A Publication of the Great Valley Writing Project

Over Our Shoulders & into Our Classrooms: Best Writing Practices, K-12

Over Our Shoulders & into Our Classrooms: Best Writing Practices, K-12

This publication was compiled during the Advanced Invitational Institute of the Great Valley Writing Project. More than a dozen GVWP Teacher Consultants, real classroom teachers of the Central San Joaquin Valley and nearby foothill communities, came together for two weeks to develop teaching demonstrations of their best practices in the teaching of writing. The narratives of some of those demonstrations are available for you in this anthology.This is not a recipe book for the teaching of writing. It is a collection of the best practices of experienced writing teachers applicable and adaptable to any writing classroom: urban or rural, Advanced Placement English or English Language Learners, secondary or primary, language arts or content classes. Each demonstration is a peek over the shoulder and into the classroom of a successful writing teacher. Each narrative examines who the students are, what their needs imply, and how one teacher addresses those needs and brings his/her students to become more skilled and confident writers.

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Table of Contents

  • Armando's Shoe: Scaffolding the Four Writing Types by Chris Condon
  • Structuring Research for Student Success: Expository Writing at the Dining Room Table by Kimberly Jacobs
  • Literature Circles: Fostering Independent Reading and Response to Literature by Tina Ichord Johansson
  • Purposeful Paragraphs: Envisioning the Content, Directing the Text by Melissa King
  • Writers' Workshop: A Primer by Peggy Dewar Bowen
  • The 'Art' of Summary Writing: Isolating Writing Skills from Reading Tasks by Kimberly Dildey
  • The Logic of Writing: Algebra Structures in the Primary Classroom by Kimberly Jacobs
  • From Lifeless to Lustrous: Using Rhetorical Structures to Improve Writing by Tina Bell

An excerpt from Armando's Shoe: Scaffolding the Four Writing Types by Chris Condon.

How can one express the feel of a classroom of beginning English language students, most new to the country, most anxious to learn English, anxious about being confused, being themselves, being accepted, being part of their school? It is a world of immense complexity, rich in diversity and challenge. They are a critically important student population, having incredible potential yet grappling with not only language development but cultural differences. How could any teacher prepare a class of newcomers, the majority of whom have an extremely limited ability to understand and respond to English, whether writing or oral, for such a difficult task in the hardest mode of any language - writing? For both teacher and students, such a task was an overwhelming challenge. Students who are just learning English and have been in the country less than two years, feel challenged in ways I can only barely imagine - a new home, a new school, a new teacher, a new country, a new culture, a new language - a whole new world, really. Their backgrounds are diverse. They are students needing the highest standards of teaching that I could offer them - my best teaching practice.

In Working with Second Language Learners: Answers to Teacher's Top Ten Questions, Stephen Cary (2000) emphasizes several key elements involved in improving EL student writing, including (a) focusing on student interests, (b) understanding the terrors and limitations of "compliance" writing [i.e., textbook prompts], (c) emphasizing process over product, whole over parts, and (d) using a variety of writing supports [i.e., scaffolding]. These elements became central in planning my unit to teach the four writing types. The unit need to 'hang together', to work with writing in a continuum, with each step fully integrated and scaffolded, each step building upon its predecessor and leading to its successor. Finally, it needed to be relevant to the students' lives, to be concrete and comprehensive, to be real.

Armando's shoe became the focal point. We began with information writing, where we essentially described the shoe. From there we moved to narrative, telling a story about his shoe. Following that, we wrote a persuasive letter to a classmate about the shoe. Finally, we wrote a response to Gary Soto's poem "Ode to Pablo's Tennis Shoes," here focusing on a shoe much like Armando's. In writing about the shoe four different ways, students could work with the whole - the shoe- while discussing the parts - the four different types of writing. As with other academic programs for students with special needs, writing in an ELL classroom requires repeated, systematic, interactive, guided support throughout the entire process.