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NYC Helpline: How To: Walk the Walk

Walk the Walk: How to look at and learn from student writing work Sarah Picard

After spending a few months learning a new curriculum and classroom management techniques, many teachers in collaborative relationships start using their collaboration time to look at samples of student work. Gathering writing samples to look at is not difficult, but sometimes it is hard to focus a conversation with a partner. This how-to is meant to be used as a frame for your conversations. It will keep you focused on the work on the table and how the information you find will inform your teaching. 

As an elementary school teacher, I find it helpful to look at my notes from writing conferences and the students' samples of writing.  

Looking at samples of student writing work can be helpful in many ways. First, I use them as an assessment tool of the child's performance. I look at a child's writing samples with my collaborative partner and we ask one another the following questions:

  1. What is this child doing well?

  2. What reading strategies can this child use independently?

  3. Why is the student writing this piece of writing? Who is it for?

  4. Does the student understand the structure of the genre s/he is writing in?

  5. What process does the student use to create this piece?

  6. How is the student using punctuation?

  7. What kind of details is the student using, and do those details enhance understanding?

  8. What does the student think about this piece of writing? Did s/he self-reflect about this piece of writing?

After looking at the writing, I explain my conference notes to my partner and we ask each other some of the following questions:

  1. Could the child tell me about who this piece of writing was for?

  2. Could the child tell me why s/he was writing this piece?

  3. How does the child talk about the steps in the writing process during conferences? 

Once my partner and I have taken some notes about the student's level of understanding, we take a look at the student's work and it's relationship to our planning. We ask ourselves some of the following questions:

  1. How is the student using some of the new strategies I have taught this week?

  2. What mini-lessons have I taught this week that the student used in his/her writing? 

  3. What have I taught in a conference this week that the student used in his/her writing?

  4. What mini-lessons and conferences could I plan this week to help this child and perhaps other children in my classroom?  

Hopefully these questions will guide your conversation. Try not to think of them as a checklist of questions to ask your partners, but rather as a guide for your communication.

Good luck, and enjoy your conversation!


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