Plan for outcomes, not activities

As I’ve been revamping my old you-can-teach-writing website after a nearly three-year hiatus, I’ve been looking for up-to-date resources for teaching writing in way(s) that produce entire classes in which every student age 13 and over writes competently.

I don’t mean AP classes, or dual-enrollment for college credit classes.

I mean ordinary classes for ordinary teens and adults, the ones in which most entering students have little or no interest in writing.

What I am finding is that most current resources for writing teachers are activity resources. They tell a teacher how to use a website of vocabulary activities, for example, or suggest a tool for digital publishing.

The resources support individual lessons or, occasionally, lesson units.

I’m not finding resources that enable teachers to do the kind of all-year teaching that enables students—all students—to meet the kinds of annual outcomes that make them “college and career ready” by the end of high school.

More upsetting, I’m not seeing much awareness among educators that the lesson and unit education model doesn’t work any more—if it ever did.

Some days it seems as if the only thing that’s changed since I was in high school is that digital devices have replaced glue and glitter.

Learning to Write by Trial and Error

Building block pyramid broken, human figure toppledSome kinds of knowledge are acquired only  by trial and error.  For example, students need to see a direct cause- and-effect relationship between a particular writing choice and the its result before they understand the need for planning before they write.

If students discover they messed up only after they get their grade, writing teachers need to get students to see where in the writing process where a different choice could have produced a different outcome.  Focus their attention by asking, “Where’s the first place you could have made a change that would have changed how this outcome?”

The biggest messes are caused by not having a clear working thesis. The working thesis should be the first sentence students write; it’s the main idea that directs everything they do. Students may recall that as a fact they’ve filed under “dumb stuff my teacher says,” but until need experience of attempting to write without a working thesis before they realize effort they put into initial planning pays big dividends later.

Allow students correct as best they can  before deadline any goofs they discover before they’ve submitted a final draft .  Refusing to let students modify a topic or outline after they discover it won’t work is just plain dumb.

Giving students extra time to correct a first-part-of-writing-process error they discover at the last minute is dumb, too.  The whole point of planning is to develop the ability to figure out how to produce desired outcomes without trying all the available options.

Deadlines are marvelous for concentrating attention.

I learned that by trial and error.

Photo credit: “Stability 3” uploaded by Avolore http://www.sxc.hu/photo/596909