Students + writing = frustration . . . sound like familiar?
The growing expectation of integrating writing in our Social Studies classroom makes us as anxious about the process as our students. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this fear and frustration but the most common that I hear from other teachers is
I don’t have a solid system to assist my kids with writing.
Jill Weber, 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year, has joined the Doing Social Studies writing team and will be posting throughout the year. The following is a cross-post from her excellent site A View of the Web.
I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years. The majority of the students loved them. But I had a serious love/hate relationship with them. And after taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.
While I found it a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class. I had a number of kids ask me why we weren’t doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the “hands on” cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments. I felt guilty that my answer was “because I just couldn’t keep up with all the grading.”
That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks idea back without having all the copious grading that went with it. I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as a tool to help organize materials and doesn’t grade it at all. I liked that idea.
But I wanted more. I wanted a way to hold kids accountable. I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book. And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device. I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.
Then an idea started to take form. An idea to use the notebook more like a detective’s note book when trying to solve a crime.
So this year, we have: the Historian In TrainingNotebook or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )
The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we’ll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.
In an effort to improve the writing skills of my students and better prepare them for the Kansas Writing Assessment, the Multidisciplinary Performance Task, I have begun implementing the Stoplight Writing strategy. I attempted to use this strategy in my classroom last year, but as a last ditch effort before the test rather than a regular activity the students experienced throughout the entire school year.
This year however, my students are writing every unit using stoplight writing, and the dramatic difference in the finished products from last year to this year are extraordinary. Last year I feared that my 7th grade students didn’t know how to write a complete sentence, this year I am finding that my expectations for the students are too low and every unit I raise the standards for their finished work. Continue reading Stop! In the Name of…Writing?→
At least, that’s been the theory. Good social studies and history instruction has always included these things but I think that sometimes we can forget how critical reading and writing skills are to what we do. The Common Core, for better or worse, has been a good reminder for us. We need to have our kids read, write, and communicate much more.
But for the last ten years or so, at least in the state of Kansas, we’ve asked kids to focus instead on memorizing content. So now when we’re asking our middle school and high school students to not just write more but to use evidence while proving assertions, we get a lot of blank stares.
Steal a practice used by a lot of elementary teachers and start training your secondary kids to use evidence-based terms while writing.
Evidence-based terms are simple phrases that support the use of, well . . . evidence. So if we ask kids to look a couple of primary source documents and develop a thesis from their analysis, they have some scaffolding to help them do that.