Close Reading and Smart Analytical Writing with Laura Robb

Laura Robb is just one of those published educators who I have come to trust for authentic teaching practices to improve student engagement and learning. So, when I found out that Heinemann was hosting a one day workshop with Laura Robb back in September, I immediately signed up. The workshop covered writing plans to support the development of analytical writing, practice strategies for creating claims and using evidence from texts to develop arguments, articulating criteria for a writing task and mini lessons to support what students should know, and addressed how self and peer revision improves student writing.

Here are some of the key ideas that I learned to bring back into my classroom:

1. Teach Students to Activate Prior Knowledge on Their Own

Students need to ask themselves, “What do I know about this topic” before reading. If students don’t know anything they need to read slowly and thoughtfully, be prepared to reread parts and close read to make sense of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Writing and talking about what we read also is essential to share what we have learned from the reading.

2. Mythology, Folklore, & Legends are Important to Teach

When I think about it, every state exam that I have seen over the past fifteen years for my middle school students contains a myth, legend, or folklore in the reading comprehension section. This genre is referenced everywhere, students need to read the different myths, legends, and folklore to identify the allusions, as well as understand the characteristics and structure of these types of text.

3. Help Students Create a Claim Using the YES/NO Strategy

Pose a question that relates to the text. Make sure the question has a yes and no response. Have students argue for the claim that their reading supports. Ask students to use their text to find evidence that successfully argues for the claim. Evidence can be details and logical inferences. For example: Can better care of land in the prairies reduce the negative effects of dust storms? or Can discrimination prevent a person from realizing his or her dreams?

4. Tips for Productive Peer Editing

“Excellent” or “Terrific” is not helpful for revision and editing. This kind of feedback doesn’t really help improve writing. Teachers must show students how to respond to student’s essays. Start with a positive comment and point out a need with a question. By offering students examples, teachers build their mental model of what helpful peer editing looks like.

5. Mentor Texts: Analyze Openings and Endings

Share with students effective leads and endings in both fiction and non fiction texts. Students need to see MODELS to help them build their own writing style and see what “good” writing looks like. Create a list of various leads and endings for students to refer back to often. Discuss what was effective and why. As Laura Robb states in her book, Nonfiction Writing From the Inside Out, “The ending sums up the emotional journey, leading the reader to an awareness and understanding of how the person grew from experiences and how the reader grew by following it.”

6. Rethinking How Teacher Evaluate & Grade Writing

Rather than a rubric, give student the criteria for a writing assignment, such as a analytical essay and give students two grades: the first grade is for the content; the second grade is for the craft, style, and writing conventions. Allow students to improve their grades by revising and editing their second drafts.

For more information about Laura Robb you can go on her website to see the more than twenty books she has written and read through her monthly newsletters for more ideas for teaching reading and writing.

Carnegie Report “Writing to Read: Evidence for How Reading Can Improve Writing” written by Graham & Herbert

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