Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille
When we teach students to express themselves well in writing, we are doing so much more than simply helping them to do better on school assignments. We are giving them tools so that they can express themselves to the world in the best ways possible. When we teach students to become better writers, we are teaching them to become better thinkers. We are teaching them to connect ideas, to unpack arguments, to angle details, and to draw conclusions. Perhaps most importantly of all, we are teaching them that what they have to say matters.
Many students feel powerless in their environments. They don’t feel they have a voice, or a place in the world to share it. In writing workshop, we can teach them that they do have power, the power of words, and they do have a voice, a voice they can use for good. Any writing unit in which students are taught to choose and grow their own ideas (every unit in the Units of Study for Opinion/Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing, that is) will help students to find their voices. But there are some that are more specifically angled toward helping students to identify and express their opinions on topics that matter to them. These are:
- The 3rd Grade Unit Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials rallies third-graders to use their newfound abilities to gather and organize information to persuade people about causes the children believe matter: stopping bullying, recycling, saving dogs at the SPCA.
- The 4th Grade Unit Personal and Persuasive Essays channels students to learn the value of organization and form as they gather evidence to support and express an opinion on topics they know well.
- The 5th Grade Unit The Research-Based Argument Essay, teaches fifth-graders to build powerful arguments that convincingly balance evidence and analysis to persuade readers to action.
- The 6th Grade Unit Research-Based InformationWriting: Books, Websites, and Presentations helps students to explore the broad topic of teen activism in order to teach readers about a topic, using increasingly sophisticated ways to draw on and structure information to explain a position or make a call to action.
- The 7th Grade Unit The Art of Argument:Research-Based Essays channels students to write essays that build convincing, nuanced arguments, balancing evidence and analysis to persuade readers to shift their beliefs or take action.
It’s no coincidence that a primary focus of writing in 8th grade, the culmination of writing workshop, is to tackle writing for social activism. Students build on all they have learned about the power of their opinions and ways to craft writing to support them to tackle their most sophisticated writing projects yet. Two 8th grade units, incidentally both co-authored by Cornelius Minor, a moderator of this week’s Twitter chat, are dedicated to this kind of writing. These are:
- Investigative Journalism, in which students learn to use sharp observations of life to write news and investigative articles about meaningful topics, crafting vivid narratives and elaborating multiple perspectives. They’ll write to shine a light on issues in their communities and to actively stir their readers to take action.
- Position Papers: Research and Argument, in which students learn to compose principled arguments by drawing on evidence, contextualizing their positions, and addressing multiple perspectives.
Join Cornelius Minor and his TCRWP colleague Eric Hand at this week’s chat to learn more about ways to teach your students that their voices matter, and to angle your instruction and your resources to support them in shouting their opinions from the rooftops, through their writing.
Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @eric_hand_TC & @MisterMinor to chat about amplifying student voice through writing workshop tomorrow evening.
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Anna Gratz Cockerille, Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series.
Anna was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and taught at several TCRWP institutes, including the Content Literacy Institute, where she helped participants bring strong literacy instruction into social studies classrooms. Anna also has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and Navigating Nonfiction in the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Most recently, Anna served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.