Friday, September 30, 2011

Some thoughts on student writing

Denise and I have changed the way we approach student writing as we have implemented the REAL FRENCH tout de suite program with our 1st-6th grade students over the last few years.

Here are some of Denise’s thoughts on the subject and a writing sample from one of her new 5th graders.

I’ve been teaching French for over 17 years to students in Grades 1-8, and one thing I often struggled with was how to evaluate writing. I always knew deep inside that filling up a student’s paper with red marks was not productive or fair because in many cases, he was not ever provided with what he needed to complete the task at hand. What often happened was that students would scale back on their writing and only use the simplest language to avoid those red marks or they would use translating programs or even worse, spend hours looking words up in a dictionary. I would then spend days trying to figure out what they wanted to say and making all the corrections only to see them glance at the grade and promptly throw the paper in the garbage. Later, we put a stop to the immediate disposal into the garbage. We asked students to hand in a corrected copy, but they would only write out what we had written. Subsequently, they would often finish the complete assignment without acquiring any more knowledge of the language but with plenty of frustration and negative thoughts about language learning.

What I love about Real Language is that it focuses on small, interesting chunks of language and provides the students with lots of different ways to use that language. They are applauded for being able to communicate – rubrics in level II include points for making sense and sharing information with a partner. Isn’t that what language is all about? Using Real Language, I have found that writing assignments now ask students to let their knowledge shine through by asking them to write what they know. I have them write in a journal during class with no teacher help, no partner help, no dictionaries, no computers nor books, and I have found their writing delightful!

The writing example above is from one of my fifth grade students. She came new this year and spent one week with me during the summer using the Real Language level I program, and then she started with Level II with all the other fifth graders. She wrote this after about three weeks of French class. They know I’m not going to pick it apart, so they allow themselves to use language to communicate even if they don’t have everything they need. For example, Caroline did not know the possessive adjective, his, but she did know “birthday” and “he”, so she wrote “He birthday is the 10th of January.” I understand. She has communicated. This is success. She feels it and wants to learn more! I have been blown away by the writing in my classes. It is much, much better now that we are teaching grammar within a meaningful context and for the purpose of communication and NOT on its own in a vacuum.