Our students are reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. Each week we read one chapter aloud. The students, with lots of help from me at this point, brainstorm the major events and ideas presented in each chapter. Then, they select three to five major events/ideas. The students craft a friendly letter in their "Dear Harry," journals each week. This letter, written directly to Harry, gives students an opportunity to reflect on what is happening in Harry's life and in the book in general. They use their letter to exercise empathy while demonstrating their understanding of main idea and supporting details. Over the course of this project, the students' letters show major growth. We offer lessons in anticipation of growth in the following areas:
(Presented in no particular order)
I do not correct these entries. I offer a lot of feedback and oftentimes, students will go into their own writing to make changes. As we get deeper and deeper into the book, I'll begin to remove the scaffolding. No longer will we brainstorm major events/ideas as a class. Instead, students will jot down notes as the text is being read aloud. Each student will have individualized goals. Given instruction, and time to improve their writing, future drafts, marked by little effort or attention to improving their craft, will not be accepted from the students. They will be given countless opportunities to improve their writing in response to teacher feedback.
Given the above writing sample it is hard to know where to begin with feedback. I want to affirm and encourage the good that I see. My feedback needs to focus one a major aspect of the student's writing and it should be followed up with explicit instruction. The next feedback the student receives should connect to the initial feedback and the instruction received. Students need to feel they're being held accountable for improving their work.
Because writing is so personal, much of writing instruction has to be personalized too. Making space for this kind of personalized instruction is a challenge given the scope of our work and the limited time each day to meet with students. Taking time to know students and to understand their strengths is an important step in meeting their instructional needs and propelling students toward skill acquisition and the mastery of grade level standards in writing.
On a positive note, students LOVE writing to Harry. They're engaged in this project and take pride in the product that they are creating. Students don't mind working hard. The final product seems worth the effort to them. I just wish Harry would write back to the students. It seems like a reasonable request given the magical nature of our fourth grade classroom!
Here is the first written feedback I've given this student. I will follow up with some explicit lessons in proofreading. I'm hoping that that acquiring a proofreading strategy will make all the difference for this writer.