Writing Frustrations

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Jan
  • 08
  • 2007

The Scarlet Letter essays are finished. They were awful. Out of 48 essays, only 15 passed, 8 in one class and 7 in the other. That also means that 6 students didn’t do this assignment. So if such a large percentage of my students don’t pass an assessment, that’s my fault, right? I’d like to say so and, in part, I do believe it. But part of me knows another truth: students very simply didn’t read, didn’t pay attention to their writing, didn’t spend time editing.

What Happened?

The essay assignment was essentially to write about any topic of interest, but show an understanding of TSL. You can write whatever you want, but it must relate to the novel in some way. I firmly believe that students need to start creating their own prompts as soon as possible. We wrote topics on posters, talked in small groups about the topics, and I checked in with each student very informally on their topic to make sure all systems were go. We worked on this as a class and some great topics came up, students clearly outlining their points in conversations with me and their peers. Obviously, there was a disconnect once students sat down to write their papers. I will not do this again with these juniors and I need to find a way to read first drafts in order to redirect earlier in the writing process.

What Now?

Here’s my plan of attack for the rest of the semester. I’ll keep the presentation about Cuckoo’s Nest for the final, but I’m going to define things a bit more by assigning topics to groups. I left the door wide open for their writing about TSL and I think that’s part of the reason they did so badly. Having a defined topic might have helped. I’m also going to give a topic to write about for Cuckoo’s. I had said that I was done assigning formal writing pieces this semester, but that was before I read this last essay. We’ll do writing in class this week, no take home work, and it’ll all be done on my computers, printed from my printer.

I’ll work with each student to pick one paragraph from the TSL essay to rewrite. It’s the surface level errors I’m highly concerned with. I don’t really care about their comprehension of the story at this point. What’s done is done. But one student handed in one paragraph of writing two pages long. Another student never mentioned the title of the book. Yet another student wrote this:

What is a kiss? A kiss represents love, care, and sometimes it always means forgiveness. In the book The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Pearl gives Dimmesdale a kiss, before he dies in chapter 23. In any chance, if Dimmesdale were to reveal the secret earlier then Pearl would have given him, and he would have survived. I think that there will be a different ending if Dimmesdale told the truth in the beginning of the story, then there would not have been a tragic ending. A kiss that would leave a person in peace or it would haunt them in vain.

I swear I’m not making that up. That’s a junior writing after spending 3 or 4 weeks in class preparing for this. What’s s/he writing about?

A writer essentially has three jobs: have a point, provide evidence of that point, and include explanation in your own words of how the evidence relates to the point and why your reader should believe your point. For worksheets to begin the second semester (I just don’t think I’ll be able to get them together this week), I’ll provide two of the three things and students will have to fill in the missing detail. That, in combination with heavy emphasis on the technicolor paragraph and shorter, more frequent writing assessments, should help students focus their writing a bit more.

Maybe I stop busting my back trying to cater to students. Maybe I assign 20 pages of reading each night and give a test tomorrow. And I do that every day until students get the hint that they need to read every night in order to do well in my class. Or maybe we read exclusively in class and each night is a take home test that is turned in tomorrow, no discussion. Something’s got to give when students aren’t reading at home and aren’t taking the time to pay attention to their writing. Not everything can be done in class.


2. Elona says:

[1/14/2007 - 11:50 am]

Hey, I know where you are coming from. I have students just like these kids and it’s very frustrating especially after all the work you have done. I’ve felt so discouraged many times.

I’d like to make a suggestion. I hope it helps. I have found that after the kids have a topic if I get them to plan their essay out first using a graphic organizer I get better results. They need that graphic organizer to help them get to their destination- an essay. Some of my kids like using Inspiration Software to get their ideas down in a mind map and then the program will organize their ideas in a more linear form for those kids who prefer that. If you don’t have Inspiration Software, you can get a trial copy. Just go to their web site. Kids really like using it. I have a graphic organizer you can download on my site-www.teachersatrisk.com. I’ve colour coded it to help kids . Other teachers at my school use it to help their students. Good luck!

3. Todd says:

[1/14/2007 - 4:50 pm]

I agree with you on the graphic organizer front. But this year’s juniors use them just as often as throw them away. Still, I make a point of folding paper and writing T-charts on the board for students to use. I also have them using the Technicolor Paragraph, a color-coded paragraph that lets students see when they are performing their three jobs (bold in the entry above).

But that gets away from my biggest frustration on this essay. There were so many surface level errors that I feel like we need to rewind all the way to freshmen curriculum, but I still need to teach the 11/12 standards and texts. And I firmly believe those errors were there not because students don’t know any better, but simply because they don’t care enough to take the time to write better, to have some pride in their work. That no matter what text I give them, they won’t read because it’s too much work. That a much larger percentage of my classes are not doing any work for my class outside of our 53 minutes together (or maybe I’m just getting better at being able to tell). That’s the frustration. So we’ll be writing more frequent, shorter pieces second semester and likely reading more short nonfiction texts.

4. Elona says:

[1/16/2007 - 2:17 pm]

Many of my kids don’t do school work at home. It’s frustrating. I have all the same problems with the kids I teach that you do.
I wonder if all the surface errors are partly because of e-mail. No one complains about the e-mail mistakes. Kids find those errors acceptable because it’s what they say that’s important, not how they say it. My kids are starting to write in class like they write in e-mails.
I think that your plan for second semester sounds good. As for the reading- only 30% of adults choose to read on a regular basis. If kids don’t see the adults at home reading most likely, not always, kids will get the idea that reading isn’t something that you do in the real world so why do it in school. I’ve had kids tell me that reading is a waste of time. Go figure!

5. DELFINA says:

[4/2/2009 - 6:41 am]

I think the problem lies with the parents too. If they don’t read bedtime stories at least every night or so, then how can we expect kids to find reading at all amusing, or even an interesting hobbie? Plus, children don’t READ in the Internet, not most of them at least, they just play games! That’s fine, but they don’t read at all, and that’s not good, of course. If you ask me, parents should be the ones to encourage learning through reading, and to show their kids that reading can be a lot of fun. When we become older, we read for pleasure in our spare time, while these kids might be already preventing themselves from enjoying such a wonderful way of finding room for our escapist fantasy in their future!

6. news says:

[12/27/2014 - 11:40 am]

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