Thoughts on writing

During my years with TPRS, student writing practices have evolved and changed.  I’ve bounced back and forth between different styles and levels of monitoring.  I’ve settled on using different techniques at different times.  Here’s a description of what we do in order from least to most structured:

1. Quick writes – Sometimes at the end of a reading, song or other class activity, I ask students to write a short piece that extends or changes the text.  This writing is very informal and is never graded for accuracy.  Students often share what they’ve written with class, or I collect and read to myself.

2. Timed free writes – A few years ago, this was the only writing we did.  I still use it but not exclusively.  For a timed free write, students have a set amount of time (almost always 5 minutes).  They are given direction, but their writing may lead them anywhere.  There is one key rule.  DO NOT STOP WRITING.  They must write for five minutes and stop immediately when the buzzer sounds.  Usually, the prompt is a picture collage or a projected prompt.  I used to give students a list of vocabulary terms to use, but I’ve moved away from that.  I’ve found the evaluation of their skills even more authentic when they have nothing in front of them but a sheet of paper.  I often give them options for writing – one that requires creativity and one that is a summary of something that has happened.  I want the creative students to be free, but I don’t want any student’s lack of creativity to hinder the flow of writing.

The goal is creating as much language as possible.  When they are finished writing, students count the number of words they have written.  This year, we have been charting number of words in order to measure growth.  I read the writing as an informal evaluation but do not score for accuracy.

3. Rubric based essay – A rubric based essay is more formal.  Students have more time and must focus more on accuracy.  We complete the writing in class.  Completing the writing in class provides more focus from students than an out-of-class assignment.  It also prohibits computer translation or other forms of cheating.  Students have a rubric with several categories and a few prompts from which to choose.  Students may use notes and dictionaries while they write, but they may not talk to others or ask me for help.  The use of resources may seem unfair, but I make a few key points to the students:

A. I am not merely evaluating their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.  I am evaluating their ability to “put it all together” and use Spanish to create a coherent essay.  Dictionaries and notes will not help a student who cannot write otherwise.

B. One of the categories on the rubric is “comprehensibility”.  Their writing must be comprehensible to fellow students.  Overuse of resources will quickly result in incomprehensibility and reduce the score.

In my experience, students have done well managing their permitted resources and do not abuse the privilege.  I do score these writings for accuracy according to the rubric.

4. Take home essasys – This writing is rare and usually only used in upper levels.  It is similar to in-class rubric based writing, but students complete it outside of class.  I make it very clear that computer translators are illegal and will result in incomprehensible writing.  Again, my experiences have been good the few times that I have assigned out of class writing.

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6 Responses to Thoughts on writing

  1. Martina Bex says:

    Nice post! Like you, I used to do Free Writes exclusively. Now, I forget to do them! I would like to still be doing free writes once a week just because of the practice that it gives to students (and the story ideas with which it provides me, haha!), but I forget. I now do quick writes and formal, in-class writing assignments almost exclusively. I’m intrigued by your reflections on using resources. I know that I would have students that ‘overuse’ them, resulting in incomprehensibility and a low score. What I’m wondering is whether these students typically learn from their ‘wicked ways’ and learn to manage the resources, or whether you have a large number of repeat offenders throughout the year?? Do you find that kids still try to use circumlocution at all in their writing?

    • bryankandel says:

      Thanks! I should have mentioned the frequency of each. Currently, I am using free writes much more often than structured writing. It is true that students miss out on circumlocution when they use resources. However, I feel they get good circumlocution practice during the free writes because I do not answer any questions and they must “write around” unknown vocabulary.

      • Martina Bex says:

        That makes sense. It’s smart to have different parameters for different kinds of writing tasks–it gives kids a chance to practice different skills (circumlocution, using resources appropriately, etc.). Great thinking!!

  2. mpeto says:

    I like what you say about creativity and giving options in the timed writing… I want to encourage my students to own what they write but sometimes the creative option just adds anxiety. This was really helpful to read, thanks for posting.

  3. Judy Dubois says:

    I have had students keep a journal for free writes that they do at home with a timer. I found that my students needed ten minutes rather than five. Some of them need five minutes to get out their pen and paper and get settled. The ones who did keep a journal improved remarkably and at the end of the year cited it as the activity that helped them the most.

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