Yesterday, I shared some of the handout materials that we are using for our Environmental Science/Persuasive Essay Project that my sixth graders are starting to embark upon. As we began some web-based research yesterday, I explained to them that I was assigning myself the project, too. And I am. As they work through their ideas, I am working through mine.
My intent is to make my thinking visible to them every step of the way — from these initial brainstorming/planning sessions to the writing of the piece to the creation of the media component that will accompany the essay at the end. I want to try to show them how writers work — the ups and the downs — and answer questions they have about my writing process, and share my work with them, just as I have them share their work with me and the class.
So, yesterday, I shared out my topic (Fuel Cell Technology as an alternative energy source) and walked them through how to use our graphic organizer on gathering information from websites. Although it is not a full-scale research project, they need to have some background knowledge in order to “make a case” for their persuasive ideas.
Tomorrow, we will begin to use another graphic organizer to map out their essay. For many of them, this is the first large essay project they have encountered, and so we take it slowly, laying out daily expectations to make it manageable. A graphic organizer is invaluable to this project for many of my students, particularly those struggling writers.
Writing with my students is a powerful experience, and I wish more teachers would do it. I can’t remember any of my teachers actually writing with us or sharing their writing with us. It always made me wonder what kind of writers they were. It was as part of them was hidden from view.
My students appreciate the honesty (I tell them when I run into walls and I let them in on frustrations and successes), and I hope it provides a model for them in their own writing. The real dangers here are that you could embarrass yourself as a writer (I don’t worry about that but I acknowledge that some teachers do) and some students might seek to emulate you so completely that it feels as if they are a shadow writer. That’s why I picked Fuel Cells — not a single student knew what that was and there was no danger of a copycat writer. (Oh, another bonus: I get to learn more about an interesting alternative technology and my students will be learning, too, through my sharing of my work).
Peace (in the cells),