“So the writer’s subheading got you interested because you thought it was about candy, and then she really wrote about eating bugs. Right?”
Aimee Buckner, author of the fantastic book, Nonfiction Notebooks: Strategies for Informational Writing,
asks a student in her class. “That’s what you write in your notebook. Just like that. It’s really a great observation.”
Using tools like Evernote and Postach.io, you can easily facilitate student sharing of these observations with the class. This article shares more about how to better organize these observations and text structures writers use.
THE ACT OF NOTICING
Becoming aware of what others writers do can be powerful for young writers. The act of noticing what others do, how they write requires metacognition of a sort many of our children don’t engage in. As a writer myself, Aimee’s point about making a note of what other writers do reminds me of how much fun I had noticing how Louis L’Amour and Stephen King crafted their writing.
One of my favorite quotes from Stephen King
that captures the difference between the two writers, but also affirms Aimee’s point:
Louis L’Amour, the Western writer, and I might both stand at the edge of a small pond in Colorado, and we both might have an idea at exactly the same time. We might both feel the urge to sit down and try to work it out in words. His story might be about water rights in a dry season, my story would more likely be about some dreadful, hulking thing rising out of the still waters to carry off sheep . . . and horses . . . and finally people. Louis L’Amour’s ‘obsession’ centres on the history of the American West; I tend more towards things that slither by starlight. He writes Westerns; I write fearsomes. We’re both a little bit nuts.
One of those ideas that resonates for me from Aimee’s book is explored below what that looks like in a classroom with young writers.
FIGURING OUT WHAT WRITERS DO
“Writing the EdTech List article,”
captured my understanding of one of my favorite approaches to writing short articles. In fact, you can follow the same approach when writing blog entries, which is a nice short format for students to learn. Let’s explore 3 structures which you may encounter as a writer, whether young or adult.
SAMPLE STRUCTURE #1 – THE LIST ARTICLE
The structure of the list article, which you can use for blog entries, looks like this:
- Start out with an engaging question, quote, or scenario.
- Continue with a list of follow-up questions off the main topic (these are the ones that get answered)
- Finish with a short summary conclusion or make the conclusion the final question.
This format has worked for well for me over the years and I encourage you to try it. But it is also a visible example of how you can learn from how other writers structure their writing. Learning how other writers structure their work is very important but most of us are blissfully unaware. Read more about this structure
SAMPLE STRUCTURE #2: APPLYING FOR A JOB
Just last week, a colleague shared a letter of application to a university as adjunct faculty which made the following mistakes:
- Began with “I” – Not that this is such a problem, but the rest of the application letter focused on the applicant, not what the applicant could do for the organization.
- Failed to clearly match the applicant’s strengths to the organization’s needs.
- Failed to assume a confident stance at the end of the letter.
Revising the application and putting the organization first, this structure might result:
- Paragraph 1: Thank the organization and briefly cover your skills as they support the organization’s needs.
- Paragraph 2: Expand on the first way your skills align to the organization’s needs, clustering relevant experiences around a need.
- Paragraph 3: Continue expanding on the second way your skills and experiences align to a particular organizational need.
- Paragraph 4: Continue expanding on the third way your skills, experiences, etc. align to organizational growth area.
- Paragraph 5: Request when you can meet with the organizational contact to further explore how you can help the organization address current needs and future growth. Then, wrap it up.
Here’s what that looks like:
Thank you for your consideration of this application for an adjunct faculty position at EMPLOYING UNIVERSITY. Having just graduated with my doctorate from GRADUATING UNIVERSITY RECENTLY, I am sensitive to the needs of university students and how I can facilitate their academic success. May I share three specific ways in which I can support your students?
First, as elaborated in my attached resume, my transformative learning experiences enable me to bring a rich perspective to learning conversations. As a veteran, public school educator, serving as both a teacher practitioner and administrator focused on learning organizations, students will benefit from wisdom, insights, and practical advice.
Second, I expect to model for students key strategies that enable them to engage–within the context of their own practice as lead learner of learners–in critical thinking, manage classroom instruction and curriculum development. These strategies, gleaned from various real life scenarios and lauded by my own supervisors, will be indispensable for nurturing students at any stage of their educational career, whether preservice or inservice.
Third, my motivation and productive work habits have been blended with a profound knowledge in core teaching areas. This blend of motivation and habits enable me to make skills, knowledge and experience available for students at EMPLOYING UNIVERSITY. When might we meet to discuss how soon I can begin working on behalf of EMPLOYING UNIVERSITY students?
SAMPLE STRUCTURE #3: Fantasy and Truth
In the workshop, she shared the following prompt with us:
When Fantasy Seizes Us More Strongly Than Truth
Then asked us to fill in the blanks for items in brackets; what follows is my response:
[describe what this means to you]
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real and what just seems real.” We are fascinated by illusions and they capture our interest more than the real. So, because we love the beautiful lie, the real seems less than what we deserve.
[a book that captures the idea]
One of my favorite stories from my childhood is that of “The Sleeping Dragon,” when a group of college students is transported to another reality. One of the opening action scenes after they are transported to another world involves one character who can’t accept the reality of where he is. Caught up in the fantastical transition, he can’t quite accept that his actions have consequences. Beguiled by the fantasy made real, he dies at the end of a spear, unbelieving that death has found him.
[A movie that symbolizes]
The real and unreal often capture one’s attention simply because their juxtaposition seems impossible. Consider the unreality of a werewolf, a vampire or a zombie…the juxtaposition of these in a movie or television series with our lives can be terrifying, leaving us reaching for the hand of a friend.
[A recent moment in history that makes it true]
A recent moment in history that underscores the difficulty of what’s real and what seems real is that of watching schools lose their fear of the Internet. For many school districts, the Internet casts a gigantic shadow over the power of technology in our schools, and most huddle in fear beneath it, unable to think or do much than say, “No, not for me and mine.” But as the real benefits of the Internet are found, discovered by each of us, the fear lessens…and what seems real, we discover with some surprise, isn’t anymore.
[a nagging, lingering question that remains]
Why is it that we have so much trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what just seems real?
This kind of activity makes it possible for young writers to become aware of the structure of writing at a young age.
Technology Connection: Using a tool like Evernote, a teacher could create a Notebook called “Organizational Styles”—as Aimee Buckner does on chart tablet in her class—then allow students to email their reflections on what they have noticed writers do when organizing their text. This can be kept and serve as a reference or resource for the entire class. You can make this notebook public by connecting it to a “Class Portfolio on Writing” that features these observations, as well as students’ attempts to craft writing per the structure.
As a veteran writer, learning how to organize my writing is most the battle. Text structures make it easy to “fill in the blanks” rather than have to start from a blank page. Over time, as students become more comfortable with text structures, they are able to innovate, combining those and creating their own. With tools like Evernote and Postach.io, it is very easy to share these ideas as they are being developed, easily controlling access to the outside world as appropriate.
About the Author
As a lead learner of learners in K-12 public schools, Miguel Guhlin (Twitter: @mguhlin) encourages adult learners to engage in reflection on teaching, learning and leading in educational settings. He is most happy when helping others cross the digital divide via transformative, technology-based experiences. You can read more about those experiences at his blog, Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org – www.mguhlin.org.
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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure