When we say we teach students to remember, we mean we support students as they recall and retell—with specificity—what happened in their writing practice. We find it helpful to have students focus on three specific kinds of remembering:
1. Remembering what was taught and what they did in their writing
2. Remembering how they did it and the results
3. Remembering why they did it
With this framework in mind, we plan engagements that help students learn to remember their actions so reflection becomes possible. Next, we consider the purpose of each kind of remembering. Consider the following points when designing your own models of teaching remembering:
In order to reflect, students need to recall both the writing experiences they shared and those they experienced as individuals. That seems obvious enough, but writers need support to remember specifics: What did we (the teachers) teach in minilessons and conferences—and how many times did we teach it? What anchor charts did the class make and use? What did the students do? What strategies did they use? What decisions and choices did they make? What texts did they refer to as models? What did the class talk about during share times? In other words, at a basic level, what happened?
If remembering what they did helps students tell stories about themselves as writers, remembering how they did things adds important detail to those stories. Most of remembering how is procedural knowledge: What were the steps? What materials were used? How did it turn out? And, perhaps most importantly, what would you have to do in order to do it again?
Finally, students need to remember why they did what they did as writers. What was the context or situation that led the writer to make this decision or take this action?
When we say remembering why, we are really referring to the whole array of conditional and contextual knowledge that surrounds a writing experience and impacts decision making: What was happening? What was important at the time? What audience was involved? What teachers or partners played a role? Asking someone why they did something presumes that they had reasons, good reasons. It presumes intention. And then it’s on the students to think about what their intentions were in a particular moment.
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Anne Elrod Whitney (top) is Professor of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. Colleen McCracken (center) is a second-grade teacher and Deana Washell (bottom) is a third-grade teacher at Easterly Parkway Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania.