While student teaching, one of the recurring topics I would discuss with my cooperating teacher was the difference between students with high ability and students with low ability/skills. The spectrum of ability we taught was vast, and it required me to interrogate who I was as a high school student.
Honors Language Arts I. Honors Language Arts II. Honors Language Arts III. Composition and Advanced Literature.
I had to ask myself, how was I supposed to helps students who struggled to write paragraphs when I had never struggled in the same way when it came to writing?
Therein lied the problem. (Will I ever understand the difference between laid and lied? Probably not. That’s something i still have to learn.)
Had I failed before at writing? Did I understand what it was like to struggle with language? I considered myself a learner, but here I was in the role of a teacher.
I came to this conclusion when talking to my CT:
I wish I’d failed more in high school.
What good was it for me now to have the weight of being high school valedictorian on my back forever? No one cared about that, I didn’t care about it, and all it did was make me feel as if I had to continue on this path of success that I had set for myself before I even got to the heart of my educational career.
This idea of failure is a subconcept that I see as crucial to concept 4 — All Writers Have More to Learn (59). If we only succeed, we’re not learning because we don’t have that struggle to overcome, don’t have strong motivations to grow.
In the FYC composition classroom, this means providing opportunities for failure. In providing opportunities for failure, teachers can also provide opportunities for growth, correction, and assessment of learning.
We have to remember that assessment doesn’t just mean final papers or final exams (another subconcept — assessment is an essential component of learning to write (67)), but also understanding where our students are in the learning process and helping them to understand where they are, as well. Formative vs. summative assessment is especially important to consider as teachers here; we have to make sure that we have some formative assessment along the way and before it’s too late for us and our students to do anything with these assessments.
Some ways we can include formative assessment: have students turn in part of an assignment or have students complete a practice activity. Make it clear that these don’t have to be perfect.
In the FYC composition classroom, it’s also important that we incorporate how to read feedback. We as teachers can model (through demonstration, most likely, although the age of transparencies has shifted into the age of screen casting) how we take feedback and how we incorporate that into future drafts or future projects. We can show our students that we’re learning too.
Not only can we show our students this, but we can also teach them to revise. Making revision processes explicit makes revision processes easier and shows students that revision is more than just fixing grammatical errors. Revision is central to developing writing, and students need to understand how to revise (66).
Essentially, we need to teach our students that they’re learners and show them that we’re learners, too — lifelong learners, at that.
Learning how to write becomes easier when you identify as a learner.
Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. (2015). Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (1 edition). Logan: Utah State University Press.