This year I changed schools from a suburban, upper-middle class, majority white, charter school, to an economically and racially diverse urban school in the middle of Denver. It has challenged me and made me grow in a lot of ways.
That said, I struggled this year to give students the scaffolding, support and motivation they need.
One thing I was going to give up was my writing portfolio system. I just didn’t think it would work. But I decided to try it 2nd semester and the results have been notable.
Here is the system:
- Students keep their notebooks in class, thanks to my sweet Craigslist find! (I would require only composition books next time.) I recommend this to everyone, junior high, high school, anyone.
- Students taped TWO items in the back of their notebooks: a blank graph and a writing rubric.
- Every time they write, they track their words per minute in the graph.
- I walk around the room and ask students if they increased or decreased word count. I celebrate their successes. If their word count decreased, I ask them to analyze that data. What made today different than last time? Perhaps, they are just showing growth in a different way. Maybe they are writing in past test or using new vocabulary.
WHY is this great?
- Students are seeing their personal growth. They are becoming intrinsically motivated to improve.
- Due to #1, students are more engaged and less resistant to the writing process.
- It gives me something to recognize and celebrate. I try to find the student who needs some praise. I help them discover HOW they are growing in their writing.
- Whenever I see a student feeling proud of their writing, I recognize them for their achievements.
- When I see a student feeling down, I try to show them that growth is not always linear or can’t be counted.
How did we get there?
I added some steps to the Free-Write process for my beginner students. Instead of “write for 5 minutes, retelling the story, GO!” the process looks like this:
- First 1-2 times: I write under the doc cam. Students copy what I write.
- Next: I write under the doc cam, I underline the details (Mad Libs-Style). Students change the details, if they want to.
- When ready, I write under the doc cam, students write on their own. If they are stuck, they can copy what I am writing.
- Al final, they write on their own, no training wheels.
I am so lucky to have such brilliant coaches and teachers, like Diana Noonan, Connie Navarro, Sarah Rasay, Mary Overton and so many more in DPS who have helped me become a more effective teacher. It’s a lifelong learning process!