Have you ever heard the saying, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist?”
It never fails. During a school year, students bring a book to my desk and pose the question, “Isn’t this a mistake, Mr. Butler?” Typically, it’s not just a book in question – it’s an award winning piece of juvenile or young adult literature. To the student, this is a fair question.
A writer’s desk must contain tools. Obviously, we aren’t talking about hammers, drills, and saws. I was speaking last week at a school for Read Across America Week, and this question popped up. “Mr. Butler, what is your desk like? What do you use to write with?”
“My students can’t write a complete sentence!”
How many times have I heard this statement from teachers? More than you might think. After traveling the country talking to educators about the teaching of writing, I have come to many conclusions. The first is – No one is addressing the REAL problem with student writing.
Nearly a year ago, my phone displayed the CNN alert that Harper Lee would publish Go Set a Watchman. Admittedly, when I saw her name on the alert, I feared it was announcing her death. What took my breath away was replaced with excitement over the news of the new book, or lost book as it has come to be known.
Now, a year later, my original fear has been realized.
The Internet overflows with blogs, and this is a good thing! It means that people – normal, everyday people – are writing. Blogs are not limited to any one subject area, rather, they cover everything from raising children to decorating your home.
“I don’t know how.”
When five year old Claire wanted to write down her story, it seemed perfectly natural to give her paper and pencil. The bright-eyed kindergartener looked up and uttered those words, “I don’t know how.” In response, the teacher replied, “Just draw pictures of your story, and you can tell me all about it.”
In the early part of 2003, a principal asked me to consult on writing benchmarks for his school. Before I attended my first interview with the classroom teachers, I spent some time reviewing the minimum standards for the state.
If your year-end assessment was next week, how prepared do you think your teachers would be? Before you collapse or have a panic attack, there is still time, and there are ways to help your teachers and students be more prepared.
Typically, this is the time of year is when I receive the most requests from principals for “a little extra help.” For starters, it’s never too late to give your students pointers for being successful on assessments. In fact, several years ago I conducted a workshop on essay writing with a group of teachers. After teaching my Process of Writing, a teacher raised her hand and asked, “Do you think I should go back and tell my students we’ve been doing it all wrong? Can we really make this change between now and the test?”
Evaluating teachers creates the perception they are doing something wrong. “Critique”, “analyze”, and “dissect” are interesting words as well. Regardless of the term you choose to use, I have found that evaluations are most effective when they do not focus on the negatives but rather on the positives and the suggestions for moving forward.
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