Prescription

Slice of Life #17

A good word in my life right now, with the Amoxicillin kicking in so that aches and coughs subside.  But I encountered prescription in a not so good way this afternoon in writing intervention.

I was in a class I hadn’t seen in weeks and back then the teacher was doing her own thing, not really trying the UOS lessons.  To complicate matters, both fourth grade teachers were combining their after school classes, defeating the purpose of having small group intervention.

So today.  Class opens with both groups in the room, in their seats and the one teacher (the other went to an appointment) asks students to think, pair, share about the importance of punctuation.  Then after sharing out — this took a long time — student were supposedly primed to look through their writing to do some editing.

Unfortunately, as I began to confer, I could find no one who had done any revision.  Their pieces were bare bones, not ready to fix up the punctuation.  I asked one student, “Did you write an introduction for this?”

“What’s an introduction?” she asked, genuinely curious. I gave her a sample and asked her if she wanted to try her own.

A boy raised his hand, which of course stopped all his writing, and the teacher was in a long conference on the other side of the room.  I asked him what he was working on.  He countered with a question about if these facts go here.  I had a hard time understanding what he wanted to know.

“Well, since you’re the writer, what do you think?  What would work best in this part?”  He looked at me like I was useless.  I looked for a checklist  in  his folder. Then his neighbor’s. None from the home team, but a student from the visiting class had one.  I pointed to elaboration on grade 3 and 4.  “Is this what you are trying to do? Are you asking if you should say more?”

He was asking for information about something about which I was clueless.  I said that I could see he was writing about an important topic, [why his dad matters to him] and that he should try writing in the air to see if the facts sounded right in that part.

Afterwards, talking with the principal about the incident, she said, “Oh, must be Step Up to Writing,”  Suddenly I realized what the boy was asking for –the prescription.  I got that he had been asking if this part (aka) the pink went with the yellow part?  He honestly wanted to structure his writing correctly, but could make no judgement about whether it was good, or if it was what he wanted to say. I wish that I could have grasped more quickly what that boy was trying to ask me.

Interpreting the formula he had heard made no sense to me since I abandoned SUW 15 years ago.  I see the teaching in the students’ work…and how different it is in that intervention than the student work in grade three and five. It was supposed to be a a time and place try workshop, a process approach with specific demonstrations and goals.

My prescription for the EL writers would be to give them a lot of moves, and instill a lot of language in their head about moves they can make as they write by writing with them.  Not a list.  Not a prescription for an essay.

Beyond a loose, skeletal idea of what one might put down on paper, pre-organizing the piece is like sticking parts of it into cupboards.  Organization is static.   Writing moves.  It is an action.  So our students cannot write fluently if they have to jam their thoughts into analytical patterns, into prescriptions the teachers don’t even use if they write.

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2 thoughts on “Prescription”

  1. Formulaic writing is easier to teach, I think. Maybe that is why the teacher is teaching writing that way. This is powerful, “Organization is static. Writing moves.”

  2. “Writing moves. It is an action. So our students cannot write fluently if they have to jam their thoughts into analytical patterns, into prescriptions the teachers don’t even use if they write.”

    I love this description of writing! It fully conveys the essence of and frustrations with the situation.

    And as a math coach, I could use the same description for problem solving with the small caveat that some teachers do use a particular prescription maybe over use the same prescription regardless of the situation.

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