Creating Engagement through Choice

Last week, I was once again honored to spend a morning in Beth’s classroom.  If you’ve ready my previous posts, you might remember that I spent time in her classroom last year and was in awe of how she was using choice novels as the basis for students to write literary analysis essays.  This year, she’s still focused on choice, but she’s taken it to another level.

Beth’s juniors are working on writing persuasive pieces.  But these are not the dreaded five paragraph essays. Rather, her students are writing pieces in which they are trying to prove a point–a real point–that is relevant to their lives.  Some of them are writing letters, others essays, and some even graphic cartoon strips.  In so doing, they’re using all of the elements of good writing.  They’re identifying their purpose, and they are determining what methods and details they will use to achieve their purpose, and they’re using mentor text to help them determine appropriate structure.

Now this last piece is really interesting.  Because the students are using so many different genres, a major task for Beth is to find mentor text that is appropriate for the individual students.  She had a stack of copies and was still in the process of finding more, but she seemed undaunted with the task.

During work time, Beth conferences with students to find out what they’re working on, where they’re stuck, and what they need to do next.  She doesn’t TELL them what to do; rather, she asks questions continually and guides them to answer the questions for themselves.

The power in all of this is that it truly creates agency for the students.  They are the determiners of what they learn, and with guidance from Beth, they are able to move forward.

Now don’t get the idea that this is an unstructured activity.  During the lesson I observed, Beth provided two mini-lessons and several catches.  Each time she brought the class together, she modeled, using her own writing, how to complete the next step in the process.  She used a very personal topic for her own writing, one that students could watch her grapple with in an authentic manner.

To watch these students  write and struggle with topics that are meaningful to them is so different from watching students attempt to write to canned prompts.  If we want our students to become writers, it’s this type of authentic writing that will get them there.



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