Starting an evolution: presentational writing

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One of the biggest things that attracts me to teaching is how much I can evolve and change as an educator.  The field itself is changing, and as I learn more and figure out how to apply more, my own teaching changes.  This challenges and pushes me.

One point that I am starting to evolve is presentational writing.  Implementing IPAs can appear easy initially.  Most teachers have given students a writing prompt before.  So you give your writing prompt, apply a rubric and BAM!  Presentational writing is done.  (I actually thought the same thing about doing interpretive reading as well!)

However, that is not as easy as it seems.  I have found that both my teaching practice and how I assess students with IPAs continually changes and evolves.  When our department was first discussing presentational writing, we discussed a variety of questions.  Are students allowed to prepare it ahead of time or do they need to write spontaneously without any dictionary help for assessments?  I was firmly in the spontaneous camp.  I believed that the only way I would truly be able to grade my students’ performance on a writing assessment was if they did not have any dictionaries.  Then one night in a discussion on Twitter, a professor mentioned that many students graduate high school without ever writing a paper in Spanish that they work on and revise.  It hit me!  I was teaching a level 5 Spanish class.  I teach a lot of seniors who will have to be writing college Spanish papers in another semester.  Was I preparing them by not having them work on any paper that they could revise in Spanish?  I decided that I needed to ensure that they were able to write a formal paper and revise it.  Although then I had to figure out how to assign a formal paper!

First, I crowd sourced aka asked friends on Twitter to find out how long university professors required papers from their students.  Most required around a page to two pages.  I decided that one page would be manageable for my students.  Many of my students wrote longer than the required page, but I wanted it to seem attainable.  Plus, it was in the range of what would be expected next year for them.  My students had just finished a unit on narcoviolencia in Mexico.  I listed a few topics that we had discussed, but I allowed them to evolve their topic based on the research they found.

I also required them to use a Spanish news article for research.  While I can find information in English, then write it in Spanish, it will be easier for them to find an article in Spanish.  I gave them a list of websites/YouTube news channels that I use to research during our unit.  I also would help them if they were having trouble finding articles on their topic because it is much easier for me to skim read an article than it is for them.

I gave them ample time to work on it in class, so they wouldn’t feel rushed.  I also gave deadlines, so they had to complete certain parts by various times.  Even with older students, I believe that this helps them overall.  The main deadline was to have about half to 3/4 of a page complete, so we could do writer’s workshop in class.

Writer’s workshop allowed me to take the time to give more feedback then as well.  I used guidance from Heather Sherrow and this NECTFL presentation by Noemi Rodriguez and Lucia Zamora.  I created two “lines” of students on my board, and I would rotate one line to be partnered with the other.  Then they would share responsibility of checking one item on each draft.  I like this because some students are better at editing, and this gives students more feedback their essay.  Here is the station rotation model that I used with writer’s workshop.  The one thing that I am trying to help my students with is remembering to use the correct tense.  I have been giving a lot of input, and I am seeing the benefits; however, when they write, I think they can be more cognizant of what they are actually trying to say.

As I have thought about this, I have thought about where to place presentational writing in our curriculum.  I believe that it can be done in level 4 towards the end of the year as well.  As for my class, I will have one due in the next trimester as well.  I hope to have formal presentational writings each trimester in level 5 next year.  This is just the beginning of my implementation.  I would love to hear how others implement presentational writing in upper levels.  What are your suggestions?

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