60. The Wordsmithing Begins

For our purposes, wordsmithing means content precision. Intentional writing for teaching and learning. An ongoing qualitative measurement of student progress.

The intent is for students to intrinsically absorb and acknowledge a subject. To make its content part of who they are and what they think.

But NOT indoctrination.

Rather, a method to help students reflect upon and creatively construct ideas. To consciously become more effective and self-assured. To create a better sense of who and what they are. As members of a community, culture, and human race.

Not individualization of instruction used to inculcate specific skills. Nor a one-way literary interaction between teacher and student, such as teacher comments written on an essay.

A dynamic interaction in the form of conversation — with much give and take. Employing teacher listening as much as building student skills and understandings. Similar to what is called a Socratic technique.

That definition of curriculum goes far beyond information on the walls — what is currently covered in the district’s language arts curriculum. That list is only a one-dimensional learning veneer.

“Covering” a curriculum implies teacher dissemination of information that students are required to absorb. A requirement often ignored because they do not understand, are not able to comply, or refuse to accept.

For content to be meaningful in a curriculum there must be a clear expression of what will influence a change — in student perspective, performance, or deep knowledge.

Verbs that stipulate specific responses. Content fields that describe the breadth of those responses.

Quality teacher/student engagement starts with well written intentions for student learning. Combined with an understanding of how those intentions are presented, broken down sequentially, and continuously evaluated.

Within a scholastic milieu that acknowledges students are more than empty vessels into which information is poured.

Barbara Guides Discussion on Curricular Wordsmithing and Validation

Both Mary and I are amazed. The core of the new learning infrastructure consists of skills we can convey to older teaching colleagues.

We told our SAC members that curricular expression and teacher/student responsiveness are mutual conditions. In plain English, curriculum is taught and learned as written.  Interpreted by teachers collectively AND individually. 

Our kind of Socratic teaching is greater than a smart guy passing on his thoughts to eager young people seeking wisdom. 

For our purposes, teaching and learning are not just intellectual musings. They are based on specific skills and knowledge areas within a well-designed curriculum. Reinforced from year to year.

As I told SAC members, allegiance to curriculum is more than teacher intuitiveness about what is scholastically important. Being guided by a curriculum begins with clearly written intentions for student learning.

We teachers who create the curriculum must thoroughly understand and interpret it through our interaction with each other and deep personal reflection.

I asked Mary to explain how that worked structurally, the way she was taught in the university. She presented a description of the high achievement unit outcome.

Mary said, “The high achievement unit outcome is a critical part of a grade level curriculum.It is a brief but powerful statement that contains many elements requiring teacher background knowledge and reflection. Here’s an example:

Students will define and describe each of the six writing traits and produce accurate examples in published original essays incorporated into technological media.

“First, we isolate the measurable verbs and clarify their meaning: define/describe, produce, and published

“The content field for define/describe pertains to the six writing traits. The content field for produce includes original essays (using those traits) written and published. In this case, published means use of available social media such as a blogpost.

“The six writing traits are: Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency. They are to be defined and described. Used in essays written by students, posted on a social media platform.”

After Mary offered that information, I made sure everyone on the committee understood. This outcome is a multifaceted UNIT that meets the three criteria we established for a communication curriculum:

language arts + projects + technology

Language arts in this unit pertains to composition skills. Projects relates to published essays. Technology is use of electronic social media.

Mary added, “Anything classified as a unit will take time to teach and learn. Maybe multiple weeks in one grade level. We might even spread that unit through many grade levels, emphasizing individual writing traits. That element is critical if we are honest about teaching something to mastery or adroitness.

“In our example unit outcome, we break it down by each of the six traits. Or combine them in some way to show compatibility.

“In my field of science similar traits are within what we call the ‘scientific method.’ But it is difficult to treat them separately. Even development and use of a ‘hypothesis’ (an educated guess to be proven right or wrong) bleeds into everything else scientists do to make discoveries, like the gathering, use and treatment of data.”

Bob Snyder added another consideration. “Writing traits are necessary but styles are even more important. Traits are basic tools that make writing effective whereas styles are what our writing is meant to accomplish. What are we trying to do? Tell a story, convince an audience, offer instructions, describe an activity, or offer ideas or personal perspectives?

“In my fifth-grade class I discuss these styles:

  • Narrative
  • Descriptive
  • Expository
  • Persuasive
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Reflective
  • Personal

“What if we added styles with traits in a high achievement unit outcome? One that looks like this:

Incorporating the six writing traits and using specific styles, students will produce and publish original essays they incorporate into technological media.

“Using both traits and styles allows us to individualize over a broad range of communication needs, depending on student interests.

“Students in the early grades like hearing and telling personal stories. My fifth graders do as well. Stories are interesting, made more so if the six traits are applied effectively. The type of character telling the story, how interesting the character or storyline is, whether the story’s events flow logically and understandably, and the extent to which words and phrases are familiar.”

Myra Jackson, elementary school principal, leaned forward and nodded in agreement.

“Maybe it’s my background as a first-grade teacher, but I could not agree more. I have become a C.S. Lewis enthusiast. Lewis was a theologian who attempted to explain Christian beliefs using many analogies such as the Chronicles of Narnia series. J.R.R. Tolkien also wrote The Lord of the Rings fantasy to encourage deeper thinking about human relationships and conflicts. Even J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories explore topics of relevance to our world.

“Stories we read and tell are a function of creative thinking. Of connecting the mundane aspects of life to reflecting on our existence and purpose.”

Ken said, “This is an interesting discussion. I like the idea of an explicitly stated curriculum. And preparing teachers to use it accurately to cause deep and enduring student learning.

“I also understand the importance of communication as central to much of everything else we teach.”

After Ken made those observations, I stated that we might want him to elaborate. He agreed.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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