Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Power of Modeling Writing - SOLC March 4

 I have been thinking in these first few posts about how to elevate the quality of writing in our workshop.

At a language arts council meeting I attended recently, I had the good fortune to see a video clip of Tony Keefer doing a writing mini-lesson about "manipulating time."  He specifically modeled for students the writing strategies of speeding time up and slowing it down when appropriate.

What struck me immediately on watching the tape was that Tony actually had written, revised, and shared writing pieces with his class.  I have written many first drafts in front of my class, but had never gone the next step to actually revising and polishing a piece.  Sure, I did bits and pieces, but never really shared work from start to completion.

Layered into my thinking about Tony and his modeling was something Penny Kittle had shared at the Dublin Literacy Conference.  She oftentimes gives students a piece she has written, and then asks them to read the piece, marking on it as needed, so that they can analyze it and give her the specific feedback that she requests.

Tony's video clip + Penny's share about requesting feedback = an important moment for me as a writer and a writing teacher.

I began to dig through my writer's notebooks to see if I had a seed of an idea I might want to develop, and lo and behold, I stumbled across my 28 pages chronicling all the events that happened when I visited my daughter, Kate in 2007, when she studied abroad in Spain.  That trip was my first-ever time across the ocean, and I knew there were many stories I wanted to tell from that time period.

As I scanned through the 28 pages I had written, I realized that most of my notebook entries were filled with minuscule details of things I wanted to remember.   They were the very stories we warn our students about -- bed to bed.

My first draft, with students' feedback
The passage I chose to focus on was our weekend trip to Florence, Italy -- the arrival, the hotel, and going to dinner.  I typed this passage in a document and made a copy for each student.  The next day, I shared the piece, and then told the students that I was unhappy with the piece.  Specifically, the feedback I wanted from them was three-fold: 
  1. Does this piece have a clear story line? 
  2. How were the details of the piece -- too few or too many? 
  3. Would dialogue help my piece?
My first revised draft, incorporating
students' feedback, as well as
technique of speeding up time
They had 5 minutes to mark up their copies of my piece, keeping my three questions in mind when thinking about suggestions for me.  Their feedback was amazing, and I jotted all over my copy what they had suggested.

I made revisions using their suggestions, and shared a part of the piece the next day.  I also made sure to "manipulate time" by speeding up the action in one part.  On that second day, we did a comparison of where my piece had been and where it was today.  I hadn't just substituted words or moved sentences, but rather I had truly rewritten the story for better flow.

I encouraged them to try speeding up the action in pieces where they were doing exactly what I had done; telling every single mundane detail.  We had a model of how improved a piece could be.

My second revised draft,
focusing on dialogue
and slowing time down
The third day, I came back with more writing; a continuation of the Florence piece, only now that I was in the restaurant scene, I wanted to slow down time.  When I shared this part, one of my students volunteered that I must have used the "show not tell" strategy when I slowed down time.  I didn't consciously, but he is correct when he noticed that had happened.

For writing teachers, you have heard this a million times before, but there is great power in being a writer with real writing problems in front of your students.  Having them see me struggle, ask for their feedback, and then use it becomes a wonderful teaching tool.

That's all for now.  Not because this post is polished the way I want, but I am exhausted and need to go to sleep, and I have 17 minutes to make the deadline for posting today.

Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.


  1. Another post I can't wait to share with my teachers! Thanks so much, Karen. Have you read Penny's book, WRITE BESIDE THEM?

  2. I love this piece, Karen. I do the same as you did - show lots of first drafts, but I don't always show where that goes. Also, I love that Penny tells the kids what she wants them to look for.I know she has also mentioned that she asks the same of them - if they want her to read something she needs to know what she is reading for. That might solve several problems I'm facing. :) Thanks for this.