Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Increasing the Level of Students' Writing

I am linking up with Fourth Grade Flipper today for Tried It Tuesday!

I don't know about you, but sometimes I will watch a teaching video like the one below and wonder, "How did the teacher get their students to talk like that?  On their own no less?  How do they push their students to go beyond "He is nice' when asked to describe a character?

I had an AH-HA moment a few weeks ago when I showed my students the video Austin's Butterfly which I have shared again below because it has been SOOO powerful in my class.

 I previously blogged about my students recreating the drawing assignment similar to the one in the video where they had to provide specific feedback to each other to improve their drawings.  We have now transferred that critique skill to our writing, and also our math work!  It has been amazing to say the least, and I wanted to share what we have been trying.

We have been reading The One and Only Ivan, and I wanted them to write about the characters in a deeper more meaningful way, referring to the text specifically.

(The question in the picture was an old one, not the current question).  

We started the process by sitting in our critique circle.

Then I asked the students to share what they had written so that we could all add specific feedback to make their responses better.  We use Marzano scales, so I used the language, bringing our writing up to a level three or four.

The first student to share was the one above, and it caused a bit of controversy.  In it he stated that Stella compliments Ivan's belly.  One of the students asked, "Did she?  I don't think Stella did that."  Then the most amazing part (in my humble opinion), one of my more reluctant readers who rarely shares said, "Yes, she did!"  He grabbed my book and said, "Look it says it right here." He defended the answer using the text!!! Are you kidding me?

As the students gave each other feedback, I encouraged them to remember about how in the video the students were very specific in their feedback.  They didn't just say, "Make the wings better." they said, "Make them shaped more like a triangle."  I encouraged them not to say generic things like "Add more details." but instead to offer feedback like, "Could you add more about what she looked like?" or "What did Ivan think about her?"  

Another student shared this:

And there it is, that teacher dreaded "She is nice" for describing a character.  But, this time, I didn't say a word. I let the other students offer feedback.  Here are a few of their responses:

"Who is she?  Can you be more specific with the character's name?"

"Why doesn't she like the clawstick?"

"How is she nice to Ivan?"

Their comments were very specific, and on point!  Here is his revised version:

We still need to work on spelling, but his content improved by leaps and bounds!

What have you been trying in your classroom?


  1. LOVE! I've got to share this with my kiddos!!! Even better...we will be starting the One and Only Ivan after I finish reading Elvis and the Underdogs. I'm super excited about this!
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  2. This video of the butterfly analogy is AWESOME!! Text based details have been something my students are really struggling with. I'm going to use this video with my class. Thanks, Kelly! Your students are doing an amazing job with your guidance! :)
    Fourth Grade Flipper


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