It’s often hard to assure stakeholders that the quality of student writing will be even higher with the use of online publishing. Many questions arise- how will they ever check their own spelling when spell-check does it for them? How can students be allowed to publish to the world when conventions are not necessarily correct? What if people comment on their work?
Even as I write these questions, I realise how ridiculous they sound. The answer to all of these questions is ‘so what?’. It is, however, crucial that educators instill a sense of the importance of quality in their students.
The notion of quality belongs on a continuum, especially in regards to written work. An excellent activity to do with students is one in which students brainstorm a variety of text types on individual posters- from text messages to shopping lists to postcards. Hand out the posters to students an allow them to order themselves, discussing as they go. Once the continuum has been decided, attach posters in a line around the edge of the room (or word-process and display on a screen). These can be adjusted at anytime. This continuum also should be referred to each time a new text type is discussed- where would this text type belong on our continuum? Why? What does this mean in regards to quality?
When addressing formal text types, I’ve noticed that I rarely allow my students adequate time to familiarise themselves with examples through play. This semester, I’ve followed an acronym to remind myself of some crucial steps.
Example- students are provided with 2 examples of the text type being studied; one that’s excellent and one that’s not-so-excellent. Individually, students highlight (or mark) features they notice on the not-so-excellent example.
Analyze- students then discuss and name the features they noticed in small groups. Students do the same with the excellent example. They then discuss why the second example is better than the first.
Rubric- using a rubric skeleton, students decide what a ‘c’ grade piece of writing should look like (in regards to structure, conventions, vocabulary, paragraphs, etc.) in small groups. Students should use the previous examples to help them. They can then plot out ‘a’ grade expectations and follow this up with the other columns. (NB if this is the first time students have created their own rubric, it’s advisable to begin by having the fields created for students to order and then students can also add information if they want.
Experiment with rubric- students then test out their rubric by using it to mark examples provided by the ARC (assessment resource centre) website and adjust if necessary. You may decide at this point to agree on a class rubric but this is not entirely necessary.
Experiment with text type (with rubric)- provide students with text types that have aspects of structure missing (ie. The introduction). Students attempt to write an introduction to fit the body and conclusion of the text. They check it with their rubric and discuss. Allow students to do this with as many parts of the text as time affords.
Implement- this is the part that we often spend the most time on and yet we rarely prepare students for this thoroughly. We just get them to churn out as many different versions of that text type as we can. I’m challenging that process. I’d rather my students only produce a couple of texts whilst fully understanding what is expected.
Before asking students to write an entire piece of text, ensure that what you are asking of them is interesting, valuable and relevant. By this stage, students should almost be begging to write a full piece. Allow them to use their rubric for first attempts and then gradually encourage them to use their memory.
Check- students should use their rubric to check and assess their text. Ensure that you also give rich feedback… Our feedback is really important to our students.
My students have found this process tricky. They are so used to being told what is good quality and what is not. However, now that they have persevered through the process, they are so much more confident. Our next class will be discussing how we will publish our texts to the world and students will know that the quality of their writing really is world-class!