Thursday, June 8, 2017

Have you ever written over one million words? These kids have...

I think, as educators, we can all agree that “the process of composing is, in a nutshell, critical thinking”. That particular quote is from our own Collin Nuismer, ELA teacher at Central Middle School. I definitely could not agree more. That is why I was so excited to hear about the work he is doing with his students, or more accurately, the writing his students are doing. For example, here is an excerpt from one of Collin’s student’s, Elizabeth, and her writing from a prompt about volcanoes.

the Earth shakes, the mountain trembles, on the verge of eruption
smoke billows from it’s dark maw, blocking the sun, casting a shadow on the world
lava spews upward,  raining fire from clouds of grey ashes,  gleaming bright in the gloom.
(For Elizabeth’s full piece and access to her other writings, follow this link.)

She, in addition to all of Collin’s students, is composing a large percentage of her writing on a web platform called, Write About. In fact, his students had been writing so consistently and with such quality, that Write About contacted Collin, as his students had surpassed 600,000 words written, and threw down the gauntlet to reach 1,000,000 words written. Both Collin and his students responded by crushing that challenge with over 1,360,000 words written this year!

Okay, so Collin Nuismer’s ELA students have written over a million words, is that not what is supposed to happen in an English Language Arts class? Well, yes, but it is not just about a number of words they have written; it is about the meaning behind those words. These students are developing their voice beyond simply answering questions or responding to a prompt. One of the reasons that have allowed for students to develop a more personal writing style has been the level of choice and ownership they are afforded both through Collin’s instruction and the Write About platform. In the words of one student, “I wrote a story about the exoskeleton of a grasshopper. I would have never actually ever chosen to write about that.” She, as well as others, agreed that having a multitude of writing prompt options allows her to write, experience, and think about topics that she would likely not have been exposed to previously. Collin has purposely implemented ample opportunity within his courses for student choice and Write About enables him to do that with relative ease.

Alright, writing options and developing one’s voice are great, but what else do you have? How about peer review and assessment? Yes, these students are encouraged to review each other’s work for comment and assessment, helping students to become the experts in the room. Being able to read classmates’ work with ease has allowed for students to modify their own work. Writers who are well read are better writers. And given the opportunity to dissect another’s writing, both good and bad, only helps to enrich the writer’s style and understanding of language. In the words of another student, “It [Write About] helped me realize that I didn't have that much detail, and it taught me to add more detail.” And another, “I have started writing more as I have had peers checking my work.”

Finally, what makes 1,000,000 plus words and the frequency with which students write so important? When asking one class, “When considering the amount of writing you have completed this year, both on paper and with Write About, who of you would say these things have caused you to do more independent writing, outside of assignments and homework?” Of a class of thirty students, twelve, almost half, of those students responded “yes”. That is why we do what we do. Thanks, Collin, for developing in your students a passion for writing.

“I've been able to express my ideas better, and been able to refine it so it's better. I love Write About and I'm going to end up doing it during the summer.”
- Lelia (student)

If you would like to learn more about Collin’s adventure with writing in his classroom and Write About, be sure to visit him at PPS Tech Camp in his session, Writing Should be FUN! Choice, Authentic Audience, and Accountability to Engage All Writers.