If students are to improve their writing, what is the single best thing they can do?
Write Write. Write.
Teachers know this. So why don’t teachers assign more writing? To paraphrase a former President, “It’s the grading, stupid.”
Reading student writing takes a long time, but writing comments on the writing takes a life time. A fifth grade teacher might have 28 or more student papers to grade. A high school English teacher might have 128.
So how can a teacher, tutor, or parent encourage frequent writing without giving up her life?
Here is the solution one teacher, Jori Krulder, has found effective.
- The teacher reads student essays without writing a word on them.
- On separate papers, one for each student, the teacher records three things:
- One, a score for the essay based on a rubric which the teacher and students have previously agreed upon.
- Two, an element of writing which the student did well.
- Three, an element of writing which the student needs to improve.
- The teacher jots down on another paper the strengths and weaknesses of the class’s essays and adds ideas for mini-lessons to teach the whole class.
- The teacher reports these strengths and weaknesses orally to the class.
- The teacher returns the unmarked essays, giving each student a feedback paper to fill in. See the box.
- While students work on their writing, the teacher meets for five minutes only with each student (taking up to three days of class time per class or section per essay). The teacher and student compare the score each gave the essay. If the scores differ, the teacher talks to the student about the reasons for the discrepancy. Then they talk about the rest of the information on the feedback sheet.
- At the end of five minutes a timer rings and the conference ends. If students want to talk longer, they can visit the teacher after school.
- Students as a group are given a resubmit date for their essays.
According to Krulder, students are able to focus on what the teacher says during the conference, take notes, and use that information to improve their essays. The result is a noticeable improvement in the resubmitted essays. An additional yet unexpected benefit is improvement in student-teacher relations.
For more information on Jori Krulder’s method of responding to student writing, go to edutopia.org.