Writing is hard, even at year 12!

At the moment, my year 12 social studies class are working on their 40 hour famine projects.  When they heard that they were going to give up food for 40 hours and camp out at our school marae, they were mega excited and couldn't wait for the date.  When I said that they needed to plan and write about the reasons they were doing it, I literally thought the cyclone had hit us - kids were hiding under their desks, shielding themselves behind friends and refused to make eye contact - I knew they hated the thought of having to write anything.

The last two weeks of term 1, I'd given them the chance to start and we'd had a great lesson on the 3rd to last day where everyone was engaged.  But after the holidays, it seemed like something in the air had magically poisoned their minds and they'd forgotten everything.  Comments filled the air today like 'what are we doing? I can't find my booklet?  where do I find it?  where am I' and as I'd expected, there was no recollection by many of the kids of anything we'd done in preparation for writing.

Today, I'd had enough.  I stood over two of my very able but exceptionally evasive boys and said 'I'm not leaving here until you've got your netbook out and you've told me what you're supposed to be doing' - not very P.C I know, but I could not help it.  I knew if I didn't do something drastic, they would avoid doing any work and again I would feel like I'd failed them.

I watched them reluctantly get their stuff out, then open their booklets to the first page that had one question on it and the rest was a blank page (yip they were writing their drafts on paper).  That was when it dawned on me.  What if this blank page was just too much and they felt overwhelmed?  What if I was expecting too much from them?

I dug into my knowledge box of tools that were rusty and found a strategy adapted from the 'write that essay' book that I'd read last year.  I drew on the whiteboard the number of lines on the page and counted them.  I knew that the kids had to write 4 paragraphs over two pages and each page had about 25 lines on each.  I then counted 12 lines and scribbled out the 13th, which divided the page into two.  Then I said they they could write one paragraph over 12 lines.

I then divided the paragraphs further, by saying that each paragraph had to use the acronym S.E.E (a statement, an explanation of that statement and an example or quote to support the statement) in their paragraphs, and they needed at least two of these to complete a paragraph.

I then broke that down further and said that a statement could be written in 2 lines, the explanation over 2 lines and the example over 2 lines (so therefore each paragraph needed to have 2 S.E.E's which added up nicely to 12 lines).

When I finished explaining this scaffold to the boys, one of them looked like at me like the lights had gone on.  He smiled and said 'oh I understand, I can do that'.  Then I watched him for the next half hour, head down, only glancing up to check on the structure before he completed 2 of the 4 paragraphs and then the bell went.  He got up to leave and asked if he could finish the rest for homework and left on his merry way.  I knew he'd get his writing engine started - just had to put the petrol in and out of park into drive!

Structuring writing by counting the lines! Read all about it in this book.





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