The Difference Between Assigning Writing and Teaching Writing
Dear Dr. Louis,
Would you review this prompt and give me feedback?
"This week in class we talked about happiness and what things make you happy. Reflect on those things we talked about. Then, in 5 sentences, please summarize your thoughts for this week. Please use 12-point font, Times New Roman, double space, and YMCA for your heading.”
Sure, Tina. I can see that you learned the parts of the prompt well at our workshop together. I love your "Background Sentence" and "Trigger Sentence." For your "Task," I'd like to see you start your year out using your prompt to support and reinforce the JSWP terminology and elements of good writing, guiding your students to an understanding of your expectations for this and future writing prompts.
First, is the writing assignment a paragraph, a short answer, or bulleted sentences? Each type of writing has rules to follow, so identifying the required structure up front helps the students’ thinking. This request looks like a paragraph to me.
Second, since it’s a summary of what the students have learned, is the JSWP ratio 2+:1 or 3+:0? It looks like you want some commentary, so let’s go with 2+:1.
Let’s give them more guidance since the students are new to your class and new to your expectations. In another email, you indicated that your colleague in the previous year taught them JSWP. Use this opportunity to refresh their knowledge, assess their skills, and address their curiosity that what they learned last year will be built upon this year. Consider the following foundational prompt.
"This week in class we talked about happiness and what things make you happy. Reflect on those things we talked about. Then, in a well-developed body paragraph,(2+:1), explore what truly makes you happy. For your topic sentence, assert what truly makes you happy. For your 2-3 sentences of concrete details, provide examples and situations that you have experienced or that people have discussed that created this happiness within you. For your commentary sentence, answer this question: What is it about this happiness that separates you from others? And for your concluding sentence, write a sentence about how your happiness might affect others. Please use 12-point font, Times New Roman, double space, and YMCA for your heading."
Once students see this layout -- this foundational prompt -- they'll realize that they must decode a prompt into a logical, organized thought process. Sure, eventually, you wean them off of direct instruction about sentences. How do you do that? After several times prompts with precise instructions, you ask them, "Who or what are you writing about? Circle in blue the subject of the assignment." They should be able to identify the subject/topic of the assignment that would belong in their topic sentence or thesis statement (if you are assigning an essay).
Next, ask them, "What concrete details will you be searching for that will support your topic sentence?" Let them tell you and underline those in red in the prompt.
Continue with, "What's the ratio of this assignment?" If the assignment is literary, style, or rhetorical analysis, it's 1:2+. If the students are writing an expository (nonfiction), argument, or narrative, it's 2+:1.
Next question, "What type of commentary is the prompt asking you to write? Circle that in green. Words might be "discuss," "explain," "investigate." Ask the students, "What are you going to discuss that comes from your analytical mind, your heart and soul, your gut, your instincts, and your intuition?" The answer should be something like "the importance, the significance, the impact, or the effect of what they have learned.”
So, when you give a prompt such as the original prompt noted again below, you can now ask the students how to unpack or decode it, because you’ve specifically practiced the process with them on several prior occasions:
"This week in class we talked about happiness and what things make you happy. Reflect on those things we talked about. Then, in 5 sentences, please summarize your thoughts for this week. Please use the 12- point font, Times New Roman, double space, and YMCA for your heading.”
There's a difference between teaching and assigning writing. You'll be teaching them!
Keep Reading and Writing!