I ask students to take out their intro paragraph and first body paragraph, which were supposed to be done for homework. Too many students are right where they were at the end of the period yesterday or just a little further. They did not do much work at home last night. I communicate to students that they must be working on their writing at home because otherwise, they will not be able to finish a successful essay on time. I state this because I am concerned about students’ habit of not doing homework. Writing is a weakness in this group of students and one obstacle is the lack of commitment they show to improving their writing. In order for my instruction to be effective, it is crucial that they actually put in the necessary time to implement what I have been teaching them. I communicate this with utmost seriousness and urgency so they know I mean business. I ask those who have an introductory paragraph and their first body paragraph to turn it in so I can read it while they write the next part of their essay today. I ask the rest to get to that point as soon as possible and turn in their work. I state what is likely on their mind, which is that this means they will have to work on their next body paragraph on a separate sheet of paper. I tell them that this is ok. I assert that it will be helpful to get immediate feedback because this feedback will inform the rest of the writing process. I tell them their essay draft will end up spread over a couple of separate pieces of paper, but they will be putting it all back together when they edit and rewrite it on a clean, sheet of paper to be turned in as a final draft. This process I am establishing, turning in part of their essay and continuing on to the next part, is meant to increase my capacity to give them all immediate feedback by focusing on their intro and first body paragraph as opposed to an entire essay. This works for two reasons. The first reason is that they can move on to the next paragraph so we all have something to do during class. The second reason is that they have their thesis and topic sentences written on the brainstorming paper they produced during an earlier lesson so they will be able to keep track of their established central argument as they move on to their next body paragraph. In addition, and perhaps more important, it is usually the case that whatever issues I find in one body paragraph are also present in the other body paragraphs so getting feedback on one helps them in writing the next. I always tell this to students and specifically instruct them to keep in mind the mistakes they made in one paragraph so they don't make them again in the following ones.
Before they get started, I address an important skill that is largely missing in their writing, the use of transition words. We have not talked about these before so I briefly explain that these are words that can be placed at the beginning of sentences and serve the purpose of guiding the reader. I distribute this handout with transitional words and phrases and ask students to leave it in front of them and make use of it as they write. I read a few of these aloud to them and point out how they are divided into categories based on specific functions. I expect to create opportunities in the future where students will have to explicitly use these transition words because simply making them available to them is usually not enough to get them to use it. Still, some of them may use this resource in this essay and it is a good time to introduce this to them.
As students begin to write, I begin to read their work. I make some marks on their paper, but I provide most of the feedback through one-on-one conversations. This is because written feedback is very time consuming and I want to make sure that every single student gets some feedback today. For several students, a quick one-on-one conversation is enough to help them adjust their essay and set them on a better course. For many, I have to do both: hold one-on-one conversations and give them written feedback. That was the case with the student whose paper I discuss in this video. Future lessons will aim to help students get so familiar with issues I want them to address that they will understand written feedback on their own.
The feedback I give them ranges from minor grammatical errors, to larger issues of lack of coherence. The lack of coherence is still a problem because students are still not taking the time to self assess. In many of the one-on-one conversations, I specifically pointed to their topic sentence, read it aloud, identified the idea they had established in the topic sentence, and compared that to the analytical sentences they had written so that they could become aware of the fact that there was a disconnect. The specific instructions I give during these one-on-ones sound like, “The central idea in your topic sentence is X. When you analyze the evidence you selected, you have to make sure you make direct connections to X. This means the words you use have to be speaking of X.” The written feedback on this student draft is largely focused on this issue. The actual analysis of the text continues to be a challenge even though we have spoken about this several times now. This is the main reason why it is important to include sessions during the writing process where I can hold one-on-one discussions with students and help them become aware of instances when their writing goes off topic and help them maintain coherence.
By the end of the period, I get through a large part of the class, but I still have several papers I did not get a chance to read. I ask the owners of these papers to leave them with me and pick them up later in the day so I can read them and give them feedback. I close by urging all of them to work on their essay at home tonight.