I’ve spent most of my teaching career teaching at inner-city Title 1 (low-income) schools. As such, it was a bit of a shock for me when I took over a 5th grade G.A.T.E. class at an affluent school for the final two months of their school year. Teaching at a year-round school, there are many such opportunities. It was my off-track vacation time, and their teacher could not finish the school year.
I had never before taught students quite like these G.A.T.E. students. These kids openly, in fact brazenly, did the math when receiving a writing assignment. They cared about the writing assignment exactly as much as the math told them to care about it.
Here are the two MATH QUESTIONS these students asked NON-STOP:
1. Is this graded?
2. How much of our final grade is it?
Depending on the answers to those two questions, they would then quickly determine how much time and effort they were going to invest in the assignment.
They would decide:
• I better get started on it right now, and I must do a great job. Also, I need to carefully check my work for careless mistakes. OR
• I can goof off for 7 minutes and then quickly dash off the assignment. I’ll probably get an A, but if I get a B, it’s not that important because this one grade shouldn’t affect my overall grade. OR
• This isn’t graded? Hey, Joey, what are you doing after school?
If it wasn’t graded, these students didn’t care about the assignment. Of course, I was a replacement teacher, and it was the end of the school year. Furthermore, they had loved their permanent teacher and were not trying to make things easy on me. As I quickly learned, their previous teacher had been a voracious grader. The result was she had trained these students to work for a grade and not for the pride of a job well done. In short, I had never done so much grading in my life! There was no discussion—just grades! And it worked!
Struggling Students ALSO Do the MATH before they begin a WRITING Assignment
Many inner-city students, remedial students, ESL students, and students with learning disabilities also do the math before they begin a writing assignment. For them, they don’t like how it all adds up. For many of them it adds up to failure, so why get started? These students often become reluctant writers.
Over the years, I have taught many students who fall into this latter category, and I learned early in my teaching career that I must get these students writing, and I must get them writing fast. Quite simply, teaching students how to receive a writing assignment, break it down, and then begin and finish the assignment changes THE MATH for these students.
After they can do all that, I can layer all kinds of fantastic writing instruction on top of all these core writing skills. With these core writing skills firmly in place, students respond MUCH better to all the other writing instruction I layer on top. With these core skills in place, THE MATH has changed, and as such, students will invest more effort in the outcome. They become just like those G.AT.E. kids!
Then I Layer On More and More Writing Skills and Writing Techniques
In teaching writing, there is a foundation. Metaphor and simile is not a part of that foundation. Writers layer those skills and techniques on top of the foundation. When used skillfully and with purpose, metaphor and simile are tools that make writing better. However, using a metaphor or a simile is not the goal; effective communication is the goal.
I’m going to use acting with an accent as an analogy: In acting, an actor creates a character and then layers on the accent. The accent is like a hat or a costume that the actor layers on over his character. The character is supposed to be a real person, not an accent. Put simply, the accent is not the character. The accent is simply a layer that is placed on top of a character. Novice actors think that the accent is the character, and this makes it very difficult to see a real person underneath the accent.
In short, teachers should create a writing foundation, and then layer on writing tips, writing tricks, and writing tools. Be sure to go to the homepage and check out Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay in order to learn about a highly effective foundation that helps create writing success for both elementary school writers and struggling middle school writers.