The middle school animal is a breed of its own. Those who work with students in lower or higher grades look at middle-schoolers and shudder. One can almost hear the audible ‘Ughhhh’ accompanying that shudder. Middle-schoolers revel in being loud, verbal, and demonstrative in many shapes and forms. One often wonders if they are teachable at this age. After all, one queries, how could a screaming, pushing, fidgeting preteen sit still and be quiet long enough to take anything in? Well, that’s the in: the College, Career, and Community Writers Program encourages and relies on discourse. And believe you me, middle schoolers love to talk.
Routine argument writing, a continuous and informal C3WP element, begins with such short, carefully scaffolded lessons that it is accessible to students of all abilities. Students might participate in “writing sprints,” “loop writing,” or a “human continuum;” or they might identify the argument in an image or complete a checklist. And then, voila, they get to turn and talk! First with a partner, then with the whole group, where students raise and shake hands violently as they await their turn to verbalize their thinking. Using sentence stems like “I believe ….,” “I agree with so-and-so…” and “I see what so-and-so is saying, but I also think…,” they learn to participate in a civil discourse that even the adults in their lives are often unable to do successfully. Continue reading The College, Career, and Community Writers Program in the Middle School→
In the April 2014 edition of Educational Leadership, renowned reading and writing teacher Kelly Gallagher writes about the power of mentor texts and how teachers can use them to help students improve their writing. The article, entitled “Making the Most of Mentor Texts,” begins with an anecdote about how George Lucas and his special effects team solved the issue of how to make the space battles in the Star Wars films more realistic. To do so, they relied on airborne dogfight footage from WWII documentaries as their ‘mentor text.’ Gallagher goes on to say that this process — the act of watching and analyzing someone or something that already encapsulates the outcomes that we want — is “how we learn how to do something unfamiliar.”
However, Gallagher also notes (and is echoed by many others, including Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Donald Graves, and Lucy Calkins) that when it comes to student writing, we can’t just hand students a mentor text and expect them to know how best to imitate it. We have to guide them through the process of analyzing those texts multiple times if we want to see the true power that they can have.
The SAT on-demand essay, as anyone who has prepped students for taking it knows, is a 50-minute written rhetorical analysis of a non-fiction article. This rhetorical analysis is the final test in the SAT exam – when students are already drained and hungry. Last year, when I prepped my students, I focused on Aristotle’s appeals of persuasion – logos, ethos, and pathos – to look for in the article they were to analyze. This year, I improved the SAT practice opportunities by combining Aristotle’s appeals with the Harris moves from the C3WP, and the outcome, I believe, will be a better SAT essay from the students.Continue reading From the College, Career, and Community Writers Program to the SAT Essay: A Simple Step→
On August 25, the Chippewa River Writing Project welcomed Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein — authors of They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing — to Central Michigan University. During the morning, they led a roundtable discussion of approximately twenty-five CMU graduate assistants and writing/writing intensive faculty. After lunch, they led a similar roundtable for approximately fifteen teachers 6-12 who represented school districts across the lower peninsula. From 3:30 – 5:00, Graff & Birkenstein gave a public talk in French Auditorium of the EHS Building, followed by an informal reception.
What follows is Liz Brockman’s introduction to Graff and Birkenstein’s public talk:
My name is Elizabeth Brockman, and I’m an English professor here at Central Michigan University and a founding co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project. On behalf of the writing project, I’d like to begin by thanking our partners in the sponsorship of today’s event: the CMU Writing Center, the College of Humanities and Social & Behavioral Sciences, the College of Education and Human Services, and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.Continue reading A Visit with Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein→
The Chippewa River Writing Project will host an open institute from June 19-23 for any teachers in grades 6-12 who would like to learn how to implement the College-Ready Writers Program in their classes. The $100 registration fee includes three days with a continental breakfast and boxed lunch, as well as a copy of Joseph Harris’s book, Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. All sessions will be facilitated by K-12 teacher consultants affiliated with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Learn more here.
The College-Ready Writers Program
In 2012, the National Writing Project was awarded an Investing in Innovation grant to provide professional development to teachers in rural schools in ten states. The PD was designed with an end in mind of improving students’ college- and career-ready writing. The initial launch of the program yielded significant improvements in student writing. In 2015, SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research center, reported that students in the districts where the College-Ready Writers Program had been implemented outperformed students in control districts on four attributes of their writing: content, structure, stance, and conventions. In 2016, then, the National Writing Project decided to scale up the College-Ready Writers Program to 50 new sites for the 2016-17 school year. The Chippewa River Writing Project was selected to be one of those sites.
Components of the College-Ready Writers Program
Routine Argument Writing
The College-Ready Writers Program is built upon some core principles and shifts in thinking about the teaching of argument writing. First, teachers are taught to meet students where they are in implementing routine argument writing activities that help students redefine argument and recognize the ways in which they encounter arguments every day. For example, an early lesson in routine argument writing asks students to record a daily agenda for themselves starting with when they awake and proceeding through all of the activities of their day. Students then look at their daily schedule and ask themselves where in the day they might find something to argue, coding those times with an A. Teachers model the process for students in their own daily schedule. Here is a portion of my daily schedule that I modeled for students on the document camera during this activity. Continue reading The College-Ready Writers Program at the Chippewa River Writing Project→