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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Formula versus Structured Writing: Understanding the Difference Using our Bodies

There is a lot of confusion out there regarding the difference between the organization of structured writing compared to formula writing.  I would like to share my two cents worth on the topic using the human body below as an analogy. 
My little friend to the left is called Space Boy!  The illustration shows all the information below, but I will list them anyway just in case the image is not clear on your viewing device.
His head for the analogy will represent the introduction.
His neck will be the transition to the body.
He is wearing a blue shirt which will be the start of the event in the body.
He is also wearing green pants, which can either represent the 2nd event or responding to the prompt, depending on grade level and the amount of lines available for writing.
For this picture, one page represents approximately 26 lines.
Everyone has a waist, so that or the belt would be the transition between the green and blue ideas/events.
In order to transition to the conclusion, it is understood that he is wearing socks.
Finally, his shoes represent the conclusion.
Okay!  Let's get this body started! 
Structured writing has specific types of details that are in each part of the essay.  You can name all your students by name very quickly by looking at their face.  How is that possible!!!!! They all have eyes, ears, noses, chins, hair, and  eyelashes/eyebrows.  It is because most of the parts look different that you can tell them apart!  This is what STRUCTURED writing is like....We all have the same structure, but vary in colors, shapes, and sizes!   So you can still guide students to include a who, what, when, where, why, and weather in their introductions, but will train them to using different details in their outlines and rough drafts to represent those details.
       Formula written introductions on the other hand, make students beginnings look like twins, triplets, and 22lets! :-)  Some examples of this are:  Hello, my name is, One hot day, One cold day,  In this story I'm going to tell you about, or a question that restates the prompt exactly.
      Our bodies also look different in terms of size and shape, so depending on the ability age of your students, you would need to expect a different amount of quality and/or quality from the essay.   Each student shouldn't have x amount of lines for this and x amount for that.   For example, a 10 year old functioning at a 6 year old ability level cannot produce the same product as another 10 year old working at a 12 year old ability level.   The way we would look different in the space boy picture is that some students quantity of details would look like a long sleeve shirt and pants when they are on  or above grade level, while others kids who struggle might look like shorts and a tank top!
     If we only teach kids to use the same basic transition words between ideas like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, then, and finally, it would resemble each child wearing the same exact necklace, belt, and socks as everyone else in the class.  I understand that when children are first learning how to write, simple transitions are needed, but please graduate those who can to more effective transition words and phrases as soon as possible.
     Almost done....hope you're still with me!  Look at your shoes for a moment.  If you're not even wearing any, it's like forgetting your conclusion on the essay.  I call that "Whiplashing the Reader!"  You just suddenly stopped right in the middle of the story because you got tired, ran out of time, or ran out of space.  If your conclusion is there, but is only a restatement or summary of everything you've already written, that would be considered formula writing.  Think of conclusions like DESSERT for a moment.  Repeating things you already wrote is like giving the reader leftovers and not dessert.  No conclusion at all would be like a DESERT.  There's nothing there!
      A strong effective conclusion would look like the vast variety of shoes worn by all the students in the classroom....all unique....most somewhat different.  For a fun but perhaps smelly way to introduce creative conclusions to your students, have them all take off their shoes and place them in a pile in the middle of the floor and go stand against a wall.  When you give the signal, they are to WALK to the pile, put their own shoes back on, tie/Velcro them , then return to the wall.  Normally kids in mid to upper elementary grades will be able to accomplish this without too much chaos.   They will discover that the main reason they were able to put their OWN shoes on was that they all looked a little bit different.  NOTE: I went to one school last week where this activity wouldn't work because in addition to having matching uniforms, the students all had to have matching socks and shoes as well!
     It is important to understand that when I write about structured writing that is creative and unique, I am not talking about August!  These are end of year goals!  If we can't graduate from formula writing at all however, we may as well make 22 carbon copies of the first essay that is turned in and give that to your readers to grade!  Take the time to brainstorm WITH your kids as much as possible as well, so that they can write about going to DIFFERENT places and doing DIFFERENT things while you are there, and ending with a bang, not a Gong!  

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