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I had this idea to have my students write final on demands to see what they are walking out with. Granted there is summer and they will lose a little before they walk into 6th grade, but a final on demand at least will be a benchmark of where they are at this point.
The information and opinion units were still fresh in their minds. We did work in both domains during May, so most students knew what the genre required and could approximate the writing. I was pleased to see what they had held on to. Narrative on demands, with a unit at the beginning of the year, was another story. It was …. abysmal. So many started out… One day.. or, I am going to tell your a story…, or When I was in fourth grade...I wanted to cry. All of what I thought they had was not so. It looked nothing like the post assessment on demands that followed the unit.
You’d think that narrative writing work would be embedded within all writing. Every unit of study we teach students to tell micro stories to illustrate their ideas. And they did sort of. But it seems for my students, who are really writing novices, just holding on to the purpose and structure of the various genres is about all they can manage. They wove a bit of narrative into their opinion work, but not enough to get them through a narrative on demand.
With one real teaching day left in the year, I decided I couldn’t just let them go on to middle school without trying to discover why the narrative went so wrong. I had theories I wanted to test. Why narrative was such a stumbling block. Was it because they forgot how narrative goes, or because they couldn’t do it. I decided to show them the narrative mentor text and ask them to compare it to their on demand narratives.
As I passed out the mentor text, I heard, “Oh!” and “Start with dialogue.” and “Can I re do this?”
Inside I thought ok. They just needed a reminder. I just haven’t done enough of this.
We met on the carpet and I asked them what they noticed.
It’s only a short period of time.
The problem is solved in the end.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact these ahas have been taught to these students since they were in kindergarten. I didn’t mention that, I just wrote their responses, and said hmmm.
They talked about what to do next. Many wanted to re do. I released them from our meeting area as soon as they were ready.
One student stayed. He sat there and after about 5 minutes got to his desk. And then he sat there, looking at his paper. I gave it some more time and then I asked how it was going.
Him: Not good.
Me: How so?
Him: I don’t know what to write about. It’s hard to do this on demand.
Me: Say more.
Him: I always go back to the same old stories, the time when my brother was born, the time at Disneyland, my birthday party. I don’t want to do those same stories.
Me: What about what you wrote for your on demand last week?
Him: But that was just about all the fun I had, there was no problem.
Me: Hmm. (Actually there were problems he just didn’t see them.)
This student knew what elements he needed. He didn’t want to do the same old thing he’d done in the past and he couldn’t fit the present moments with his writing needs.
Another student sat with a page filled staring into space.
Me: How’s it going?
Her: I’m trying to add in more detail about how I felt here. It’s hard.
Me: Yeah. I know. Keep it up.
Another very creative student just sat and stared at a doodled on page.
Me: What up?
Her: I just don’t have anything to write about. It is hard to come up with an idea and just write.
She didn’t write anything in the end. Maybe just a bad day.
After all was said and done. The majority of students showed they could do the work. For some, my brief conversation showed me they knew what to do. They knew what was required and that is what stopped them. For some finding an idea was overwhelming. They wanted a story, but nothing appeared.
The true understanding of how all of this writing stuff works seems to take time and lots of practice.
Is narrative writing harder? Does it take more of us? Do we need to do it more often?
What are you finding with your on demand writing assessments?