I've been so busy since that last post that I haven't had time to blog. One of the teachers who attended the writing center visit was inspired to enlist me in two writing projects that she had planned for her 7th grade pre-AP English, and for the first time this year, I see a way to keep the concept of the writing center moving into the coming year.
Ms. S's students had just finished reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult and they were beginning to develop essays around one of the characters in the book. It was a basic 5-paragraph essay assignment with students required to have a thesis statement about the character and then at least 3 quotes from the book that supported their thesis. They were to end with a conclusion. What I appreciated was the emphasis on an engaging introduction and a conclusion that not only summarized but perhaps shed new insight on the information in the essay. Students were also expected to explain the quotes they chose and to tie them into the thesis statement.
Ms. S had me come into the classroom to conference with students on their rough drafts. I sat off to the side and while others worked and S circulated around the room, students came to me to talk about their drafts. It was a little awkward at first, and I could tell that students would rather talk to Ms. S than to me, but soon, as Ms. S became busy, the students ventured over to my table. I asked them to describe their thesis to me and asked them if there were areas in their papers that they were struggling with. Most often, they did not have concerns so I either had them read me their introduction or one of their supporting paragraphs. Usually, they were using a quote in isolation. This led to a discussion of audience and how someone unfamiliar with the book would need help in understanding the context of the quote and how it was being used to support the thesis. This seemed to be helpful, and students were quite receptive to the advice.
Following the essay, Ms. S. was using the book as part of an integrated English-science unit. Throughout My Sister's Keeper are references to organ transplants, bone marrow transplants, blood donation, etc. and students were very interested to learn more about these topics. Besides lessons in their science class, they did research on their own and became part of groups of 2 or 3 that did in-depth study in one area of their choosing: blood, chemotherapy, seizures, brain death, etc. They also developed questions to ask to a medical professional and Ms. S invited a doctor to visit the class. Each group spent about 10-15 minutes alone with the doctor asking questions specific to their area of study.
At this point, Ms. S asked if I could help develop a wiki for the class to use to record their research. I set up the wiki so that each group had their own main page and then separate pages for their research findings. Although almost no one in the class of 31 had used a wiki before, after a brief introduction, everyone was working. Last night, I reviewed the pages and was amazed at the amount of activity it had generated. I'm excited to see where they go with it today!