Instruction versus Discovery

Yesterday evening we had a staff discussion about how to teach writing.  Since we have a high ESL population, we spoke about various aspects of writing; organization, mechanics, etc.  We also talked about whole-class instruction versus personalized instruction.  As for me, I have all the students in class writing about similar topics, but each of us are working on different skills that are necessary for our own personal growth.  One could say that writing instruction in my class is completely personalized, and continuously happening on a daily basis through every subject.  I make sure that every kid knows exactly what our focus will be when we talk about writing; whether it be voice, mechanics, organization.  This got me thinking about a girl in my class, lets call her Oprah.

Oprah is passionate about writing.  From the beginning of the year, I could tell she loved to write.  English is her second language, so she needed a lot of work on the structure and mechanics of her writing.  Her stories also tended to wander around and lacked a clear, organized plot.  At the beginning of the year, I decided I would focus on that.  Making her writing more appealing and organized.  We have spend a lot of time communicating on Googledocs and in class, with me giving feedback and her editing.  She is a crazy editor, she loves it.  Over and over, she reads and edits, reads and edits.  She absorbs feedback like a sponge and tries very hard to put it into her writing.  She also argues and defends the choices she makes.

Over the course of the year her writing has blossomed.  Her ideas are more unique and original, her structure is well organized, her characters deeper, and her plots are more complex.  The big picture writing stuff has improved so much.  I try and tell her this once a week.

My original plan was this; this year we work on big picture stuff (Oprah will be in my class for two years) and next year we can focus on the grammar and mechanics.  After our staff meeting, I went back and looked at her writing from the beginning of the year and compared to the writing she is currently doing.  And you know what I found; her grammar has improved even more than her elements of story!  I hadn't even noticed it because I wasn't paying attention to it, but her odd structures and weird verbs have disappeared.  I didn't do anything to fix those mistakes.  Not a single grammar activity.  No verb conjugation charts.  Nothing.  Her and I spend our time working 100% on the elements of a good story.  This left me shocked and I thought about why.  Finally, it hit me.

Practice.

She has been writing her heart out all year, and that extra practice has allowed her to correct things that we weren't looking for.  She taught herself.

So, now I wonder, what does this mean for my future writing instruction?

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