Writing Office Hours with Joey Hawkins of Student Achievement Partners and The Vermont Writing Collaborative

Prepare for the Common Core writing standards. Webinar recorded 3/13/14.

Thousands of K-12 educators are working to implement the Common Core writing standards.

To help, we held a Q&A session with Joey Hawkins, one of the founders of the Vermont Writing Collaborative and co-author of Writing For Understanding: Using Backward Design To Help All Students Write Effectively.

A nationally recognized writing expert with more than 35 years teaching experience, Joey works closely with Student Achievement Partners to develop, curate, and review CCSS resources for teachers. With one foot still firmly in the middle school classroom, and as a founder of VWC, Joey has offered courses and school-based professional development in Writing for Understanding in Vermont and throughout the country. Watch the office hours here:

Joey’s suggested resources

  • In Common – check out the In Common protocols, specifically designed for coaches and literacy leaders to use to work with the student writing samples with teachers. In Common provides a range of examples of Common Core-aligned student work, drawn directly from K-12 classrooms across the country. These student writing samples demonstrate how a student’s writing skills can progress as they gain fluency across the three major types of Common Core writing: argument/opinion writing, informative/explanatory writing, and narrative writing. In Common PD activities are in the third section on this page (“Professional Development for In Common”).
  • Exemplar resources on Edmodo – check out the the Basil Alignment Project group and Anthology Alignment Project group.
  • EngageNY – look at the middle school modules in particular- all free.
  • Vermont Writing Collaborative site: check out the teacher made reading/writing instructional sequences, painted essay materials, study guide for the book – all free.
  • Writing for Understanding: Using Backward Design To Help All Students Write Effectively – Check out the book Joey wrote, along with other writing experts, to give teachers a good overall sense of how to design Common Core writing instruction, at all grade levels.
  • Sample Writing Tasks created by Student Achievement Partners: Check out these scaffolded analytical writing tasks. They provide examples for teaching Common Core writing and are designed for use with example lessons from the Basal Alignment Project (BAP).

Since we ran out of time and were unable to answer all the questions from our audience, Joey kindly agreed to share her thoughts on a few more, below:

Additional Questions

1. What are some of the best professional books to study for writing in the classroom?  Writing for children?

Joey: The book by the Vermont Writing Collaborative, Writing for Understanding: Using Backward Design to Help All Students Write Effectively is the book we wrote to give teachers a good overall sense of how to design Common Core writing instruction, at all grade levels. Another book I think is wonderful is Curriculum As Conversation by Applebee (written for college teachers, but deeply relevant to all teachers in the age of the Common Core)

2. Do you have any resources for helping kids elaborate more in their writing?

Joey: Struggling writers tend to be vague…even though we spend so much time with models, better answer formula, etc. The book above, Writing for Understanding, talks about this. As the question notes, models are very important, and so is cuing like  the “better answer” material. In addition, it’s helpful when teachers spend more time with students on making sure they have depth of understanding of what they’re writing – in our experience, the single biggest impediment to thoughtful, elaborated writing is a superficial understanding of the topic. For many / most kids, they also need built-in time for “oral processing” and even what we might call “oral rehearsal” of their thinking before they write. This really means that every student needs to “speak their ideas” before they write – the more challenging the thinking, the greater the need for this. All of this slows down the instruction time, making it take longer – on the other hand, the writing is much more likely to be strong and thoughtful as a result!

3. We’re making the shift to mini-research investigation and then writing a response and making a connection to the reading passage (story, novel, etc) we are currently reading.  Can you explain more about what “mini-research” should look like?  How often should this occur? 

Joey: Mini-research can look many ways. At the most fundamental level, kids are given a focusing question about a text or texts, and then guided to search for evidence in that text or texts that help develop the answer to the question. This “evidence hunting and gathering” is at the heart of writing about text – it involves re-reading, focused note-taking, careful selection, conversation  – and then ultimately, explaining that evidence. How often?  All the time. A week should not go by where kids aren’t doing this somewhere – not necessarily in every subject, but somewhere!

Joey: Overall, we find it’s most helpful for teachers to think in terms of “what important understanding do I want kids to get from this text? What could it look like in writing?” Then, try it yourself – what did it take YOU to write what you hope kids will write? Plan backward for that – how will I help kids read this text so they understand this? How will I help them gather evidence? How will I make sure they know how to build /structure the writing?

Important tip here: giving kids “choice” about that they write is sometimes a good idea, BUT when teachers and kids are learning how to do all of this super important work, student choice makes the task (for both teacher and kids) much harder, and makes opportunities for real oral processing (see above) almost impossible. Choose a (relatively short) and rich text that matters, and work with the class.

 

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Crafting effective text-based writing prompts

This webinar is the third a series of three webinars on “Pathways to close readings”. Check out the first and second webinars in this series on “Text Talks” and “Text-dependent questions“.

The Common Core requires that students express their understanding of complex texts through writing. But creating a meaningful and grade-appropriate task that knits together writing and close reading is no small feat.

In this webinar, we reviewed 7 basic steps to help teachers craft thoughtful and worthwhile writing tasks that are both standards-aligned and allow students to deeply explore the text.

Download the webinar slides here

Here’s a sneak peak:

Step 1: Return to your notes about the key takeaways from the text.

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Step 2: Brainstorm possible products

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Step 3: Draft your writing task

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Step 4: Analyze the standards vertically

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Step 5: Revise your writing task
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Step 6: Write a model student response

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Step 7: Craft a rubric that informs your reteaching

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