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Sunday, July 10, 2011


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Carrie Deahl

Bill, thanks for that catch on my spelling mistake! I fixed it and re-posted this post.

T-Charts aren't always "unrestricted". We're always writing to a specific genre (narrative, expository, persuasive, opinion). I then contrast 2 ideas that fit with the format we're writing.

As for general topics, if a prompt is given, then T-Charts aren't necessary. Instead, that's a totally different type of writing which demands a different set of skills and pre-writing altogether. At some point, I'll post about how I approach teaching students to write to prompts.

I'll throw in my personal opinion here about "general topics"...

In my experiences, general topics and prompted writing often result in "generic" or poorly written responses from my students. Sure some kids are masters at the five-paragraph essay, or do well with a "generic" structure, but often these responses sound very similar and make for boring reading. I believe that this type of writing is disengaging for students.

If we really want to help students hone their skills as writers and adopt positive habits as writers, we need to limit this type of writing and expose students to other forms of writing instead. There are so many great forms of writing we can teach them.

Limiting students to a general topic is tricky because what one student may know about the US Civil War another may know nothing, or may have a limited understanding of it. How can a student support an idea without sufficient details? How can a student be successful with a topic he/she may have limited experience with? These are the questions instructors who assign writing need to consider. For every lesson/unit I teach, I ask myself these two very important questions:

1. What do I want my kids to get out of this?
2. Why do they need to know/do this?

These questions help me think carefully about the work I do with my students. Simply telling them we have to do it because the district/state/or country requires us to isn't enough anymore. Kids need to know how this writing connects to their lives. Without that "connection", how can real learning take place?

You and I both know that excellent writers write from experience. A lack of experience with a general topic could make/break a student's writing, or could turn a student off to writing. In my undergrad and graduate courses, I hated being assigned a "general" topic because I wasn't motivated to write about it. If I couldn't personally connect with it, I didn't put much effort into it. Often, I see this happen with my students when we begin practicing for district/state tests that involve writing to a general/generic prompt. Do we really want to created disengaged/unmotivated students who can have limited writing skills? I know I don't.

I hope I've clarified how I use T-Charts and provided some insight regarding "general" writing topics. Thanks for the great question and for teasing me about my spelling mistake.

Bill Carr

I know I do not know you well at all, except through your blog and Intrepid, but I'll take the chance and tease you. Here's your sentence:
"The key is that you have a strong emotional rection to it."
What's the missing letter in the third-last word?

The "T-Chart" commends itself when the writer's choice of topic is unrestricted. What happens when a subject area is specified, even a fairly general one, e.g., the US Civil War?

Bill Carr

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