Today I’m pleased to welcome back our 3rd grade curriculum creator and incredible teacher, Denise Dusseau. Here’s Denise, on using anonymous student writing samples with K-5 writers:
Denise: WriteSteps provides dozens of excellent anonymous samples for each grade, but I started creating my own collections when I was still using the Lucy Calkins program. Whether or not you already have plenty of anonymous student sample writing to use in your lessons, using samples from your own students can be powerful. Why?
• they honor your students’ work
• they reflect the unique culture of your school
• they can help your evaluations
I mentioned in our December Inspired Writer eNewsletter that when I started using WriteSteps, I saw a wonderful difference in the writing of my students who have learning disabilities or ADD. They used to have a hard time getting anything on the page, but now they’re motivated, they’re staying engaged, and they’re making real strides.
We’re looking at a lot of student sample writing, and the samples we’re using now show a range of ability levels. As teachers, we may want to show our students only the very best models. Don’t make that mistake. The weaker samples show students that any piece of writing can be improved. They show struggling writers that as long as you have something to start with, you can work with it and improve it.
If you only show your class mentor texts that illustrate exemplary writing, your students will miss out. Not all the samples we use should be models of what we think our students can achieve. What we want from sample writing is to improve it and learn from it. Weaker samples can be highly effective as long as you teach students to be very respectful in the way they analyze all writing.
We look at a poor sample and say, “It’s not a bad piece, it just needs more work. This is a really good foundation. Now what does it need?” My struggling students are learning from this, and they aren’t ashamed of their writing anymore.
Reflecting the Culture of Your School
This is the reason I started collecting my own samples. The samples from the Lucy Calkins program didn’t work for my students. They were very urban, but I live and teach in a small Midwestern town and my students just couldn’t relate to them. There was one piece about a friend’s parent getting shot, and others about going to the opera and symphony. Those things just aren’t a part of my 3rd graders’ experience.
Here’s how I created my own sample collection to engage my students:
- I used a 3-inch binder to save four to five writing samples from each genre.
- I included examples from high, medium, and low performing students, and black out the names.
- I saved at least one piece from each student over the course of the year.
At the end of the year, I had a binder full of examples, demonstrating all the genres my students practiced: explanatory writing, personal narratives (real & imagined), informative writing, opinion writing, folktales, and research. I kept it out in my classroom for next year’s 3rd graders to look at when writing their own pieces. I often included a student’s planning tool with the final piece, so they could compare these and see how the writing evolved.
My students loved reading through the binders of samples from previous classes, which is one reason I still do this even though I now use WriteSteps samples with amazing results. My students are very proud to have their work saved for future classes; they’ll often tell me privately, “It’s okay, you can put my name on there!”
Help for Evaluations
I only started creating these class binders a couple of years ago, but I wish I had started earlier. I can see that my students’ writing is getting better, because my instruction is getting better. I can also use my sample collection when I am evaluated. I could pick six students, track their progress in a binder, and give that to my administrator to demonstrate the skills I have given my students. It’s a wonderful way to show growth!
If You’re New to Teaching Writing…
I think it’s important for new WriteSteps teachers to wait a year before collecting their own samples. Seeing the range of WriteSteps samples prepares you to recognize the different levels of writing you’re going to see from students. Give yourself time to acclimate to the process, watch your students improve over the course of the year, and try these ideas next year. Let us know how it goes so we can share your successes!