Do you ever remember staying up late to finish a paper, then arriving at class just to hand it in and jump into a new topic? Kind of anti-climactic. Then waiting a week or two, until you’d practically forgotten what you’d written, to get any kind of feedback.
A finished piece of writing should be celebrated and reflected on, if only to consolidate student learning immediately. But more than that, it gives me information about where the students think they are, and it fosters student ownership of their writing growth.
Having students reflect on their writing when finished with a piece, before getting teacher feedback, is one of the best returns on writing class time. All it takes is 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of the period when a final draft is due. Because when the students can articulate what they have learned while working on a piece, when they can identify what they did well and what they want to work on, and when they can ask me one specific question about their writing in the finished piece at hand—then I know they are primed to learn, and helping them move from where they are to where they want to go makes teaching the best job in the world.
What kinds of things do students say? Here are some things that my 10th graders wrote this week about their personal narratives describing an epiphany they had:
One thing I learned while working on this piece:
- Through this assignment I learned how good writing doesn’t always need to contain complex, difficult phrases. Sometimes I try to use complex words to make it seem like a great writing, when in reality it probably just made it confusing. I also learned that there’s no such thing as looking over your writing too much, because I found a few mistakes every time I looked over it.
- One thing I learned about writing was that if you already know what you are going to write about, it is easier to think about ideas while you are writing. If you don’t plan ahead, then you are going to run into problems.
- While writing this piece, I learned to put the reader in your situation instead of just saying what I did or what I felt.
- I learned that writing a good story or narrative first is more important than making sure your grammar is perfect.
One thing I did well, and one thing I want to grow in:
- I think I did well in description and word choice, and I’d like to grow in being able to have a strong voice in my writing; I felt that my writing lacked that a lot.
- One thing I felt I had done well was my ideas. I felt they were strong and complex, but written simply. One thing I want to grow into is writing in complex language, i.e. strong words and phrases that convey my point in few words, simple and concise.
- One thing I did well was varied sentence lengths, although I’m not sure if their structure was effective. I’d like to get better in writing good conclusions. I didn’t really like the one I came up with.
One specific question I have for Mrs. Essenburg about my writing in this piece:
- I felt that my narrative was a bit rushed, but I wasn’t sure what to do since I didn’t want to ramble on in my writing. Are there any tips in writing a satisfying writing while keeping it short, concise, and to the point?
- One question I have is whether or not my last paragraph made sense. I was told it didn’t and then I tried to change it.
- Am I too redundant? Is the sequence of events confusing, do you know what’s going on? I feel a little like some of the descriptions I used were a little cheesy.
- What are some tips for using figurative language better?
So, now I know what they want to know, I have my next few writing lessons outlined! (Plus, students have written another 50-100 words. Words that I don’t have to grade, but that are still impelling all of our learning forward.)
How do you engage students in metacognitive reflection about their writing?
P.S. Full disclosure: The photo at the top is 11th graders doing a different reflection on a different piece of writing. The 10th grade photos just didn't come out well, and I haven't gotten to reading their reflections yet. Yep, it's been that kind of week.