Many times when I ask students to respond to short answer questions, to write summaries or even to write essays, I write too. This “me too” approach has advantages.
I can test whether the assignment is doable. Recently I gave my fifth grade students a reading passage with a follow-up question requiring that the students supply two details from the passage to answer the question. I could easily find one detail, but two? The students had problems too. Together we discussed this problem and figured out how to write an answer. I recognized that their frustration was genuine, acknowledged that, and worked as a partner to solve the writing problem. Sometimes I chuck the assignment altogether and give a different one.
If I suspect students might be struggling with a particular aspect of the writing—how to start, for example—I can offer several possibilities, and I can read my possibilities aloud, asking for students for advice as to which one I should choose. We can discuss the merits of each. Or a student could say, “Here’s how I did it,” and read her solution aloud. I am seen as more of a collaborator than a know-it-all teacher. For some students, this can make me more approachable when they struggle with writing problems. When I was in high school, I was assigned homework which would take two hours nightly in just one subject. By my doing the writing assignment with my students, I can judge how much time the assignment takes, and break the assignment into parts.
Students can listen to my vocabulary and sentence openings. They can listen for sentences of various lengths. They can decide whether my “hook” hooks and whether my conclusion picks up on the introduction. They can see how I use transitions, dialog, details and examples. They can see how I incorporate the writing concepts which we talk about all the time. And all this I do on a piece of writing which they are working on. I give them a model which they can aspire to.
Of course, with some students my time is better spent discussing each sentence as they write it, making reminders as they go along, and praising attempts which flop.
But sometimes my example speaks louder than words.