Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
As a continuation from yesterday's lesson on introducing dialogue writing students will be spending time drafting their dialogues with their partners. This is a group project so it's important to give students time to work, not only for practical reasons but also to offer guidance when needed. These Dialogue Groups were created mostly based on topic. At times this may need to be modified by the teacher to fit the make-up of the class with many different topics. It also depends on the amount of students in the class and the ability of each student. These dialogues will be a conversation with a partner in which they have to argue the point of which of their research topics is more noteworthy. This forces them to make a claim and back it up with evidence: two major components of argument writing.
To begin the lesson, I review the Dialogue Assessment Spreadsheet, which is the rubric that will be used to assess their dialogues. I pull the Spreadsheet up on the Smartboard and students follow along as I explain the criteria. This is a straightforward and these sections students have had exposure with throughout the year. It's important to give students a conceptual understanding of grading so they are aware of the expectations as they are writing. I don't always show them the rubric this early in the writing process but for a project, especially a group project, that has different components, showing them the rubric helps them to manage their work. This is a type of rubric I use for different projects like this. It's easy to use for presentations and makes the grading process a lot easier. I saw a rubric similar to this for an essay and I have such adopted it for different writing assignments. Creating rubrics can always be tricky so you want to think ahead. If I can spend more time making a rubric so the grading process is easier, I'm all for it.
They are familiar with this type of rubric so there are not a large amount of questions to discuss. The major question that comes up is, since this is a group project, how will the be graded individually. The only part that students will be graded individual will be their "performance". The rest of the writing will be graded as a group grade. This helps students to be productive as their group members may need their assistance.
The rest of the lesson is devoted to students working with their partners to work on drafting these dialogues. I always find it powerful to give students actual time to work in class. This really allows the teacher to see what students are able to produce on their own, without the help of parents, tutors, etc. It gives me a real sense of where their abilities lie. With this lesson, I can see how well students are able to incorporate research into argument. Teachers can also diffuse situations when groups are not being collaborative and productive. The skills that students will working on are not just the skills the writing assignments requires: finding evidence, supporting, staking a claim and backing it up. They will also be working on writing within a time frame. A skill they need practice for as they move on to high school. Using class time to write and work is also incredibly beneficial as it gives me an opportunity to offer on-the-spot feedback, which is so important for middle schoolers. If they don't have that immediate feedback, they lose interest, motivation, and so on and therefore will not improve their writing skills. If I can give them feedback immediately, their writing will definitely improve.
I tell students they will spend the rest of class time working on the dialogue. I also give them a focus to begin with, if needed. Some students may need to be given a structure to work. I tell some groups to start off by listing, based on their notes, examples of their topic being noteworthy. This helps groups who are not able to focus on the task at a hand to think about their topic in a guided manner. Once students are able to think of their topic independently, they can then start comparing their notes with notes from their partner. Without them knowing it, this comparison can begin to turn into the dialogue. All they need to do is change the pronoun from him/her (reference their topic) to I. Other groups are able to draft their piece independently.
These are some questions for beginning to draft that students have as they start. I walk students through each question. Some students are given specific directions and others need to think about the question in order to push their critical thinking skills. It's important to think about what student is asking the question. Are they being lazy? Purposely challenging? Or do they need actual assistance?
In Dialogue Prewriting Student Example 1 and Dialogue Prewriting Student Example 2 different groups show how they begin their work. The first example shows how they need to get their main points down on paper first. The second example shows some of that but also how they begin their dialogue.