I recently had the wonderful opportunity to watch Sandra Herbst as she co-constructed criteria with two classrooms in a neighbouring school division. One class was Gr. 1/2 and the other was a 5/6 class. Both lessons were on writing, and it was so awesome to have the chance to see how co-constructing criteria could look at different levels. The series of instructional steps was similar, and could be done at any level for any subject.
I asked a teacher in our division if I could try it out with her Gr. 7 class, and we made arrangements. The lesson would also be on writing, and the teacher wanted to introduce opinion writing (which coincidentally was the lesson Sandra did with the 5/6 class that I saw). AWESOME!
Before arriving to teach the lesson, the teacher and I came up with a list of criteria that we thought opinion writing should include. Here is our list:
- The students were given a piece of looseleaf paper and were asked to watch me carefully, jotting down anything they observed me doing while I wrote.
- Using my laptop and the LCD projector, I modeled how I would begin to write. I used "think aloud" strategies to let the students know what was going on in my head while I wrote. (For example: "I want to begin my writing with a hook because I need to grab the readers' interest. I think I'll say something shocking about technology that will make people sit up and pay attention.")
- As I typed, I continued to voice my thinking out loud. I wrote the first paragraph and then asked students to turn and talk to the other students in their group. They were told to name at least 2 things they saw me do.
- Next, I asked each group to tell me something their group noticed. I was hoping they would notice that I: cleared my mind first, began with a hook, stated my opinion and used details. This is what I got from them: "I concentrated, I gave my opinion, I began with a hook, I used punctuation and capital letters, I had a plan, I ignored a spelling error." Not bad. Each time an observation was given, I asked a student at that group to record that observation using a marker and a long strip of paper (about 3 x 20 inches). Every observation was accepted and valued. The only ones we didn't use were repeats of observations that someone else had said already.
- Then I modeled the next paragraph. I made certain to use the word "details" a lot this time, because they didn't notice it last time. This time the observations included: "I used paragraphs, I made a connection, I stuck to my opinion, I reread before I started, I used interesting words." No details yet, and I was hoping that they would notice that I used facts from my research to back up my opinion. I needed to keep modeling.
- We continued in this way for 5 paragraphs. Each time I modeled with thinking aloud, carefully voicing what I wanted them to notice. Each time they shared with their group before the whole class shared. Each time, all observations were accepted and recorded on strips of paper. Eventually, I had everything the teacher and I wanted them to notice, along with about 10 other things we hadn't considered - some of which were excellent!
- Together, we reread the strips and discussed whether we had missed anything; we wrote two more observations. Then I told the students that I could see three different categories of criteria listed. We had: Habits of a Writer (make a plan, concentrate, etc), How to Write Anything (reread for clarity, use fix-up strategies at the end, use interesting words, etc) and How to Write an Opinion Piece (back up your opinion with facts, restate your opinion at the end, etc). We sorted the strips into these categories.
- Our lesson time was up. The teacher and I discussed the lesson afterwards and she said that she wanted to post the criteria in the classroom so that the students could refer to it when they were writing their own opinion pieces. We also talked about how the criteria could be used for self-assessments, for creating a rubric (there's our "4" category!) and for goal-setting. If the kids wrote their name on a sticky note, they could add their name to something they noticed they did well. Then they could add their name to something they need to remember to work on the next time they write.