|One moment of writing by juliejordanscott on flickr|
Establishing goals? Easy. The challenge is in the realization. No truth could be more apparent than in education where high-bars are continuously set for schools (I don’t have to name them) and failure is not considered an acceptable option.
Just two weeks ago an ambitious goal was established by my team teachers and I, stating:
All students will improve their writing by developing an opinion, incorporating descriptive language, supporting opinion with evidence and producing publishable bodies of work while maintaining a blog that will document their work over the course of the school year. Students will create a reflective portfolio and at the conclusion of the school year students will identify three areas of growth through the review of their work. Portfolio work will include all subjects.
Coming up with the goal was the easy part. An administrative initiative declared that “FLEX,” a course period meeting every other day, (previously dedicated to additional content instruction) be used to help students, “become better writers.” What self-respecting educator doesn’t want their students to establish their own, more thoughtful and colorful voice in written language? The heavy lifting comes once we dug below the surface and put such a charge into practice. Immediately some questions began to surface:
- How do all team teachers take an equal share of responsibility for achieving such a goal?
- How do we maintain equal expectations and evaluation policies across the team?
- How do we get teachers who see better writing as a bi-product of their student’s growth in their content areas to teach such skills as the primary focus?
The answers come in the value of team common planning time, teams of teachers looking at student work, and having student writing adhere to “focused correction areas” or FCAs.
Such a curt response may leave one thinking me to be naive or pie-in-the-sky. But considering the modest yet appreciable gains the team has seen moving towards this end of improved-writing facilitation, high hopes and expectations are being maintained for the rest of the academic year.
Notably, each teacher on the team has shared content deliverable by all team teachers that has included pre-writing steps and direction towards producing a final publication on each student’s blog. Such content has thus far included observing President Obama’s address to the students of America and examining one’s own sense of what is wealth through a unit, entitled “Material World.”
The team has also agreed to set aside common planning time to bring student work to the table, enabling each teacher to share how they might grade a student’s work and then calibrate their expectations accordingly with the rest of the team teachers. To limit teachers from becoming entangled in the many facets of good writing (spelling, punctuation, syntax, etc.) the evaluating is performed strictly on the FCAs established by the English teacher. A list that starts with a few, fundamental rules for writing (Thoughtful title, more than one body paragraph, an interesting grabber to begin… did mine work?) and then becomes more complex as student writing consistently achieves all FCAs put forth.
So suddenly we have four “English” or, to be fair “writing” teachers on our team. I wonder how others would tackle such a writing initiative within a team setting. What kind of successes have others had in similar authentic “team-teaching” situations?