Friday, April 05, 2013

Why Writing Groups Work and Matter

Last night I was lucky enough to hear a presentation by a highly skilled, very thoughtful educator. Even luckier, I've heard this presentation before. Like most presentations by highly skilled, very thoughtful educators, I learn something new each time.

This educator teaches in schools that work with various agencies in our district: mental health, alcohol and drug addiction, and our court system. The students with whom she works are in crisis, significant crisis. They are unable to attend their regular school, or even one of our alternative schools. However, they are still being educated, still being held to the same standards as their peers.

She works specifically, at this point in her career, with literacy. One of her greatest strengths is establishing writing workshop in these classrooms and building writing groups (peer groups that discuss each others' writing).

Not only is this work more challenging because these students are already coping with so much, but also because they rotate in and out of these schools. The goal is for them to return to their base school (or an alternative school, at least) so the population changes frequently.

This amazing educator has not let that stop her or even slow her down. One result is that the only state tests on which these schools have met the benchmark are the 8th and 11th grade writing tests. Clearly the writing workshop structure, the writing groups fostering conversation about their writing, and the high expectations have made a difference.

That said, student achievement is not the greatest driving force for using writing groups with these students. Kids who have hit a point that they are in these schools have many difficulties. Often those include communication and appropriate social skills (oh, the stories this educator can tell!).

Working in a writing group requires listening and talking. It really requires thoughtful listening and talking. Learning to do those things will be immensely useful in anyone's life. Immensely useful in personal and professional relationships. Even more useful than being able to write well.

I told you she was thoughtful.

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