The transition to high school and high school writing expectations is not easy, and my fabulous grade level PLC team meets regularly to plan curriculum and instruction, with a focus on creating differentiated materials for our range of learners. Through out the year, my students have seen: paragraph frames for summary writing, sentence frames for introducing evidence, sentence frames for explaining evidence, modeled writing lessons, shared writing lessons, group evidence collection and analysis, rubrics, scoring guides, graphic organizers, outlines, peer discussion before writing, peer feedback, electronic feedback (hemingwayapp.com and paperrater.com) teacher feedback, revision oppourtunities and probably more. You name it, we have used it to support student understanding and writing development.
All that is probably why, at the end of the year, I am fielding questions like, "How many sentences should we have in our third paragraph?" Yikes, what have we created, dependent young writers expecting a step by step guide book for writing an essay from a basic prompt? Well they aren't getting one. I'm cutting the cord, pulling out the rug, and letting them sink or swim. No outline, no suggestions for the number of paragraphs they need. Just the prompt, and okay a rubric, but they have to go look at it themselves. I'm not explaining it. And sure, I gave them a writing group day to read their work outloud and get peer feedback, but that's it. After that, the work they turn in is all their own. It's the end of 9th grade. They should be able to write a multi-paragraph process piece over several days without me holding their hand at this point.
If this sounds harsh think of it as tough love. Scaffolds are meant to be temporary. You have to take them away at some point and be sure students can manage the skills you have been supporting for them. If they can't do it on their own then all I have taught them is how to lean on me, and I'm not coming to 10th grade with them. (At least I hope I'm not.) And, you know what. They can do it. Their writing is as good or better than anything they have done all year. Unleashed from the constraints of the scaffold, (let's face it scaffolds constrain as much as they support,) my students have found more of their own voice, made more of their own writing decisions and produced much more interesting prose.
Now, the question is, was I holding them back for half the year, or was the support and instruction up until this point necessary for them to be writing well now? Probably a bit of both, with as much variation as there are students in my classes. It only reminds me that scaffolds and differentiation need to be tailored to the student, withdrawn often, and only given when there is a clear need, especially in the second semester. I could go on and wax poetic about how great it is to be able to deliver targeted scaffolds digitally to my 1:1 class, but that would be stepping into territory covered better in Chapter 6 of Power Up. For now I'm just going to be satisfied that at the end of the year my students are better writers than they were in September.
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