speech and syntactical constructions will go on throughout the year--the first step is to recognize the importance of doing this. Additionally, I want to emphasize that as they write for a variety of tasks and purposes (writing standard 10), they should always be conscious of the process and practice their writing skills.
Since they will participate in a great deal of peer review during the writing process in more formal essays, I thought it important for them to practice this by sharing in a structured protocol--to gain comfort in talking with others about writing and the writing process and learn about each other; thus the group structure of this lesson.
Students are coming into class today having written reflections on their own writing process. Today I want them to further reflect on their own writing to really make conscious their own writing process, their own strengths and weaknesses--in essence, to do a close reading of their own reflections. I think this is an important step to emphasize the point that writing well is a conscious process; it is hard work, takes a lot of practice doing it for lots of different purposes and tasks thoughtfully (writing standard 10!), and they are not alone in finding that to be true.
Sharing a reflection on one's own writing process is often more difficult for students than sharing responses to academic prompts since it is so personal, so I'm using a more structured protocol to help students start the conversations and talk about their own writing in a safe, structured manner. The protocol not only provides an entry to the conversation, but also helps connect the conversation to Sin and Syntax, and therefore a more academic discussion. Additionally, it helps build speaking and listening skills as they mine their own reflections for meaningful data to share about writing, and consider other people's viewpoints.
Before students begin sharing, I will ask them to review their own reflection and highlight or underline the single sentence that they feel best captures the essence of their reflection. This step gets them back into the original moment of reflection so they can better engage in discussion. Additionally, it models close reading strategies, since they are identifying a main idea in a text.
After they've had time to review their reflections, I will put students into groups of 3 or 4 and go over the protocol (I will make the groups to continue setting a tone of full-class unity): reflection protocol.pdf. One particular thing I want to note is that the peer response is not timed, because I'm hoping that students will engage in a deeper discussion.
As students engage in the protocol, I will circulate around the class, listening to their discussions and prompting more discussion, including sharing my own writing process both as a model and to encourage more discussion.
This activity gives students a chance to bring their thoughts together and further bond the class by showing how most of the students face the same challenges when writing. There will be lots of peer editing and sharing as the semester goes forward, so sharing with everyone now will pay dividends later on because they will be more comfortable with each other.
Before beginning this activity, I will ask students to put the desks back into the horseshoe shape they started with. I like to do this because changing the space changes the context for the activity, providing a physical shift to match the change in activity format.
I will then have students re-read their reflection again, this time identifying one word or phrase that best captures the main idea of their reflection. Picking one word has students even more deeply evaluate their own writing process, with the help of the peer feedback they already received. It also models looking at how individual words create meaning as part of closely reading texts.
Once they've selected a word, students will each write their word or phrase on the Smartboard.
When all the students have put their words on the board, I will then ask students to look at the collection and each make a comment on what they see (I will let students self-select who speaks next, at least to start, so students who are not as confident speaking out loud or aren't sure of the task will hear models first). As they make their statements, students are free to add to the statement, and I also will add to the statement if appropriate for clarification, or if a see a teaching moment. The goal here is not to evaluate in any way, but to acknowledge that writing is a messy business no matter who we are--it takes time and sweat and support. So any comments I make will be supportive or encouraging in nature.
UPDATE: I changed my approach for this lesson, as explained in this video: Reflection on In a Word.wmv. It wasn't that I didn't like the lesson as explained above, and will probably use it in the future--it just didn't feel right in the context of the class!
Next Steps: This lesson today is part of a transition to the next unit where I will introduce the main concepts of rhetorical analysis that will be central to the course for the rest of the year. Hopefully this micro-analysis of the function of words has provided an initial model for close analysis.