Education expert after expert (Richard Allington, Pat Cunningham, Lucy Calkins, Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell, Ellin Keene, Kylene Beers, and on and on) cites the importance of modeling and demonstration in teaching, rather than simply explanation. As the saying goes, “Well done is better than well said.” Nowhere is modeling more important than in the teaching of writing. Simply choosing a great mentor text that students can study as they work on their own writing goes miles toward lifting the level of their work. Choose and creating models to meet students’ specific needs is even better.
Here are few tips:
Doing a bit of your own writing and using it as an exemplar in your teaching can be highly impactful. First, because you go through the writing process as your students do, you’ll stockpile tips you can use to help them when the going gets tough. Also, you create a text that is similar to the writing you’re guiding them to do that they can use as a model. It helps if your demonstration writing:
- is just a level or two above the level of your kids’ work. If your writing is too high level, it will be harder for kids to find an entry point. It helps if they they see your writing as something they can attain.
- has a few of typical errors your students make, so that they can help you fix them. If many of your students are writing paltry introductions to their essays, you might write a piece that mirrors this, and then recruit them to help you beef it up.
Published texts that are similar to the kind of writing that students are doing not only serve as great exemplars, they also help kids see that the writing they are doing has a place in the world. When you choose mentor texts, you might consider the following:
- short texts, or excerpts of texts that aren’t too overwhelming. Poems are often wonderful choices.
- texts that are in the genre that kids are writing, mostly. Some genres can be hard to find, such as personal narrative. Mix in some fiction as well, and help kids to make connections between that genre and the one they are writing.
Certainly, demonstration writing and mentor texts will go even farther if you highlight for kids why they work well, and help them make connections between these models and their own work. When you demonstrate for kids, it helps to:
- make clear from the start the writing strategy or move you will demonstrate. You might say, “Watch me as I... (add dialogue to my story; find and add quotes to my information writing; strengthen this point in my essay with lists and definitions.)”
- name a set of replicable steps they might try to recreate the writing move, and repeat these several times as you demonstrate.
- use a visual, such a chart or picture to help them remember your demonstration.
At this week’s TCRWP Twitter chat, join Staff Developers Marie Mounteer, Mick Ochs, and Brooke Geller for a conversation about to power up instructional tools such as exemplars, models, and demos to help your students attain their best writing yet. As always, we welcome your questions and your insights, and any photos of tools you’d like to share.
Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @mcmounteer, @readwritemike, & @brooke_geller to chat about using exemplars, models, and demos to boost kids’ writing tomorrow evening.
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Anna Cockerille, Heinemann Editor and Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series, was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She also served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College. Anna has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Anna is currently serving as an editor on the forthcoming Phonics Units of Study series for grades K-2, and previously served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.
Follow her on Twitter @annagcockerille