In a previous lesson, students drafted a written response for Hemingway’s story “Hills Like White Elephants” in which they analyzed the symbolic meaning of a symbol of their choice. They have also outlined a written response to one of the two questions and have discussed it with peers:
Does the American love Jig?
What is Jig going to do?
Today we work with these two written pieces to improve them and produce a final draft to turn in.
I explain to students that we are working on these two writing assignments concurrently today. I ask them to turn in their draft of their analysis of a symbol in “Hills Like White Elephants” because I plan to call them over and hold one-on-one discussions throughout the period. While they wait for me to call them over, they are to work on drafting their response to one of the two questions they selected. I encourage them to ask each other for help and feedback whenever they need it. I just emphasize that most of us need quiet when writing so they must make an effort to whisper when asking for help and quickly get back to work. I have organized writing sessions like these in the past and too many students were unproductive because the noise level was too high.
I have a list on the board of elements students paid close attention to when evaluating each other’s working arguments in a previous lesson. I point to it and instruct students to keep these elements in mind as they draft their responses:
“Is this a significant idea?”
“How does this evidence support your claim?”
Interpretation of the evidence
“Is there an alternative interpretation?”
Understanding of the characters
“Is this what the character means?”
As students write, I begin to call them over one at a time to discuss their draft of their analysis of a symbol in the story. An obvious question is, “Do you actually get to meet with every single student during these 45 minutes?” The answer is, “Sometimes.” The strategy I use is to lump the papers that have few issues and call over a few of these students at the same time and quickly describe my observations, make suggestions and answer questions. This frees up time to devote to those with more needs. The other thing that happens is that if I run out of time, I ask the last students I did not get to meet with to leave their paper with me so I can provide written feedback and come pick it up later in the day.
During the one-on-one conference, I focus on addressing the things that will help a particular student make real improvements to their paper and help them understand one of the many things we have been practicing during writing instruction. The needs vary and I know that I can only address a few things at a time. This means that many of their papers will still not be in good shape when they turn in their final draft. Specifically, students that have really struggled with things like actually making an argument, selecting good evidence, controlling language and other basic elements of writing, have a current draft with multiple weak points. It is unrealistic to address every single issue at once so I select a couple the student can handle. I do this because the goal is to see improvement in their writing development.
Another thing I do during this time is make general announcements when I see an issue in a number of papers. For instance, several students are arguing that the American does love Jig because he says it a few times. This interpretation feels rushed and not critical enough. I interrupt students to share this observation and ask them if they believe that when a person says “I love you” they always mean it. I can count on the fact that teenagers have thought about and have had experience with this question so they say “No.” I then explain that they can continue to make the same argument if they still believe the American loves her, but such interpretation of his words is not thoughtful enough. Here are two student samples: an analysis of a symbol, and a response to one of the two questions.
I instruct students to continue working on these at home and set a final deadline for three days from now. This gives them a couple of evenings of homework to finish both assignments.