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Fundamentals of (Re)designing Writing Units, The: useful professional and student resources for classroom lesson design and writing units

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Prepare students to take on any writing challenge, including district- and state-mandated literacy tests. Perfect for teachers, curriculum designers, and literary coaches, this title provides guidance for designing new writing units and revising existing ones across content areas for grades 5–12. You’ll discover practical strategies and best practices for teaching skills in drafting, editing, revising, peer feedback, assessment, and student collaboration. Consistent and engaging lesson design based on these principles will prepare students to take on any writing challenge, including district- and state-mandated literacy tests.

Benefits

  • Examine the stages of the writing process and the benefits of teaching students to work through them.
  • Assess the particular importance of the feedback stage of students’ writing process.
  • Study the components and rationale of the backward-planning approach to unit design.
  • Gain access to downloadable templates, checklists, rubrics, and student activities useful for guiding and assessing students in their writing.
  • Explore comprehensive lists of online resources and tools that educators and students may use in lessons aimed at writing.

Contents

Introduction

1 The Importance of Writing to Learn

2 The Stages of the Writing Process

3 The Backward-Planning Approach to Unit Design

4 Culminating Assessments and Criteria for Success

5 Effective Lesson Design: The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

6 Launch the Unit

Epilogue

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Introduction

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Writing is an integral part of students’ education. It is not just about the art of communicating and expressing oneself well for different audiences and purposes; writing also expands and embeds learning (Graham & Hebert, 2010). When we write about what we read, we grasp the content more fully. It is a powerful and effective means for learning in every subject area, and the possibilities for written discourse across disciplines are endless. For example, in social studies, students write historical journal entries from the point of view of an individual experiencing a past event; in science, students take detailed observational lab notes; in mathematics, students justify their solutions to a mathematics problem; and in physical education, students record the rules and instructions for how to play a game. Writing is a 21st century skill, and the benefits of learning to write well have far-reaching implications, as stated in Writing Next (Graham & Perin, 2007), a report commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation of New York that discusses research-based techniques to improve writing:

 

Chapter 1 Writing Instruction Recommendations and an Introduction to Writing Types

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We take for granted the fact that writing must be taught in school. After all, it’s part of the age-old trifecta of Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In truth, there are logical reasons and benefits to mastering the art of written discourse, as mentioned in the introduction to this book and in this chapter. Plus, there are proven methods educators can employ to teach students this craft. Since our youth are unfortunately underperforming, learning to write proficiently is an imperative that needs critical attention. I’ll address these points at the beginning of this chapter with specific emphasis on research findings and instructional practice recommendations gleaned from two reports—Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools (Graham & Perin, 2007) and Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading (Graham & Hebert, 2010). The latter document, which emphasizes the impact writing can have on reading comprehension, builds on the findings of the former report. Later in the chapter, I’ll delineate different types of writing and their associated genres and subgenres to give you an overview of the realm of writing opportunities for teaching and learning.

 

Chapter 2 The Stages of the Writing Process and Digital Environments

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Although the writing process has evolved over time, D. Gordon Rohman (1965) is credited as the initial source of the three-stage model that comprised (1) prewriting, (2) writing, and (3) rewriting. The process is now more expansive and is often presented with the first five of the following stages. Some researchers include reflecting as an additional sixth stage, which I believe to be prudent.

1.Prewriting

2.Drafting

3.Revising

4.Editing

5.Publishing

6.Reflecting

Writing Next points to the benefits of teaching students the stages of the writing process so they can produce well-constructed products: “Teaching adolescents strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions has shown a dramatic effect on the quality of students’ writing” (Graham & Perin, 2007, p. 15). This process is meant to be instructive. Therefore, deliberately teach each step in a systematic way so students apply what they learn directly to their own work to maximize the likelihood of achieving optimal results. Ruie Pritchard and Ronald Honeycutt (2006) explain:

 

Chapter 3 The Backward Planning Approach to Unit Design: KUDs and Guiding Questions

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When planning any unit of instruction, there is an orchestrated method to help ensure that optimal learning takes root. This chapter introduces the components of backward planning in general and focuses on the first stage of this research-based design process.

Essentially, backward planning is the practice of designing units by beginning with the learning outcomes and what constitutes success in a final product before creating specific lessons. When starting with a clear focus on goals and evidence of learning, you can be more intentional in lesson planning so each lesson has an express purpose to support overarching unit goals. Teaching in this manner has proven to optimize the likelihood for success. For example, John Hattie (2009, 2012), renowned synthesizer of more than eight hundred meta-analyses, cites in his seminal work Visible Learning that backward planning is a sound pedagogy that correlates and contributes to an increase in student achievement. As Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (1998) state:

 

Chapter 4 The Backward Planning Approach to Unit Design: Pre- and Culminating Assessments and Criteria for Success

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Once you articulate a unit’s learning outcomes by identifying what students should know, understand, and do (KUDs), it is time to determine how students will show evidence of learning—the second part of backward planning. The focus of this chapter is on the culminating assessment and the criteria against which it will be assessed. Additionally, I suggest ways you can preassess to gather useful information about students’ writing capabilities and genre knowledge. I feature tools and strategies for you to create or redesign writing prompts, checklists, and rubrics and discuss writing models, anchor papers, and grading. This culminating assessment and the accompanying criteria, together with the KUDs, will guide you in orchestrating learning experiences to teach key skills. During lesson planning—the last stage of backward planning—you’ll have the opportunity to incorporate appropriate resources, instructional strategies and methods, differentiation, and various assessments, implementing all of these with a clear focus on helping students achieve well on the culminating assessment. If needed, review figure 3.1 on page 40 for a visual representation of backward planning to guide your reading of this chapter.

 

Chapter 5 Effective Lesson Design: The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model and Differentiation

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Most of us have experienced the situation of teaching the same skill over and over without managing to produce the desired student results. We feel disappointed because we’ve let our students down. There could be numerous reasons for this frustration, but one could be not systematically and explicitly teaching the skill, strategy, or process in a way that yields success. That’s where gradual release of responsibility can help—an instructional model for teaching new learning (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). In this chapter, you will read about the aspects and benefits of this model along with a clear example, plus receive an inventory of generic ways and resources to differentiate instruction. When you create lessons for your unit, refer back to this text for support in finding appropriate lesson design and differentiation ideas.

The gradual release of responsibility model provides students with a continuum of support. It begins with teachers assuming control initially and moves to an eventual point where students take ownership of applying the new learning independently. David Pearson and Margaret Gallagher (1983) say this about the strategy:

 

Chapter 6 Launching the Unit

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You have learned about the fundamentals of designing and redesigning writing units—the importance of writing and its different types, the six stages of the writing process, options for using digital environments, an effective approach to unit planning (backward design), KUDs, culminating assessments and criteria for success, preassessments, lesson design through the gradual release of responsibility model, and options for differentiation. Now you’re ready to step into the spotlight and launch your unit. This chapter details how to accomplish the following aspects of unit development.

•Pilot the unit.

•Discuss student work.

•Reflect on lessons.

Try as you might to plan for any scenario, there are unforeseen situations that you might encounter during unit implementation, such as unintentionally omitting certain skills that needed to be targeted, missing an opportunity to differentiate, wishing you had led a particular discussion that yielded critical thinking, or failing to present the criteria early enough in the unit. To circumvent any future issues, catalog any opportunities for revision in real time when teaching each lesson while they’re fresh in your mind. Later, reflect on your impressions and revise your teaching so that the next time, instruction will occur more smoothly and yield even better results in student achievement. This ongoing self-assessment will put you in good stead when beginning subsequent steps. If colleagues are teaching the same unit, everyone should share his or her reflections. Set up a system for note taking that works well, whether it is on the hard copy of the unit, in a journal, on a note-taking app, or electronically (perhaps on a Google Doc).

 

Epilogue

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Curriculum design is hard work and takes time to do well. Whether you are revising an existing unit you, a colleague, or a publisher wrote, or you’re creating your own, it requires dedication, creativity, and knowledge of myriad skills and content.

As you decided to embark on a comprehensive writing unit of instruction and read through this book to gain insights, you likely experienced a range of emotions. Sometimes you may have felt validated; other times, a task or information may have given you moments of confusion or self-doubt. Hopefully, you will have experienced excitement and eagerness to dive into unit planning. That’s the passion you were meant to harness and unleash.

Take stock of your own professional growth based on what you’ve read in this text. No doubt you’ve progressed enormously as you’ve challenged yourself to strive for depth, rigor, and clarity in what you teach and how you’ll teach it. So pause to focus on how far you’ve come from the beginning of the process to the end.

 

Appendix A: List of Figures and Tables

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Table 1.1: Writing Types—Characteristics, Purposes, and Genres

Figure 1.1: Sample writing continuum

Figure 2.1: Argument revision sheet

Figure 2.2: Suggestions for parents or guardians in assisting student writers

Figure 2.3: Questions to ask when editing

Table 2.1: Proofreading marks

Figure 3.1: Unit-planning components of backward design

Figure 3.2: Unit map template

Figure 3.3: Excerpts of knowledge items from sample unit maps

Figure 3.4: Excerpts of essential understandings from sample unit maps.

Figure 3.5: Sample KUDs and guiding questions for a unit map excerpt (transitions)

Figure 3.6: Sample KUDs and guiding questions for a unit map excerpt (figurative language)

Figure 3.7: Sample KUDs and questions for a unit map excerpt (argumentation introduction)

 

Appendix B: Professional and Student Resources

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A plethora of writing resources are available online and, of course, in print. Additionally, there are organizations and associations that support teachers and provide a wealth of resources to enhance curriculum and instruction. Peruse the following categories and the provided links for valuable teaching and learning resources. Visit go.SolutionTree.com/literacy to access these resources.

Some of the following are appropriate for students; others are for teachers to use. General resources for researching, citing, writing text types and genres, grammar and conventions, the writing process, and others include:

Duke (University) Thompson Writing Program (http://twp.duke.edu/twp-writing-studio/resources)

Google differentiated search lessons (www.google.com/insidesearch/searcheducation/lessons.html)

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/659/1)

University of Washington Tacoma’s Teaching and Learning Center (www.tacoma.uw.edu/teaching-and-learning-center/writing-resources-0)

 

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