Virtual write instruction

Across all school districts, student grades, scores, and standardized test scores indicate a widespread decline in foundational skills, some of the most critical skills associated with academic writing. Writing is not just an English-specific necessity. The ability to construct coherent, clear, and organized thoughts in written form is essential for all aspects of college and career readiness. As educators, we must prioritize these foundational writing skills to ensure that, even in the midst of virtual or hybrid learning, students are still set to succeed.

Daily interdisciplinary opportunities

Writing is one of those skills that is strengthened through repetition and practice. Exposure to different styles of writing and the opportunity to compose different written forms helps students recognize the importance of writing in all subjects. Therefore, teachers should provide opportunities for students to practice composing in a variety of genres and for different purposes. These don’t have to be long, complex write-up prompts; teachers can use these ideas as warm-ups, exit tickets, lesson activators, and more.

For example, science teachers may ask students to write and submit lab reports, write instructions for science experiments, or write project proposals for a final project. History, civics, or social studies teachers should consider prompts that require students to compare and contrast two or more cultures, time periods, landforms, or branches of government. Math teachers can help students with procedural or sequential writing skills by asking them to compose an error analysis for any questions they missed on a quiz or assessment. For a task like this, students subconsciously learn the skills to write written work that follows a problem-solution or cause-effect format. The key here is to demonstrate that writing skills, even short practices, lend themselves to all content areas, not just English.

Peer review

Peer review sessions are extremely beneficial, especially during virtual learning where students do not have daily interactions with their peers. Dissecting someone else’s work can be a very instructive practice for young writers. This allows them to see how another student interpreted and approached the same task in relation to their own response. Seeing another’s writing also highlights different writing styles, provides ideas for varying sentence structure, and shows how others have interpreted a text or quote. By evaluating another’s writing, students begin to understand not only how their own writing measures up, but how an instructor might evaluate a written response. This forces students to consider the prompt, rubric, and overall goals as they relate to their final composition. Peer assessment sessions also stimulate student discourse, which in these difficult times can help boost social skills, collaboration and motivation.

Formative Feedback

By incorporating formative feedback into weekly writing instruction, educators send the important message to students that writing is a fluid process—students are not expected to write perfectly on their first or even second attempt. One of my most beneficial practices for helping students write an essay is to formatively assess the introductory paragraph first, before students move on to their entire essay. By pumping up the breaks and providing specific feedback on each student’s introductory paragraph, I am able to accomplish multiple things at once.

First, looking at the introductory paragraph gives me an inside view of the basis of their essay; I can see the students’ interpretation of the teaser statement, the transition statement leading up to their thesis, and the final thesis statement, around which the entire essay will be framed. If students’ introductory paragraphs are a mess in any of these categories, I can quickly provide the necessary feedback and scaffolding so they can revise and reset before they’ve gone too far down the wrong path. . Looking at the introductory paragraph also shows me whether the students actually understand the writing prompt or not. If several students seem to be off track or missing the mark, I can easily step in and provide supports, interventions and re-teaching to ensure everyone understands the prompt and how to approach it.

Student’s Choice

Educators can also capitalize on a much underestimated teaching strategy: student choice. Whenever possible, I try to give my students latitude for their written responses and essays. Of course, with a schedule to follow, notebooks to line up, and cohorts who prefer to plan in “locked steps,” that’s much easier said than done. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to plan student choice when designing writing assignments, as well as instructional lessons leading up to those assignments.

Below are several ways to implement student choice while providing writing instructions:

Set up a NoRedInk classroom for students to join, explore, and practice various aspects of sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and more. The platform is set up for self-directed, student-led, asynchronous work. Therefore, NoRedInk’s activity options can provide students with interventions, scaffolding, and supports, as well as enrichment and rigor for those working upstream of the group. NoRedInk lets students choose from sentence-level grammar practices, standardized English prompts, and guided writing support. They can also participate in a peer review or self-assessment, depending on their level of comfort with collaborative feedback.

One of my favorite warm-up activities is to provide students with several gifs on a Google slide. I try to choose gifs that relate to students and their interests, like The Weekend’s Superbowl Halftime performance or the latest State Farm commercial. They can choose the gif they want to caption. Next, they should incorporate a sentence structure or grammatical concept that we recently discussed in class somewhere in their caption. Not only can students choose the gif they want to caption, but they also have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions, for example. Teachers can quickly skim through the gif answer to ensure that clauses are punctuated correctly and that students understand the purpose of the dependent versus independent clause.

For writing instructions involving essay review, teacher feedback, or peer editing, ask students to think about which section or paragraph of their essay they would really like to rework or revise. Teachers can then use strategic grouping to organize students into groups with peers looking to revise the same part of their essays. I could organize small groups as follows:

    • Group 1 should be students who want support/guidance with the thesis statement.
    • Group 2 should include students who need help finding appropriate citations from the text(s).
    • Group 3 should be made up of students who need help with a concluding paragraph and/or transitions between paragraphs.
    • Group 4 should be aimed at students who need help in developing their analysis or further developing their own explanations.

Student choice with drafting samples/templates:

Providing teacher models at the start of a new writing assignment is another beneficial strategy for incorporating student choice. Depending on the writing task, teachers should find (or create) a few varied examples of the final essay or product for students to read and review.

These samples may also include student essays from previous years. Provide students with options and have them read, review, and grade at least one of the sample essays. This activity serves several purposes: it allows students to see how others have approached the essay prompt, successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on the samples you collect. It also shows teachers whether students really understand the criteria for success after viewing a teacher model or a sample of students.

If students rate a mediocre or mediocre essay model as “excellent” or “top-notch work”, teachers immediately see that they have missed the mark by fully explaining the task and the learning objectives involved. relate to it. Conversely, if the students are unable to explain why the model test failed or is valid, they also really do not know how to approach the task successfully.

These are just a few of the many strategies teachers can use to optimize their teaching approach when it comes to virtual writing lessons, in particular.

Scott R. Banks