The technique that transformed how I teach writing

Students walk into the classroom with a unique set of writing strengths and weaknesses. For struggling writers especially, improving can feel overwhelming and practically impossible.

One instructional technique has transformed how I teach writing.

With each new assignment, students choose one specific weakness to master.  Students can select the weakness they want to tackle, though I encourage them to choose one I marked in an earlier assignment.

I ask students to type the weakness at the top of the page.  Both the student and I know which weakness they’re addressing, so when I check in with them during in-class composing time, I can see if they’re indeed making improvements.  

This technique forces students to ask me questions during the writing process.  Is this sentence written in the passive voice?  What do you think about this topic sentence? Does this textual evidence work?  Also, it allows me to ask better questions of them.  Which weakness are you addressing? works much better than What questions do you have?

Then, when I grade their essay, I know one area to look for, and usually, a specific compliment to give.  

This technique works incredibly well for both accomplished and struggling writers.  Even the best writers have areas in which to grow. And for the struggling writers, writing seems less overwhelming if they have one weakness to address.  Finally, this system forces my feedback to be forward looking. Not, Here’s what’s wrong but Here’s how you can improve next time.

Students have a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses–and make clear, steady progress.  Success!

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