- Starter/warm-up - Murphy and Smith key in on the basic practice of getting kids thinking about a thing before divining into that thing. In college we learned the fancy vernacular: "activating schema." The idea is to get the kids generating and organizing ideas based on their prior knowledge and experience, priming them to use that knowledge or integrate new ideas by most effectively chunking and fitting it with established knowledge. Pragmatically, it's a necessary tactic to help adolescents compartmentalize the chaos of their brains: ten minutes ago they studied Pythagoras and three minutes ago they were making out in the hallway - it's a lot to navigate.
- Workshops and Mentor Texts - This year my school offered PD with Kathleen Kryza, who - with the gift of alliteration - calls the cyclical pattern of introducing an skill, practicing a skill, and assessing the proficiency with the skill "chunk, chew, check." I found notes of this practice in the section of work shopping with mentor texts. The lesson asks several times for students to repeat a process of looking at a mentor text for something specific - descriptive diction, dialogue, reflective conclusions, etc. - talking/reflecting about what they learned from that text, then work shopping those skills. The core of this practice as cyclical allows students to bounce back and forth between reflection through texts that do well (so as to not get bored with one) and practicing their own craft.
- Final Reading and Writing Assignment - Cumulative while also the next logical step in the pattern, the duo of final work caps the pattern established in 2. It's not foreign or tricky, just the next progression. This frames writing as a skill that demands the coalescence of many tactics; none exist in a vacuum.
- Revision - Murphy and Smith emphasize peer response as their preferred means of revision. Peer response, they say, contains every facet of ELA CCSS: speaking and listening, acknowledging writing as a process, analysis/evaluation of texts, and collaboration. There was much in this section that I will attempt with more care in the coming school year. A standout was focused peer-response groups. The authors provide the example of practicing reflective conclusions. The teacher references the mentor text again, then allows the students to help each other on that specific part of the paper, minimizing the pressure to evaluate an entire piece (at one time, at least), thereby allowing the students to give more helpful feedback.
- Celebration- I've not yet mastered the art of timing. By the end of the trimester, I usually find myself cutting sustained reading time or journals to give the students enough class time to work on their final papers. The idea of "celebrating" their work has thus far been limited to me enjoying a beer upon completing the grading of their papers. But that mindset robs the students of a writing community. Despite our emphasis on revision, it tells them that writing was a task that you completed for a grade, just like last night's math homework. If I want the students to think differently about writing, it stands to reason that I ought to invest time in celebrating their accomplishment as - well - an accomplishment.
The lesson's design highlights the importance of warm ups to jump start prior knowledge, cyclical workshops with multiple mentor texts to practice and reflect, a final assignment paired with a final reading, a peer-response oriented revision, and the celebration. All of these lesson facets can incorporate the writing, reading, speaking, and listening demands of CCSS.
My concern, as I think about adopting ideas from this chapter, is with mentor texts. I often find myself writing articles tailored to my student's needs or specific lesson designs, but that's not always a sustainable option. I'm sure that with time I'll accrue a library of texts I find or teacher's recommend, but that doesn't help me now. Does anyone know of any resources that can help provide short mentor texts? Or does anyone have a way of keeping track of all of their mentor texts besides a file/folder of which they are particularly proud?