Monday, March 26, 2012

Finding Their Voice - As Writing Shifts From Narrative to Informative In the Common Core

Writing has been existing in the shadow of reading in many teacher's lounges, classrooms, curriculum meetings, and homes across our country.  There has been a significant emphasis on reading and improving reading scores.  The importance of reading as a life skill can not be argued, nor can the need to teach students to be more active readers of more complex text.  The Common Core Curriculum has pulled writing back into the light, putting equal value on the literacy skills and the writing skills of students across the curriculum, not just in English/Language Arts classrooms.   With writing and reading on equal footing comes the challenge of how to help students find their voice as writers along a continuum of writing standards ranging from fiction to technical writing and narrative to argumentative or research writing.  

Students are doing more casual writing than ever - summarizing information in 140 characters or less. This isn't a bad thing. One of my biggest complaints as a teacher was that kids didn't know how to summarize information. Texting is forcing them to put ideas in their own words...using as few words and characters as possible!  How do we capitalize on their desire to share every idea, opinion, moment of their lives with their peers?  From Kindergarten on, young writers need opportunities to read different types of writing - narrative, poetry, informational -as models for the kinds of writing they will be expected to do.  Just as we encourage them to speak up in class, share answers, participate in discussions verbally, they need to see that they can have this same active voice through their writing.  If you want to persuade someone to go along with your idea or accept your opinion, you need to have facts or information to back up what you are saying...or writing.   Students can develop a confidence in how they have built their own thinking by spending time in class learning how to synthesize ideas from multiple sources.  Students can learn how to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with their peers by learning how to write supported arguments defending a "thesis" or an answer to a research question.  This isn't just for high school students.  Six year olds have a natural curiosity and a willingness to come up with an explanation and an opinion on any number of things. My 12 year old wrote a well defended argument on the topic "Why I should have a cell phone" complete with quotes from other sources.

Story telling, descriptive writing, poetry all have a place in the Common Core Classroom. Narrative writing skills transfer to persuasive and argumentative writing.  All require a precission to the writing - an attention to detail and word choice.  Good narrative writing flows, using transitions, and a plot diagram to keep the reader moving through the story.  Persuasive or argumentative writing requires a clear framework or outline to build upon. Instead of specific details, the focus is on providing evidence or facts to back up what you say. Narrative is a way for writers to put themselves and their readers in situations that they may not be able to experience in their real life, a way to try out new ideas. Persuasive or argumentative writing takes this concept to the next level, allowing the writers to express their ideas or new ways of thinking based on research or the iterpretation of the ideas of others.

As we plan for the shift to the Common Core, we should support teachers of all content areas as teachers of not just reading - but of writing.

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