Monday, April 20, 2009

Do They See What I See?

As I graded students’ products from my shiny new unit, I realized many of them gathered all the research assigned, but they didn’t get how to combine those elements into a new product. Like players in a game of fetch, they went out and did an interview, looked up information online, and recorded their own opinions in neat, separate little piles, which they stacked end-to-end into a final written product.

After successful completion of this course, students move on to an argument and research writing course, a course which makes up the majority of my teaching load. I designed this unit in part to prepare students for that class, but I really forgot that at this point in their writing development, their concept of an integrated writing product is fuzzy at best. My shiny new unit really needed a model of the finished writing product for students to see before they got started.

I knew my students would be disappointed that their efforts garnered mediocre grades; I really wanted a way to show them the difference between what they gave me and an integrated, synthesized new writing product. I considered the question as I prepared to bake cupcakes. Voila! Cupcakes are a favored writing metaphor for me anyway, so it makes sense for me to call upon them for this. First, I showed students this picture and explained how they gathered elements with lots of admirable individual integrity:

ingredients-1.jpg

However, I really wanted them to combine those elements into something new, to choose more of some elements than others, and to blend them together:

cupcake-1.jpg

They nodded. Students recognized that their efforts had been more like piling the ingredients on the table than combining them into something new. I think if I start with this metaphor (complete with visuals!) and a sample product next time, my shiny new unit has a good future ahead of it.

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

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