Sunday, January 4, 2015

Writing About Reading -- What's the Real Goal?

My 7th graders have been working in their Reading Notebooks to "write about reading."  I never used to think that this was an authentic genre, but rather writing to learn:  the process of building understandings about a text (or topic) through writing about it.

This year I've got another angle that brings some authenticity to our work --- companion books.  This whole unit has been quite an experiment, and I have to keep reminding myself that there's an end in mind.  But, what is that end?  Yes, I want kids to create companion books for their self-selected texts, but what generative skills will they gain as writers along the way?  That is where the real objectives lie.  Although there are so many skills embedded in this unit, the major take-aways are:

  • Ladder of Abstraction.  I love this symbol from Lucy Calkins Units of Study.  She suggests that writers need to include both ends of this "ladder" in their writing; one end being the "big ideas" that are universal or theories and the other end being "details" such as quotes, descriptions, names and /or objects, etc. that create those big ideas.  In order to be at both ends of this, students need to discover big ideas in their texts through paying attention to the details presented to them.  

  • Various Text Structures of Informational Writing.  Informational writing doesn't really fall into any one structure.  It's a combination of structures.  This requires students to think in these ways about a text.  Students should be able to include description in some parts of the text, but also know when it's appropriate to include problem/solution, narrative (chronological), comparison and/or cause and effect.  It requires students to recognize how all the parts they include work together as a whole text.

  • Writing for an Audience.  Students need to be able to take their thinking from entries with notes and quick thinking to "writing long."  This requires free-writing to think through those big ideas and details that drove them there as well as structured writing that will make their ideas clear to a reader.

If my students can stash these in their writers' toolboxes, I know they can apply them in many different writing situations.  I'm guessing that as I work my way through this unit, I'll be adding to this post!

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