My cyberamiga Amy Pento (@amypento) recently put into words something that’s been on my mind a lot in the last few years: “most teachers were not taught how to teach reading & writing, only how to assign it.” I know this is definitely the case for me, and I am still learning how to teach the art and craft of reading and writing to my students. Erin Carlson’s article in the March/April 2016 issue of The Language Educator that has been a great resource to help me accomplish more complex writing in my upper novice & lower intermediate courses. You can find the article here, compliments of Erin.
Students need to add more depth, details, and elaboration to their work, but frequently were stumped for what they could add that was within their current skill level. I took Erin’s ideas and changed them into a student-friendly handout and have seen excellent results in students’ writing and confidence levels. You can see a copy of one of the handouts here: Level up sentence framework travel E2
Here are some sample unedited student responses using the framework. These are level 2 students in the first unit of the year, responding to the question “What kind of movie do you not like at all?”
Perfect? No. But they communicate the authors’ ideas with support and depth. When this is viewed as assessment that can inform instruction, I identified some things that will be worked into the next class story so that we see them more.
This framework has become one of the structures that is now woven into each unit. The responses above came from a unit on entertainment; it’s an easy edit to make a version of this handout applied to each new unit. After we walk through each step of sample sentences, I have students respond to one of the questions on the back and we enter a feedback loop. They peer review work with a checklist that asks them to look for things like a variety of sentence starters, support for sentences, and connecting words. Students then have an opportunity to edit their work before submitting it to me. I rate them on the rubric included and provide some feedback on what they can do to improve. After returning the work to them, they review the feedback and have the opportunity to ask questions before we complete the second question.
We are currently working on a unit about World Heritage Sites and travel. I added a step to our feedback loop: showing exemplary student work (without names) and narrating what made it so good. Here are three examples:
I lightly edited these examples to correct grammar, spelling, etc., because I want students to see accurate language. However, this is still student work. I added highlighting and animation so that we saw the text first, and then the colors came in.
- gold: variety of sentence starters & expressions
- turquoise: adding support for opinions
- red: level up vocabulary like connectors
- red numbers: showing multiple examples of support for opinions
- purple: adding a related tangent that lends more support to the main idea
Student response to these strategy has been very positive. I’ve seen boosts not only in students’ written expression, but in their confidence and willingness to try new things. The feedback loop is a safety net where they know that the goal is growth, and where they won’t be penalized for errors. That combination has been a game changer!
Edit 12/3/18: My colleague from across the hall has made a German version of a level up sheet. You can find it here: Level Up Document_German Version Gracias, Will!