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Friday
Sep252015

Writing: The Ultimate Multi-Tasker

There is nothing more overwhelming to me than planning a new school year for my kids and ending up with subject lists a mile long. I wonder how we will ever get it all done and whether my kids will learn the skills they need. Over the years I have looked for ways to consolidate the number of subjects we tackle without sacrificing the important skills each one develops. One subject I’ve found that develops many skills at one time is writing.
 
Writing is often lumped in with literature or grammar as part of an overall Language Arts curriculum. However, as appropriate as this may be, writing is a skill that transcends a single subject area. In other words, writing can be used to develop and strengthen skills in many subjects. For example, writing assignments are appropriate for science, history, art, music, and more. Instead of keeping each subject separate, writing creates several opportunities for overlap, and develops key skills in the process.
 
Check out these important skills that grow naturally from the activity of writing.
 
Spelling and Vocabulary – As part of language arts, writing naturally invites students to expand vocabulary skills and learn to spell words correctly.
 
Systematic Approach – When students approach the writing process, they learn to follow the steps systematically by starting with a topic, gathering information, organizing ideas, creating an outline, writing the content, and revising their work.
 
Critical Thinking – The ability to articulate ideas and information on paper requires students to develop higher level thinking skills that lead to analysis and synthesis, which are an important part of college level work.
 
Structure – Organizing thoughts and concepts into a cohesive discussion through writing teaches the student to master the material by connecting new information to what the student already knows.
 
Research – The ability to look for information in a variety of places, such as the library or the Internet, and evaluate whether sources are trustworthy or not is vital to learning new things.
 
Presentation – Developing written, oral, and creative presentation skills is a byproduct of writing papers, writing speeches, or crafting a creative project display.
 
Reflection – Recognized as an indispensable learning activity, reflection through journal writing is used regularly at all academic levels because of the way it increases a student’s awareness of the material and creates connections to existing knowledge through intentional thought and application.

 

Wednesday
Sep022015

Breaking Big Papers into Small Bites

The question “How do you eat an elephant?” has a simple answer: One bite at a time. The answer for how to write a big paper is the same. Breaking big papers into small bites is the only way to get them done. More than just common sense or a writing tip, the ability to break papers and other big projects into bite-sized steps is an important skill students must develop.
The first part of this skill is knowing what steps need to be completed. Instead of viewing the process of writing from a big picture perspective, it’s helpful to take a closer look at the parts and pieces that go into the finished product. Each step in the process should be identified and broken down into smaller steps until they can’t be reduced further.
Next, students need to be able to organize each of the small steps into a logical order. The paper doesn’t necessarily need to be written from beginning to end, but it makes sense to put planning steps before drafting and a full draft is necessary before making final revisions. Prioritizing and ordering the steps helps the process progress smoothly.
Finally, it’s important to put a system in place for working through each step. This means setting aside the time and resources to complete the steps, such as visiting the library to gather sources and information or finding a quiet place to start drafting. A plan without a way to put it into practice isn’t very useful. Setting up some guidelines to help the writer follow-through is key.
As students develop the skill of breaking big papers into manageable bites, they are equipped to tackle projects without the paralyzing sense of overwhelm that can cause problems for all types of writers. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is the ability to break down a big task into small steps that lead to the end goal. After all, if you’re going to eat an elephant, you’ll need to take a lot of bites!

 

Friday
Aug282015

Getting the First Draft from Pencil to Paper

Students can get stumped when it comes to putting the first draft on paper. Getting the words to flow from idea to articulation can pose a problem for even the most experienced writer. There are two main strategies for writing a first. Both strategies can work at times, but only one works consistently.

The Hot-Point-Pen Method:

Pros - Sometimes it is best to simply write as fast as you can to get thoughts on paper. If the words are flowing and ideas are taking shape, writing them down in whatever form they come creates a good start and crafts a first draft quickly. This method works especially well when inspiration strikes and the right words rush onto the paper. A stream-of-consciousness style approach, writing fast and furious creates instant momentum and may help students and strong writers alike overcome the challenge of writing the first draft.

Cons – In addition to its excellent strengths, the hot-point-pen method has some noteworthy weaknesses. Perhaps the most important is the fact that waiting for inspiration to strike can take a while. Plus, if the words don’t flow, then the first draft may need major revisions or a complete rewrite to create a quality draft.

Planning and Purpose:

Pros - The planning and purpose approach is systematic and predictable. It follows a step-by-step process of planning the points of a paper in an outline or graphic organizer and identifying the purpose to keep ideas focused and on track. Writers who plan their papers carefully can reap the benefits when it is time to develop the points and sub-points into sentences and paragraphs. They can work through each part of the plan to craft a solid first draft. Sometimes the words flow, but this method works well even when inspiration is illusive.

Cons – The biggest reason some student writers pass up the opportunity to plan is the perception that it is too time-consuming and a waste of effort. It is true that careful planning takes more time to develop ideas and add details to an outline. While this planning often pays off in a stronger first draft and streamlined writing process, the time and effort spent planning could be saved if a muse provides an outpouring of words to fill the page instead.
Each strategy for writing the first draft has merits and can be a good choice in certain situations. The important part is knowing how to use both and when to choose one over the other. Of course, the slow and steady method characterized by careful planning and focused purpose consistently yields a solid first draft while the hot-point-pen method can be hit or miss. Still, when inspiration rolls in, let the words flow. Regardless of the path, putting words on paper is the key to completing the first draft.

 

Thursday
Aug202015

The No Tear Solution to Get Started Writing

Like starting a ball rolling, especially uphill, the first step of writing can be the most challenging until the process, like a rolling ball, gains momentum and creative juices begin to flow. It is this first step that can be the most daunting for students. They’ve read the assignment and picked a topic, but now the blank page is staring back at them, and their minds go blank too.
The solution is teaching the student what the first step is and how to make it happen. Too many students try to dive right into writing without taking the time to plan what they want to say. The first step is not writing the thesis statement or even the introductory paragraph. The first step is to plan. Like plotting points on a map, the student needs to set a course for the paper by organizing thoughts and ideas and grouping similar ones together.
Planning a paper can be done by crafting an outline or using a graphic organizer like a mind map. Regardless of the way the plan is constructed, putting together a plan accomplishes three important pieces to get the writing ball rolling.
First, creating a plan clarifies the purpose of the paper. As the student thinks about the topic and what needs to be said about it, the goal or overall message takes shape. Knowing the purpose is key to making writing meaningful.
Second, the plan isn’t permanent so it takes some of the pressure off. When students get ready to write, they may feel pressure to make it perfect. However, making a plan is like a blueprint; it simply serves as a guide. Students feel better about putting their thoughts on paper when they feel free to change them later.
Finally, the planning process prepares the student for the next steps of writing. When the plan has been sketched out, writing sentences to make paragraphs is so much easier because the writer can simply follow the points on the plan. Along the way, the ball picks up speed and ideas flow from the writer’s mind through the pen to paper.
The moral to the story: Never try to write a paper without making a plan first. This is the first and most critical step.

 

Wednesday
Jul292015

6 Steps for Tailoring Writing Instruction to Learning Styles

How can we tailor writing instruction to an individual student’s learning style? This is a question that I hear regularly. Each learner has different needs in order to add to their knowledge base. The goal is to recognize those needs and find a way to meet them as they learn to write. There are several practical steps that we can take to enhance the learning process. Here are six of our favorites.

Step 1. Begin by identifying the student’s style and natural bent. This usually requires observing the student doing homework and playing. For example, how does the student tell stories or use his or her imagination? Is the student more verbally or physically expressive? How does the student respond to written or spoken instructions for a task? Answering these questions can provide clues about how the student’s mind processes information and makes it meaningful.

Step 2. Match the student’s level to the type of writing assignment to make sure they are engaged without being bored or overwhelmed. For instance, beginning writers should have concrete writing assignments that are based on tangible topics and real-life experience. Advanced writers should be able to handle abstract topics that require analysis of information and ideas.

Step 3. Involve the senses in the writing process to create a multi-sensory assignment that appeals to a variety of learning styles. Writing that includes physical activity, auditory components, and visual elements helps students become immersed in writing and unlocks creativity. For example, allow students to explore their environment by touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and smelling what is around them. Break this down into separate assignments so students can write descriptions of what they observed through their five senses.

Step 4. Tailor topics to match the student’s interests. It is an obvious truth that we all do better work when we are interested in what we are doing. Although a young writer may or may not be excited about the writing process, every student can find a topic they enjoy. The goal is to help students choose a topic that allows them to explore a subject they are passionate about. A student who is passionate about sports might write about his or her favorite team. A student who loves music might choose an instrument, composer, musician, or song as the focus of a paper.

Step 5. Connect the writing skills to knowledge or skills the student already possesses. In order for information to be meaningful and memorable, students need to understand how it fits into the larger context of their experiences. When the writing process is related to ideas the student already understands, it will make more sense and stick with the student. For instance, using analogies, stories, games and more can create context for the student to expand their knowledge in a new area. This means finding out what the student already knows in order to build on that.

Step 6. Integrate writing concepts with other subjects of study. For example, learning may occur differently when studying science than studying history, but each subject has engaging opportunities to write. Capitalizing on the learning happening in other subjects allows students to develop a well-rounded approach to writing skills and the learning process in general.
One important skill for students to develop is the knowledge of how to learn. As each student learns in his or her unique way, instructors can enhance the process by paying attention to the student and providing guidance that meets the student’s needs.