December 7, 2012

Color Theory

This week I practiced writing essays for entry applications to private high schools.
  • 3 different 8th Graders
  • 9 different schools between the 3 of them
  • 11 different prompts
They were not grateful to be applying to expensive schools that are going to stretch their thinking and assign harder writing than the entry essays.

How do I explain that tuition is equivalent or higher to the poverty level income of a family of 4?
@ $24,000

One had written a piece on an incident they learned a lesson from, and another on how he will manage his time as a high school student. This one was not expository - it more like a dream world of imagination that sounded very believable, if I didn't know the author of it! He can't manage his time, assignments, papers, laptop, due dates, and PC files. But he has learned to back up his arguments or important points with examples and elaboration, and he did. But out came my highlighters to find repeated words, and sure enough, he had the word "manage" 7 times. Whew! Easy fix. I find that using highlighters and looking for what IS there, instead of the bloody surgery tool of a red pen of what is not keeps them more attuned.

In less than 90 seconds this video explains one of the tools in my tool kit: color coding. Although this is during brainstorming , in order to categorize your good ideas.

Of course, there are many other color-coding benefits. Highlighters or colored pencils can be used on a hard copy, during revision, to discover whether there are too many of one thing, like adjectives, or too little of another, like transition words. One student highlighted his "Just then..." phrases in an assigned mystery story and there were over eight. That is simply too many.
Thankfully, a follow-up on the October 16th Blog I posted: Teaching Writing explicitly improves Reading Comprehension and Thinking Skills!

A meta-analysis (Graham & Hebert, 2011) summarized dozens of studies examining the impact of writing instruction on reading comprehension. The authors concluded that there is a consistent, positive effect, and argued for three classroom practices:

1) More Writing
2) Write about the texts they read in analytical formats
3) Explicit teaching of the skills and processes that go into creating text.

The New Dorp School's results are likely replicable, but the students were doing much more than just #1 above. That is like having piano students just play more. No. They learned underlying analytical skills, at the sentence level (my song and dance in this blog). Plus, writing was implemented in every single subject area, which opened the door for critical thinking.
And another recent article on this Writing Revolution:

"Teachers are focusing on writing instruction like never before. Several forces are bringing about that change. One is the Common Core State Standards, which tie reading and writing together by placing a heavy emphasis on writing in response to one or more texts. Another—echoed in the standards—is feedback from college professors and employers, who bemoan young people's weakness in the analytical writing most needed in college and training for good jobs."