Access to the Passage During Writing?

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21 thoughts on “Access to the Passage During Writing?”

  1. I may be incorrect but I thought Robert’s original explanation was that going into the text to retrieve the information, whether copying or not, had the big benefit of forcing the kids to read with accuracy.

    That Textivate idea is very cool but from a Latin teacher, so we modern language teachers need to keep that in mind. Everybody knows that Latin teachers (and students) have 73% more smarts than the average human, and when you consider the authors they have read, it is easy to see why.

    Now, I’ve been waiting for a place to express my newest thought on writing. I really think that we waste time trying to teach writing within those first 500 hours we have in a four year program. I just don’t think 500 hours is enough for the kids to write from.

    So whether we use Textivate to up the critical thinking level or have the kids dig passages out of a text in order to get them writing, I still think it’s too early. Twice this year with my level 2 kids, when the day was perfect for some reading or auditory CI, I went on writing jags with them and it sucked.

    From now on I’m going to wait until my kids are at least in French 16 before having them focus on writing. OK, a little hyperbole there, but the point is clear. We just write too early! They’re not ready, I say.

    1. Agreed.

      I help some of my former Spanish II students with their writing assignments this year and even very good CI students are struggling in their Spanish III assignments. I think one reason is that they are reading things in English and then trying to write about them in Spanish. I’ve told them it is better to find articles in Spanish and that way they’ll know what sounds right. I’m not their teacher this year, though, so they don’t have to listen to me. I do like the essential sentences though–so thankful for Robert sharing that with us this year.

  2. As always, cosmic timing on these posts. I just did my first writing retell in a LONG time. On purpose. More on that later.

    To address the question in this post, I have always done the essential sentences as described by Robert. The kids copy the sentences. But I don’t think of it as “just copying.” Here is why: Like Ben states above, they don’t and can’t possibly have nearly enough hours to write and edit simultaneously, which is kind of the expectation of traditional classroom. Of course writing and editing are two separate processes, so in my opinion we need to be clear on exactly what we mean by “writing.” So if I want them to focus on spelling / mechanics I do dictee or essential sentences. Otherwise free write / writing retell is all about telling a story.

    For me, “writing” means getting the story down on paper. I often call it “spewing.” When I have kids write, no matter what language (i.e., in a WL class or in writing workshops/camps I have facilitated…English speakers) I want them to get their ideas on the paper during the quick write. I tell them to write without worrying about what it looks like. Editing / revising happens later. In my WL classes at level 1-2 later means never. I don’ t claim to have the perfect process, but there are not enough hours for CI so I don’t worry so much about how much we are writing. And when we do write, we write and don’t edit. Unless, of course, there is a student question about something and then I address that in only as much detail as is warranted by their attention and comprehension.

    Back to the essential sentences. I love this practice, because it gets really deep without getting too complicated. The kids copy the sentences. They have to pay attention to spelling, punctuation, accents. This is the one instance in any of my assessments where they can miss points for spelling and mechanics. Beyond that is the more interesting (to me) aspect of why they chose the particular sentences. Robert’s criteria get at this. I think it is brilliant. Whenever I do this I learn so much about how the student views the story and which details seem important to them.

    I never thought of doing this w/o the text, but that could also be cool. I think it would give generally similar info (how much have they really acquired?) as a free write only it would be shorter / more succinct. Just shooting from the hip here. I don’t actually know. I might try this for variety. This may invite more opportunity for student questions on editing bc of the shorter length.

    Today’s writing retell of the story revealed some very exciting things. Mainly, the writing showed clearly that most kids were “hearing” the story as they wrote (as opposed to thinking up the story in English and putting in French words). The language came out fluidly and “sounded” French!!! I was blown away by a few of the slower processors / less confident kids who hit it out of the park. I am happy I held off on the writing retells / freewrites for a while.

    I LOVE the bi-weekly template btw…this definitely played a significant role in the quality of the writing.

  3. Yeah bc the bi-weekly schedule requires such an intense amount of input first.

    And jen I thank you for your distinction between writing and editing. Of course, the kind of writing your kids did today was perfect, unedited, they can learn the correct spelling later but now it’s all about producing from sound.

    When the kids produce (writing/speech) from sound, they are doing it naturally. When they are forced to turn it into left brain analysis, on the other hand, what they write is not based on the actual language but on a vastly limited and intellectualized form of it they have in the two dimensions that are stuck in the left hemisphere of the brain where language doesn’t live. And the result is as the form – flat work. It’s like saying balancing linear equations involving fractions on paper amd taking a test on them is all that math is. Uhh…no.

  4. I’m loving the responses here, y’all, thank you! I would only do this play on essential sentences levels 2+ or with a fast processing level 1 late in the year. For all normal purposes, would we say writing should stay at a minimum the first two years and consist mainly of freewrites, essential sentences, and textivate.com-style stuff?

    1. James,

      That is all I do!

      If you accept the fact that they cannot produce output in the form of writing or speaking until they have had tons of input, they you stop torturing yourself.

      All this writing stuff in the first years is useless, I just do it to justify my job and appease administration, parents, and students who are clueless about the research anyways. So everyone is happy…

    2. Yes, James, and I increasingly think that the kind and amount of writing you describe above should extend to the full high school program. The AP people are off their rockers to test writing and speaking output after only 500 hours when at leas 10,000 are needed for that kind of output.

      We go around and worship the AP exam and try to get kids ready for it bc we know the power of CI but even with that power our kids can’t do the output needed for real success on the AP and so what are saying about ourselves?

      We know that the AP exam is too hard in terms of output for our kids, any kids, anyone anywhere in the world who has had that amount of time to prepare for it, and yet we keep setting up AP sections in our buildings? WTF? They won’t be ready!

      What don’t we get about that? Do we really need the approval that badly as to allow ourselves to be led around by a program that is inherently full of lies about what kids can really accomplish in a 500 hour program in high schools?

      1. I’ve been so tired lately (our spring break is next week) that we’ve been doing mainly reading. I’ve been mixing in some writing, too, because, like simple dictation, things like freewrites, essential sentences, and textivate.com stuff eat up the clock pretty well for everyone. Horrors of horrors, I even feel the grammar monster rumbling inside me.

        I have to admit frankly that I am so very tempted to continue without oral/aural CI after the break. But I know it’s so important. These last two weeks of reading have made sense and have been productive ONLY because of all the stories and PQA that came before. We earned those readings days by our work in the trenches of oral/aural CI. I need a killer post-spring-break script that will get some more high frequency words. With only seven weeks, we’ve really only got time for 2 or MAYBE 3 more rounds of PQA/story-asking anyway. It just feels like a tall order right now for me personally.

      2. One good thing about the AP is that it brings focus to a year long program, and since we know the value of CI, all in the room would stay on the jGR better. But at what cost?

        Now, if a child gets a better looking transcript out of it, and our job is to help kids get into college, then what? Is that such a bad thing? It’s a game, right?

      3. So then kids feel bad because they can’t write well and feel that they can’t learn languages.

        We have an exchange student from Spain this year who visits my class regularly. Her input really made more of an impact on my students than I ever could. I asked her about Spanish classes in Spain and she said she doesn’t do all that well in them. “I know how to talk, but I just don’t do well on the other correct grammar when I have to think about it.” Of course, correctly written Spanish has its place, but forcing it too soon really seems to turn off many students.

  5. Annemarie Orth

    This is the first year that I notice that the kind of errors my students make in their writing are the kind of spelling errors my heritage speakers make, which I think is a huge success. They do it by what they hear. It also makes me think I need to do more reading with my 7th and 8th graders.

    On another note, I sat with my 6 year old daughter for her kindergarten conference yesterday and I was struck by the similarities between what the kindergarten teacher does to teach literacy and what we do as world language teachers in the TCI realm do to teach language. My daughter has to draw a picture and write a story about it, although she doesn’t know how to read quite yet (this doesn’t really make sense to me). There’s no emphasis on spelling or grammar yet. She also has to try to retell stories that the teacher tells in class.
    It’s just reaffirming that it makes perfect sense what we do.

  6. Hello people

    I’m not familiar with this essential sentences technique and will look into it more.

    I have taught writing in small private classes – only 6 students max in a private language school. So I’m not sure if any of this is applicable to the hard-knocks world of high-school teaching.

    With Thai teenagers studying English at elementary level- I set up a circuit for them for the first 30 mins of class. with 6 or so stations- mainly reading and writing / vocab exercises. I got them to move on every 5-6 mins.

    – on the British Council Teens website there are loads of crazy pictures that invite kids to write captions for. Well I printed them off in colour and got the kids to choose one they liked and then they wrote about what they saw.
    http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/freetime/photo-captions/photo-caption-017

    Then I went round with them individually (sorry this isn’t really practical for most people here) and helped them with the writing – asking them questions to get more details and then correcting it.

    – They write their piece up in their book all neat. These books were foldable diary type things I’d got them to make earlier in coloured paper. The collected a few bits of writing in this book. Their booklets also had their personal inventory in there.

    – another station was reading a Graded readers level 1 easiest. Sometimes it was just the first part of the reader. I had them write simple book reviews. I helped the first student complete theirs. So they had to write the title of the book and the reviewer’s name, and give it a certain number of stars out of 5. Then they wrote a sentence under “Something I liked about this book” and then a sentence under “something I didn’t like about it”. I stapled the reviews to the readers. So the next student could see what their classmate thought of the book.

    – at the end of class I asked them if they wanted to read each other’s booklets and they did. I put them in two teams and did them a quiz at the end about each other – and they remembered a lot about each other. Seemed to go down well.

    For intermediate students in their early 20s I did an exercise where I wrote lots of words on slips of paper and put them in an envelope – and the student had to pick three and free write something about it. This had mixed results – some found it easier than others. I used culturally appropriate stuff – I got this idea off a US website so it had words like “cowboy” or “prairie” “hotdogs”on there… I changed to “monk” and ‘tuk tuk” or whatever.

    Another writing prompt for young adults was “Write about your favourite place as a child” – they liked this and it got quite good / interesting material. I have tried getting students to write journals but they didn’t seem to like it much and the output was quite boring.

    I will look into this sentences thing though.

  7. Sorry… is there a sample one of these we could see? I would like to see how the finished paper looks? I think my students would love to do this. It is a fun activity. And like you say shows how much they’ve grasped of the story.

  8. Kath,
    I just tried to find the link to this handout but couldn’t remember exactly where it was. I think it used to be in the “resources” section of the main page, but I could be mistaken.

    In any case, you just take a sheet of paper and divide it into 6. I do 2 rows of 3. Each section has a box with a few lines drawn under the box for kids to write the sentence. It looks like a story board / graphic novel template.

    Hope this helps!

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