How Children Learn To Write, Part 2

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One more quote from Catherine Gewertz’s interesting article in EdWeek—a really neat way to teach kids how to write evidence-based paragraphs is found at the end of this passage:

“First graders in South Strafford, Vt., are reading Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax [multiple times:] for fun, then for greater understanding, and then to hunt for evidence. They look for events in the plot that illustrate how the whimsical protagonist tries to protect the Earth and assemble examples into a simple paragraph to support the theme of the story.

Diana Leddy and Joey Hawkins, the teachers who developed the writing approach used with The Lorax, said the root of it is using writing to deepen understanding.

‘To be able to write well, you need to understand the material well, and to do that, you need to be a good reader,’ said Ms. Leddy. She and Ms. Hawkins work as consultants, primarily in New England schools, and also for the New York City-based nonprofit Student Achievement Partners, whose founding partners co-led the writing of the English/language arts common standards.

Ms. Leddy’s and Ms. Hawkins’ method reinterprets a tenet that has been central to many in literacy instruction.

‘It’s been an axiom that children should write about what they know,’ Ms. Leddy said. ‘That can mean writing from personal experience. But our interpretation is that we can help them know something, and that opens up a lot of areas for them.’

A memoir, a speech at a memorial service, and a college essay all offer testament to the need to know how to write from personal experience, said Ms. Hawkins. But ‘it’s a tremendous missed opportunity if all a kid writes about is what he knows.’

Accordingly, when Ms. Leddy teaches The Lorax, she walks through the text repeatedly with students, discussing it from a different angle each time. When they’re through, students learn to write short ‘hand paragraphs,’ with the thumb as the topic sentence—the Lorax cares for the Earth—followed by three examples of how he does that and a ‘pinky sentence’ restating the interpretation.” (Read more here.)

I love that mnemonic device of the hand—a concept even first graders can grasp. And I love Leddy’s point that yes, children should write about what they know—but we can help them to know something, beyond their personal experience!

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