A Starting Point

October 04, 2017

“I didn’t want to come to your writing workshop today.”

“Thinking about this writing workshop stressed me out for 2 weeks.”

“I have your materials and I’m too scared to open them.”

What a lovely way to start the day! Yet, these are the greetings I face at every workshop and training from Special Education teachers, classroom teachers, homeschoolers, instructional aids, and tutors. Why so scared? Writing! Although many write effortlessly or can write well when required, the act of teaching writing is daunting.
We may craft sentences, connect ideas with paragraphs, and tell stories through the narrative process, but do we know how we do it? What is our process? What is our starting point?

In my experiences over the last 20 years with students of all ages, the common denominator is a starting point. And, we often hear parents and teachers say, “Once he got started, he could do it.” Writing is a complex cognitive task that requires the following skills to work simultaneously: 1) organization, 2) problem solving, 3) language, 4) ideation, 5) working memory, and 6) fine motor schools. So, what’s your starting point?
With Writing Adventures, we use language as a starting point. We have a saying: “Structure fosters creativity”. When we provide structure, students can connect their language and ideas to a specific context and task.

Now for the exciting part: When we use language to create language we address metacognition. The term metacognition was introduced by J. H. Flavell in 1976 to refer to 'the individual's own awareness and consideration of his or her cognitive processes and strategies' (Flavell 1979). It refers to that uniquely human capacity of people to be self-reflexive, not just to think and know but to think about their own thinking and knowing. What are these metacognitive strategies? Nisbet and Shucksmith (1986) suggest a set of six strategies for successful learning, which involve asking questions, planning, monitoring, checking, revising and self-testing.

If we have a starting point for a structured process that addresses each metacognitive strategy, we are setting up our students for success! Visit this link posted by the California Library Association to experience our starting point and metacognitive structure for discovering and learning parts of speech.

This workshop was presented to adult literacy volunteer tutors at the annual Read San Diego Tutor Conference in 2012. The audience was filled with volunteer tutors, teachers, parents, and specialists working with students of all ages and different learning needs. Can you implement this process with your students? Absolutely! Your role is to model the process then transition to the students guiding the process. Enjoy their discovery of the self-directed process and pride in their success!

After a day filled with structure and language, are my trainees still scared? NO! “I can do this!” “I have a starting point!” “I see how to use this with my literature and social studies curriculum!” “Thank you for taking something I avoid and turning it into something I will do with my students.” What a lovely way to end the day!

Fisher R. (1998), ‘Thinking About Thinking: Developing Metacognition in Children', Early Child Development and Care, Vol 141 (1998) pp1-15.