Teaching the process of writing

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The dilemma  hand-944607_640

One big problem with education is the inconsistencies from teacher to teacher. Teachers follow the “standards,” but there is a gray area between each standard and each year. Also, teachers perceive and teach things in different ways.

Perceiving the writing process

For example, many teachers tell students to follow the writing process, but they do not emphasize that each step in the process has equal value. Too many teachers emphasize the final draft more than any other draft. Nancie Atwell, the author of In the Middle, writes that what you do not include in your final draft is just as important as what you do include.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

– Anne Lamott

The Final Draft

By the time a writer gets to the final draft, it should be final, or as close as the writer can get to a final. At the end of the process, the student has cut and pasted, conferred with the teacher and fellow students, edited, proofread and run the paper through Grammarly so many times that it should be his or her best work.

Why do teachers get papers that are far from the student’s best work?

Teachers need to carve out the time for their students to think of an idea, write the first draft, the second draft, (however, many it takes) confer, revise, edit, and proofread. If the teacher does not provide students the time required to process a piece of writing, then she will continue red-marking those “final” drafts until the end of time. And the student will keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Cultivate     pen-1570634_640

If teachers develop the skill of using the writing process from the time their students start writing until they graduate, the process will be second nature to students. Every year students need to learn that cultivating writing is a process that takes time.

Erase the inconsistencies

Teachers who teach writing are, or absolutely should be, writers. Any writer knows that writing is a complex and non-linear process. Writers know this because they consistently practice the writing process. This practice eventually leads to something close to perfection.

To emphasize the value of each step of the writing process, teachers must allow students the time to follow it diligently. Only then can we expect them to churn out quality writing.

Explore and evaluate your writing process

Frame and Reflect

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A student’s reality

I had a teacher-friend, who would bound into the teacher’s room after teaching a class and rave about how much he had just taught his students. In reality, he felt as good as he did because he got to eschew the ins and outs of a literary work that was miles above the heads of his disinterested high school students. Too often, we teachers feel good after a lesson because we love to talk about analogies, metaphor, or physics. We become so absorbed in our passion that we forget about our captive audience – an audience well-trained in being compliant and polite.

 “Just because students are complying doesn’t mean they are learning,” Gerstein said. “We teach too much compliance in schools. I think if 10 percent [of your students] like your lesson and 90 percent are sitting there tolerating because they’ve learned to tolerate, that’s a failure in my mind.”

                                                                                                          –Jackie Gerstein

The next time you come out of teaching a lesson charged with your philosophy, physics, Homer, or whatever your passion may be, get some feedback from your students about what they learned during your performance of passion in the classroom.

Framing and reflecting

Now that you have been humbled let’s look at the big picture – framing and reflecting. Gerstein says that “If we don’t create a process of reflecting and framing our lessons, then we are leaving learning up to chance.”

Frontload the lesson

First, you need to frontload the information for the students. Let them explore what the subject of the lesson before you dive into it. This takes time – time that promotes students engagement, so it is well worth it. Frontloading can be in the form of an objective discussion in pairs or groups.

Turn the objective(s) into essential questions or scenarios. For example, let’s say that your focus is on the following standard:

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.).

Turn the standard into an objective

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to apply the process of writing to what you write by

  • Brainstorming
  • Conferring
  • Coming up with an idea
  • Sharing your idea to make a commitment to write
  • Writing the first draft
  • Determining your lead in or purpose or hook
  • Sharing and get feedback
Turn your objective into an essential question

. . .or a scenario for your students to explore.

  • What happens when you come into a class, and you are told to sit down and write?
  • What skills do you need to be a good writer?
  • How do students become writers?
  • How can you use a peer to generate an idea for writing?
  • How do writers generate ideas?
  • Or what happens when you come into a class, and you have to write an essay?
  • Or what happens when someone expects you to write something on the spot.

(This infographic will supply you with myriad essential questions and scenarios)

Then teach your engaging lesson.

Finally, close with reflection — debrief the class

This will provide you with the feedback you need about the value of what you just taught. I often fashion this reflection after a military debriefing. Military generals, who very often orchestrate battles above the trenches, need to debrief the troops upon their return from the battlefield. That way they can make sure that they take what they learn from one battle into the next. The first question the general will ask in a debriefing is what happened out there? This is where he gets the rundown of what occurred. Answers are we did this, and we did that. Once the general has a clear idea of what happened, he asks the soldiers what they learned from what happened. Once they establish what they learned, they can apply this information to win the next campaign.

In a writing class, a debriefing might look like this:

What happened today?

  • We wrote.
  • I spent five minutes not writing.
  • I got frustrated.
  • We shared our ideas.
  • We brainstormed.

What did you learn by doing this?

  • I should keep writing and not stop.
  • I can write funny stories about simple things.
  • Sharing work is a good way to generate ideas.
  • The first draft is just a messy beginning.

What will you do the next time differently?

  • I will work with a partner
  • I will refocus if I get frustrated
  • I will start over again if I don’t like an idea
  • I will write as much as I can without overthinking it.

We often overlook reflection because the bell rings and you are out of time, but it is essential to the learning process, and it provides feedback to the teacher. Reflection can be verbal or written, private or public. It can be done in pairs, small groups, on a blog, in a podcast or on a sticky note. Whatever form it takes it makes the student think about how and what they learned in your class and what they are going to do with that learning when they come to class tomorrow, go to the next class and take a test, apply for college, go to a job interview. Students need to articulate what they learned and we, in turn, could certainly use their humbling feedback.


Will technology replace teachers?

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21century_logoby Elizabeth Goodhue


Sometimes, when marketing wants to sell our e-learning package, teachers meet them with skepticism. Is there really a lingering fear out there that they will be replaced? I am a teacher and the only thing on my mind about teaching is how can I make it effective? How can I engage students? How can I be sure that my students can make it in a 21st-century world?

Of course, teachers are skeptical

But they shouldn’t be. According to The Guardian, Classrooms will continue to change shape, but it’s safe to assume that there will be a human teacher at the front of them for a long time yet. Technology is a tool to help teachers do what they do best, not to replace them. Technology can enhance myriad 21st-century skills. Pick anyone of those skills from the graphic above and it can be supported with technology. But not technology alone. Students need mentors, guides, and models to steer them in an ethical direction.

Students need teachers

In a screen-centered world, students, now more than ever, need to learn how to collaborate, adapt and negotiate the world. Business leaders do not want someone who is proficient in responding to one-dimensional routine tasks that a computer generates to sell their product or negotiate business deals.

Schooling that trains students to efficiently conduct routine tasks is training students for jobs that pay minimum wage—or jobs that simply no longer exist. Justin Reich

Never Fear

When an e-learning company knocks on your virtual door, or your principal emails you a link to its product, embrace it, learn it, make it your friend. E-learning is here to stay because it will make your job easier. It will create and grade those standardized tests for you, it will do the research for you, it will engage your students with games and all of the bells and whistles that technology can provide. But it won’t replace your empathy for your students. It won’t have a conversation with a parent about something that their child did that day. It won’t go on field trips or sing a song out of tune. It cannot replace what has kept teachers in the classroom since the beginning of time. We know who we are and we know where we belong, no piece of technology ever thought differently because it can’t.

Use Learning Port to Flip your Classroom

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The four pillars of flipped learning

Most teachers know this.

These four pillars are the foundation of the classroom. Two pillars center upon the environment. Without flexibility and an established learning culture, the environment won’t be conducive to learning. The other two pillars, intentional content and the professional educator, are equally foundational.

The professional educator

Professional: characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession. If you are a traditional teacher, it may take some time to conform to the flipped classroom where the focus is student-centred. Students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled by your words of wisdom. They come to the classroom with background knowledge that connects them to new material. The professional educator needs to tap into that knowledge to ignite the student’s curiosity.

Intentional content

The Intentional content is the material that a teacher want students to know before they walk into the classroom. This learning goal steers students toward what they should know and be able to do with the material they will apply to the class. In the flipped classroom, the students’ exposure to the content has to happen before the class meets. This takes the form of a homework assignment such as a video, or a module that has pre-packaged the content for you. The intentional content becomes the knowledge that students bring to the classroom to apply to the learning goal.

An example


Let’s say that you are starting a unit on the human respiratory system.

When you assign the Instructional Content, show the video clip called “Where are my Lungs,” to hook the students with a preview of the material. Assign the rest of the module for homework, including taking the test at the end of the module.

Tell the students to come into class with three questions about the content of the homework.

You can scaffold the questions or leave them wide open depending on the level of the students in the class.

  • Based on what I know, I think. . .
  • This reminds me of. . .
  • I wonder. . .

Begin the class with a warm-up based on the students’ questions. Have students grapple with the questions in pairs or small groups until all of them feel comfortable with the material.



For the rest of the class, students apply the key concepts of the lesson by interacting with peers and instructors during class time. The instructional content gives them the information they need to apply the content in an experiment, lab, writing assignment, or scenario.

Extended learning

Everything after that is extended learning. Extended learning means that the student can apply the newly acquired material to another situation, by solving another problem, writing an essay, taking a test or simply have an educated discussion.

Each lesson in the unit builds upon the next as it does in traditional teaching. The big difference is that the flipped classroom is actively, not passively, understood.

Teaching in the 21st-century classroom: Learning Port’s simple version

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The Essential 21st-century Skills

The essential 21st-century skills include creative thinking and innovation, problem-solving and reasoning, global and cultural awareness, collaboration and technological literacy. Fortunately, we have the technology to teach these skills to the 21st-century generation. One way is through the flipped classroom.

The simple version of the flipped classroom

In the flipped classroom, students use valuable classroom time for creative thinking and innovation, problem-solving and reasoning,  global and cultural awareness, and collaboration. Instead of listening to a teacher lecture about a subject, students listen to a lecture to familiarize themselves with the content of the subject outside of the classroom.  The next day, they come to class prepared to apply their knowledge.

Bloom’s Taxonomy
blooms-tax-01-sbIf students are going to learn the essential 21st-century skills that we claim to be teaching them, they need to use their valuable classroom time to apply these skills.The classroom is a hotbed for collaboration and creative thinking. Teachers and students should not waste this valuable time passively absorbing information. They must exercise higher order thinking skills.

Here is what you should do

  1. Assign a module for homework. The advantages:
  • it takes less time than a classroom lecture and it is interactive
  • students with a short attention span can take a break
  • students learn the material at their own pace.
  • students can replay material that they do not understand
  • students can test their understanding at the end of the module
  1. Assess the student of the material before presenting the classroom challenge.
  • assign the assessment provided at the end of the module.
  • use the immediate feedback to gauge the students’ understanding
  • answer questions about the material before proceeding with the lesson
  1. Present a problem (a lab, a math concept, an essay. . .) that promotes
  • creative thinking and innovation,
  • problem-solving and reasoning,
  • global and cultural awareness
  • collaboration,

Now what?

The only thing left to do is try it. All of Learning Port’s  modules are aligned with the MOE curriculum guidelines so you can find a module that matches the lesson you want to teach. It might be an adjustment at first. You will have to figure out the timing, adapt the strategy to a student who may not have access to the Internet at home, but the students will reap the benefits from this positive shift from a passive approach to learning to an engaging and enlightened one.

Are you in or are you out?

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Are you worried about your student spending too much time on the Internet? Do you think that your child is texting when she should be doing school work? These are all common concerns for a parent raising a child in the 21st-century.

Parents who were educated before the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) system, need to understand the 21st-century classroom instead of fearing it. Luckily, you can establish good habits for your child who uses a mobile device in and out of the classroom. Every generation has had to face new obstacles when it came to educating its children and the rules are still the same.

  1. Have your student work in a place where you are readily available. They are less likely to be distracted if you are there to guide them.
  2. Find out what programs schools are using to educate your child.
  3. Play some of the games with them.

Your student won’t always welcome this behavior, but while he or she is young enough, try to establish patterns and habits for them to practice as mobile learners. If you are technologically savvy, you can teach them was to use technology efficiently.

With robots, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of things, technology is progressing at an astounding rate. Your primary purpose as a parent is to be a role model for your child. If you want to support your child’s educational journey, you need to understand where it begins. It is up to you to support and extend your child’s learning experience in and out of school. To do this you will have to stay ahead of the game — know what they are learning and how.


Technology — Friend or Foe

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When students use Snapchat or Instagram during class, what are they trying to tell us?

In 2015, The Telegraph posted an article suggesting that humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones. If this is true, then most of their readers did not read the conclusion: “Just because we may be allocating our attention differently as a function of the technologies we may be using, it doesn’t mean that the way our attention actually can function has changed.”

What is the average attention span?

Some research suggests that using a child’s age plus one year is a starting point for the number of minutes a child can attend to a single assigned task — 5 +1 minutes for a 5-year-old, 8 minutes for a 7-year-old, etc. This means that a teenager may be able to pay attention in class for 14 to 19 minutes. However, activity, interest, motivation, fatigue, among other things, factor into attention span.

What’s the real problem?

Perhaps instead of worrying about how technology distracts students, we should consider the real problem, which is how we teach our children. If a 15-year old’s attention span is 16 minutes, then why are we teaching in blocks of 50 to 90 minutes or more? If our attention spans are as short as the number of years we have lived, why shouldn’t our students use the Internet as a tool to get past the trivial stuff?

Learning efficiently

Using technology to promote learning, teaches self-motivation, pacing, and an efficient way to learn the essentials of math, science, reading and writing. Encouraging and training students to use technology to gain knowledge efficiently provides us with the space to teach them more about the world.

Open up the span of learning

By the time a student reaches university he or she should use calculators, e-learning, and other Internet sources. Then he or she will have more time to address the more important complex issues that no one else can solve, or write articles that no one else has written, or make new scientific discoveries.

Technology is no villain

The extra time students gain by using shortcuts that the Internet provides gives them more time to explore things that it cannot teach us like compassion, empathy, grit, love, pain, dedication, motivation, how to navigate the world, and how to be happy.

Technology is not the villain when it comes to attention span. If we use technology in our classrooms to teach, we open space for critical thinking and problem-solving. Then our students can move outside of the classroom to be interns, volunteer for people in need, perform scientific experiments, create masterpieces, or write symphonies.