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Monday, July 1, 2013

Common Core Writing Standard 4

For this standard, students need to differentiate between forms of writing and understand how to approach each one. College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Writing 4 (CCRA.W.4) states, "Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience."

What does this mean for students in intermediate grades? The standards for third, fourth, and fifth grade (listed below) indicate that third graders will write pieces that are developed and organized for specific tasks and purposes with adult help, while fourth and fifth graders will also consider audience and write on their own.

Grade 3 (W.3.4) - With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.

Grades 4 & 5 (W.4.4/W.5.4) - Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

First, students need to be aware of forms of writing and their characteristics. Children's author Suzanne Williams offers a fairly comprehensive list of forms of writing, as well as teaching strengths of certain genres and a rationale for teaching writing in genres. She explains that we should teach genres "because writing adheres to different forms. While the qualities of good writing cut across all genres and forms of writing, each genre has its own 'rules.'" I agree. Our students cannot write a good persuasive essay, for example, without understanding purpose of and strategies for that genre.

After students learn to identify the forms of writing, they need to know how to approach each when writing. Questions like "How much figurative language should I use?" and "Should I write in first or third person?" and "How formal should my voice be?" are important to understanding how to handle a certain task.

The problem, of course, is that all of our hard and fast rules for each genre can and are bent . . . and many times bending these rules improves the writing itself. For example, biography, which is a form of informative writing, would seem to necessitate formal voice with little or no figurative language. Author Jean Fritz, however, has written a number of highly successful biographies using a fanciful, engaging voice. So we speak of the "rules" for each form of writing in broad generalities. Using continuums has really helped my students understand this. Here are two examples:

I never present a continuum to my class; we always generate it together. That causes all kinds of messy discussion about exceptions and overlaps. Your continuum may end up looking more like this:

What really matters is that students engage in meaningful discussions of the forms of writing and understand the criteria for each. In other words, what makes poetry poetry? What makes narrative narrative? And, of course, they need access to plenty of diverse examples of high-quality texts in each genre.

To me, this standard is not taught on one day or in one unit. It's woven into instruction every day of the year. Every time a text is read, the teacher should be asking questions such as these:
  • What type of text did we just read?
  • How do you know?
  • What strategies did the author use to effectively write in this genre?
  • Did the author bend the rules of this genre? How?
  • What could the author have done better?
  • Which strategies will you apply in your writing (and/or avoid)?
Opportunities to write in a variety of genres is essential. For younger children, choosing a specific graphic organizer works well, but be warned: no one graphic organizer works for every genre! Students  need a "bag of tricks" (or in this case, a bag of organizers) from which to choose. The bag should start small and grow as the student gets older.

One organizer I see a lot (and use myself) is the sandwich (or hamburger). 

When would a student use this graphic organizer? Here's a brief list. For which of these do you think the sandwich organizer could be used?
  • poetry?
  • descriptive?
  • narrative?
  • persuasive?
  • informative?
If you're like me, I can only see application of this organizer to descriptive, persuasive, and informative. We're going to need some different organizers for poetry and narrative. As a matter of fact, no one organizer will work for all forms of poetry or all forms of narrative. I think the sandwich organizer is a great place to start, but students will need to add to their "bag of organizers" and know which to pull out at the appropriate time. You can locate oodles of organizers online. For example, I simply googled "writing organizers" and came up with this great site from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Implications of this standard are broad and deep. We've only just touched the surface. 

Would you like to share some insights and/or ideas with us? Please feel free to start the conversation!

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