Writing is complex. To teach it well, teachers must clearly focus on specific aspects of writing that they want students to work on
Applying any rhetorical structure to writing helps novice writers
For daily writing, teachers get the most bang for the buck by focusing on paragraphs
For lengthier writing, spend 75% of available time creating an outline
Things are simple that can be understood by looking at a single level with a single set of conceptual tools
Things are complex when we can’t understand them without shifting perceptual or conceptual levels. Levels create complexity. We shift levels when we need to change tools: from a microscope to a sextant.
When we examine one level, we lose sight of other levels. When we examine a cell through a microscope, we cannot at the same time “see” elk populations shifting over decades.
Writing is (more or less) exactly as complex as the human mind
Focus on what? Ideas - Organization - Voice Word Choice - Empowerment Metaphor - Simile -Synecdoche Grammar - Spelling - Consistent Tense Fluency - Authenticity - Originality
When we examine individual sentences, we can proofread for grammatical errors: the correctness. Or we can pay attention to the music and the rhythms and the figurative language: the style. Or we can contemplate the meaning and accuracy of the thought: the ideas. But few of us can do all these at the same time. (which is why it takes many drafts to get a piece of writing “right”) Awareness of the levels increases students’ perception of order –their ability to focus
At the level of paragraphs, new issues emerge. Is the paragraph unified? Do all the sentences relate to a single main idea? Is the paragraph adequately developed, with enough detail to communicate and to persuade? Is the paragraph coherent, with sentences arranged in a plan the reader can follow? Paragraphs
At the level of essays or articles, all the simpler issues remain important, but organization becomes increasingly difficult. . . . . . much more difficult. . . “ As length grows linearly, complexity expands exponentially.” Essays, Articles, Reports
Conceptual tools for focusing on different levels
Outlining Paragraphing Proofreading
An original sentence, a step forward, is worth more than all the censures. Emerson Sentences The Basic Standards
Basic standards for sentences Someone who can consistently meet these standards has a sound understanding of the basics of writing English sentences. Students should be expected to meet these standards in every formal assignment.
Paragraphs Students should develop the habit of writing in paragraphs . The expository paragraph with a topic sentence and detailed support is the basis of much academic and business writing. The Basic Standards
Do you keep your eye on the ball: does every sentence in the paragraph relate directly to your main idea –stated in the topic sentence ?
Basic standards for paragraphs
Development (most paragraphs contain a combination of these)
Anecdotes or narrative
Cause and Effect
Have you provided illustrations to make clear what you are thinking? Have you provided enough evidence to support your case? Have you provided enough detail to accomplish your purpose? Basic standards for paragraphs
Paragraph frames provide clear models that allow students to practice applying rhetorical strategies to their writing:
State your idea in one sentence.
Write at least one sentence to explain the idea.
Give an example.
Discuss the example in more detail.
Re-state your main point in different words.
“ Report” Paragraph Frame I also learned. . . . For example, I learned. . . . I learned a lot about. . . . The most interesting thing I learned was. . . http://www.flatheadreservation.org/images/phs/Paragraph_frame-report.pdf
“ Persuasive” Paragraph Frame I believe that. . . One reason is. . . For example. . . Another reason is. . . For example. . . Therefore, . . . Also, . . . http://www.flatheadreservation.org/images/phs/Paragraph_frame-persuasive.pdf
“ Reflective” Paragraph Frame Today we studied. . . I already knew. . . The main thing I learned was. . . I question. . . I still want to know. . . http://www.flatheadreservation.org/images/phs/Paragraph_frame-reflective.pdf
A filled in paragraph frame Main Idea: Learning how to turn in homework assignments on time is one of the most valuable habits high school students can take with them into the working world. Explanation: Though employers may not assign homework in the traditional sense, many tasks must be completed by deadlines. The deadlines that students encounter in the classroom may be different that workplace deadlines but the importance of meeting those deadlines is the same. Example B: Accordingly, just as a student risks termination in the classroom if he/she fails to meet the deadline for a homework assignment, so, too, does that student risk termination in the workforce . Example A: In the classroom, students form a contract with the school when they enroll in a class. That contract requires that students complete the assignments set forth by the course's instructor in a specified time to receive a grade and credit for the course. Completion of idea (or transition to next paragraph): Developing good habits of turning in assignments in class now, as current students, will aid your performance and position as future participants in the working world.
[Sentence 1: Transition from previous paragraph] Thoreau, however, is not necessarily interested in actually living in nature to the extent that he would be camping out. [Sentence 2: Lead-in to the quote] He writes about building his house, and the fact that it protected him from the elements. [Sentence 3: Includes quote] “I began to occupy my house on the 4th of July,” he says, “as soon as it was boarded and roofed, for the boards were carefully feather-edged and lapped, so that it was perfectly impervious to rain . . . .” [Sentence 4: Tells why you include this quote] As you can see, he was careful in the way he constructed his house, and he did wish to be protected from the elements when necessary. [Sentence 5: Adds more information to strengthen the support] It is also interesting that he did not actually move to the woods until this house was ready for him to live in. [Sentence 6: Reminder of how this relates to your main idea] So it is apparent that while he loved nature, he wasn’t living in a cave, or even a tent.
[Topic Sentence] My apartment is disorderly around midterms because I am stressed. [First illustration] Books are stacked up on tables, on top of cabinets, and even on the floor wherever I last read them or set them before bedtime at 2 a.m. [Second Illustration] Also, the kitchen table generally has notebook paper, pens, clips, and used staples spread across it, leftovers from the papers I’ve been writing or the notes I’ve been recopying to meet last-minute deadlines or to study for tests. [Third Illustration] My bed remains unmade each morning as I dash out of the house barely in time to make it to class after only a few hours sleep. [Fourth Illustration] The kitchen sink is half full of dishes when I wake up because by the time I get to bed I’m too sleepy to wash them. [Strongest illustration] Worst of all, the trash is lined up in three or four bags next to the kitchen door because it can’t be my priority
Outlines To write an outline, a writer needs to focus on the highest level* of writing: Ideas, Organization and Truth The Basic Standards (There may be higher levels, but they go beyond the scope of high school teaching: think Koran , Bible , Analects of Confucius , etc)
“ As length grows linearly, complexity expands exponentially.” Jon Franklin
Organization is the main problem in lengthy writing. Outlines are the solution. “ Every writer of any merit at all during the last five hundred years of English history outlined virtually everything he wrote. . . Jon Franklin
Every sentence makes a concrete assertion about the subject
No airy abstractions
No statements of the author’s plan
In a good outline. . .
Increasing efficiency and productivity It’s more effective to require multiple drafts of outlines (which a teacher can read quickly) than it is to try to explain to a student what went wrong in a longish essay. The more demanding teachers are of quality outlines, the more engaged students need to be in hard thinking, which is the only effective learning strategy…
Graphic organizers are often better than Roman numerals Constructing a Thesis PDF