Choosing Words Strategically
"My goal is for students to become strong, independent writers. I try to model the writing process by showing students my own work and revisions. I want them to learn to evaluate their own work as well, and to understand that writing is a process, a lifelong skill, not just something you do to get through the third grade."
Caroline Cockman teaches third grade at the Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Situated among the University of North Carolina and nearby Duke University, Rashkis Elementary School draws from the local college community and its affiliated medical research industry.
Mrs. Cockman's students represent diverse backgrounds, both culturally and intellectually. About half of her students are Caucasion, a quarter are African American, and a quarter are Asian American. Three students work with an English language tutor, three students have independent education plans (IEPs), and one student has special needs and works in class with a special education assistant.
In the lesson featured in the video, Mrs. Cockman's students were in the process of learning to write biographies. As part of the writing process, students were revising and editing their reports for specific word choice and transitions. As she introduces a new writing, revising, or editing convention, Mrs. Cockman models the convention in a writing piece that the students contribute to in a whole-class instructional setting. This gives Mrs. Cockman an opportunity to review a piece of writing with the whole class in a way that lets everyone participate without feeling like they are being evaluated.
Mrs. Cockman, and all of the teachers at Rashkis, use the Writer's Workshop format for teaching writing, based on the Literacy Collaborative model from Lesley College. Each writing assignment entails several drafts, each with its own focus and routines, such as editing in different colors for different tasks.
The writing process begins with an exploration phase as students identify who or what they will write about, and draft an outline. As they develop their biographies, the first draft is called the discovery draft. In this draft, students focus just on getting their ideas down. Next, they revise their draft using the Revision Checklist (PDF). Then students edit their pieces for spelling, grammar, and other mechanics of writing. At any point in the process, students can discuss their work with their teachers. When they are ready to present their pieces, final drafts get submitted to the editor (Mrs. Cockman), who returns written work to students. After any final edits are made, students have the choice to publish their work. If they choose to publish, students type their work. One copy goes on the wall in the hall outside the classroom, and another copy goes in students' portfolios.
Throughout the year, Mrs. Cockman's students keep writers' notebooks, where they sketch and keep ideas so that they always have a source of ideas, and so that their writing is student-driven.