The TLAC team and I are heading to New Orleans after Winter Break, doing a two-day updated Engaging Academics workshop on January 11th and 12th.
We’re excited to be presenting- it’s one of our best workshops–maybe the ideal ‘introduction to TLAC workshop–but this one should be especially interesting as it includes a few significant changes that I thought I’d take a minute to tell you about.
Change #1: Re-Focusing Everybody Writes on Balancing Three Types of Writing:
We’ve been really focusing on the importance of writing lately and this has caused us to be more intentional in thinking about what aspects of writing this workshop should focus on.
You might have seen ourrecent post about the difference between formative, summative and developmental writing for example. A series of school visits in the fall caused us to refelct. At the schools we visited we saw constant summaitve writing- writing that asked students to express a fully-formed opinion and support it with evidence in paragraph setting.
We’re all for summative writing. But we were struck by how much students struggled and we realized there were some things missing that were needed to balance and improve the summative writing they were doing.
Consider that students were often asked to express a formal idea and support it with evidence before they’d really had a chance to develop an idea they really felt strongly about. It was too early for a thesis! The result was an exercise in frustration and a missed opportunity to use writing as a tool to think about, struggle with and make sense of the text, not just explain themselves.
In other words, the summative writing wasn’t balanced by formative writing, writing that as a tool to develop the thoughts they would later justify. Writing and discussing a few fomative prompts would not only help student construct an argument worth of justification, it would help them enjoy and engage in the text. In one or two schools we felt like great books had become, sadly, convenient tools for constant practice in argument formation. But the books didn’t come to life.
And there was another thing missing: syntactic control- the ability to formulate sentences that captured complex thinking. The sentences students wrote were desperately poor and disjointed but they wrote them over and over again. The summartive and formative writing also needed developmental writing–writing designed to expand students’ capacity to write.
This caused us to re-focus the Everybody Writes section of our workshop on balancing the three types of writing and better understanding formative and developmental tools.
Change #2: Emphasizing Major Muscle Groups in CFU
We’ve also been thinking a lot about one of teaching’s greatest challenges- Checking for Understanding, or, as John Wooden put it–Knowing the difference between ‘I taught it’ and ‘they learned it.’ In the past we’ve focused on a lot of tools teachers can use in different situations to gather and respond to data on student mastery in real time. But sometimes we felt like it wasn’t cohesive enough. It was too focused on smaller topics and not on most critical things. We were, for all you gym rats out there, not focused enough on major muscle groups.
We’ve reworked the CFU portion of the workshop this time around to focus more on a core cycle of activities: 1) anticipating and planning for error by choosing important questions, drafting an exemplar answer–what does success look like to me–and anticipating likely error. 2) Tracking Not Watching–that is observing carefully and intentionally for the work that students produce 3) Making the student work–successful and with errors–the center of the classroom, particularly via Show Call. In short we redesigned to study how to link together what we think are the most valuable tools of all in a consistent set of routines you can use in your classroom.
Anyway, tehre are other changes too–new videos, better practice activities, etc. But we think these two changes are especially exciting and we hope you’ll come join us in New Orleans.