By Sara DeMartino and Cheryl Sandora

Institute for Learning

In the article Organizing Instructional Tasks with Landing Pages (posted December 15, 2020) we described how sequencing student-centered routines helps students reach a learning goal through reading, writing, and talking in collaboration with their peers. Now, we share how to utilize student-centered routines to support students’ writing. These routines allow students to use writing to express what they know in connection with what they learn from the text. In other words, it creates space for students to engage in conversation with the text, individually and with others. The process leads to more equitable access to the text, to the talk, and to the writing process, which over time leads to a greater expression of student agency. For example, a first-read comprehension task might move students from independent work, to partner work, to whole group share, and finally to independent reflection.

So, how do you move from a student-centered comprehension task sequence to asking students to build on their ideas in an essay? One way to leverage student-centered routines in text-based writing is through utilizing a quick write to essay task. 

A quick write to essay task asks students to work from their initial comprehension quick write to draft a longer related essay. The expectation is that students work to build on writing they have already started – they don’t come into the essay cold, having to come up with a new idea or opinion. And they don’t come to the writing task without talking about and getting feedback on their ideas from peers and getting a chance to add to their initial thinking and revise. Let’s take a look at the process.

Begin by asking students to engage in a high-level comprehension task in response to a complex text. Students would read and annotate the text independently and then either work independently or with a peer to compose a quick write in response to a high-level question or prompt.
This guide provides a more detailed version of the quick write to essay process.
For the example shown in the map, students were asked to compose a quick write in response to the prompt, “What’s the speech about? What’s Truth’s argument?” This question required students to take a first pass at stating what they know about Truth’s argument using evidence from the beginning, middle, and end of the speech. Students then worked with a peer to share their quick writes and negotiate a shared understanding of Truth’s argument. By asking students to come to a shared understanding, they have to discuss and support their ideas with evidence from the text. It is the sharing and negotiating of understanding that provides students with initial feedback on their ideas, requiring them to agree and disagree with their partner and to explain why they agree or disagree. This initial conversation prompts students to think through their ideas from another student’s perspective, allowing them to revisit their ideas through a different lens. Students then engage in another round of sharing and feedback when they are asked to share their ideas with the whole class and engage in an Accountable Talk® discussion to agree, disagree, and build on to their peers’ ideas and to explain their thinking. In this step, students are sharing and explaining their ideas and receiving feedback from additional students’ perspectives. Students are then asked to add to or revise their initial ideas and to engage in a metacognitive reflection, but the work of writing doesn’t stop there. Using their quick write as a foundation, students are supported to expand their ideas into a related essay. For this example, students were asked to use their quick write as the foundation for an essay in response to the prompt, “As readers, we learn a lot about who Sojourner Truth is both through how she describes her experiences and through her interactions with the audience. Please write an essay in which you explain what you learn about Truth as an individual by reading this speech.” Through teacher modeling, students are first shown how to surface what they think by revisiting their quick write and text annotations, organizing their ideas, and identifying supporting evidence. They then draft the body paragraphs of their essay, leaving the introduction and conclusion as their last pieces of writing. The conversations around student’s ideas don’t stop when the writing starts. Throughout the process of moving from quick write to essay, students are asked to share their ideas and evidence with peers, receiving feedback, and making decisions about which pieces of feedback make the most sense to address for their work. Students use these decisions to guide them as they move from draft to final essay.
Reflection from the Classroom An experienced high school teacher reports that over the past year he has noticed that students no longer hesitate when asked to compose an essay. They grab their quick writes and jump into the work. He sees more agency and empowerment in students as they write.  The confidence they have built over time is reflected in their writing.
Students often find essay writing to be a challenging task. By engaging in writing tasks as an ongoing conversation with their text, their quick writes, and their peers, they are able to reach the goal of composing a well-supported and thorough essay. Utilizing student-centered routines, including peer sharing and whole group discussions, provides students with the support they need to generate, rethink, revise, and expand upon their ideas as they move from quick write to essay.

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