National Writing Project

On the Verge of Understanding: A District-Wide Look at Student Writing

By: Kathleen Reddy-Butkovich
Date: April 2008

Summary: In this chapter from Writing Intention: Prompting Professional Learning through Student Work, the author and colleagues from Michigan writing projects use an examination of student work to discover what it is that student writers are "on the verge of understanding." They apply these observations to arrive at some implications for teaching and learning in their school district.

 

Excerpt from Chapter

Rather than beginning with all the extenuating circumstances, we placed student work squarely in front of us. Rather than selecting and sorting the 'good, the bad, and the ugly' pieces, we looked at all the students' texts with the same set of questions. Rather than spending time with our writing laments about missing conventions and lack of details, we focused on finding what was there by describing what we saw in the work and citing evidence in the student texts. Articulating these discoveries, no matter how small, provided the nudge we needed. It is essential for us to see our teaching, our writing curriculum in the students' work. What teachers do makes a difference in how much our students are capable of achieving as writers. This pushed us to find some answers for the last important round of questions. 'What are the implications for teaching and learning?'

Based on what we saw in student writing, we brainstormed some next steps for our daily teaching practice. For example, fourth grade teachers read the collected student fantasies. They noticed a variety of dialogue tags—whispered, sneered, demanded, etc. in the students' pieces, many fourth graders seemed to be on the verge of understanding paragraphing when using dialogue, and one of the implications for teaching included teaching students how to use dialogue to develop plot and characters.

Copyright © 2008. Reprinted by permission of Michigan Reading Association.
Reddy-Butkovich, Kathleen. 2007. "On the Verge of Understanding: A District-Wide Look at Student Writing." In Writing Intention: Prompting Professional Learning through Student Work, edited by Cynthia Clingman and Antonio Tendero, 5–10. Grand Rapids, MI: Michigan Reading Association.

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