Ruth came to the realization that her classroom library was her best resource for enabling her students to become better writers. She used “mentor” text to show student what authors were doing. For example, when a student used the same types of sentences all the time, she would pull a book off the library shelf and explore it pointing out how the author used a variety of sentence structures or if a character had not been developed, take some time to read a paragraph or two that describes the character in a novel.
Here are some of Ruth Culham’s tips about the teaching of writing. See what you might give up and change to become a better teacher of writing.
Things We Do to Teach Writing
Dumb Things Sensible Things
Using worksheets Practicing new skills in writing created by the student
Giving Friday spelling tests Developing control over spelling words using multiple methods: high frequency, word families, phonetic, sight words, spell check, and other resources
Assigning vocabulary lists Exploring word meanings and developing a fascination for language
Teaching skills in isolation Teaching skills in context of reading, always moving toward deepening understanding of text
Assigning topics every time Making sure there is choice about format, genre, and
students write mode/purpose
Using formulas for writing Allowing the idea and purpose of the writing to
such as topic sentence and determine the organizational structure
three supporting details and
the five-paragraph essay
Grading based on compliance Evaluating based on performance, note growth,
and following directions celebrating effort
Covering everything every year Using a spiraling scope and sequence of writing skills that builds one year upon the next
Keeping students absolutely Creating a happy, working hum where students
quiet freely share, ask questions, and discuss
Dwelling on test prep Teaching the test format as a genre and further opportunity for learning
Marking papers for every Offering targeted, specific suggestions to revise
possible issue-big or small- and/or edit
that could be improved or
Teaching writing as an isolated Teaching reading and writing together, as mutually
subject that consists mostly of supportive language processes, one leading to the
grammar and other next
Teaching writing as a separate Teaching writing in every subject using mentor texts
subject to model how great writing looks in that context
Ruth Culham presents some interesting ideas, which we should reflect on. What practices are we using that could be done in a more meaningful way?
If you want to read more of her article, it can be found in the April/May 2014 Issue of Reading Today. Visit the School District Website and look under Library Services
http://public.sd38.bc.ca/sdweb/Lis/magazines/pro-d to find copies of this magazine.
Ruth Culham is also the author of, The Writing Thief Using Mentor Text to Teach the Craft of Writing.