We are in Process, and that is Beautiful

A follow up to a comment on the post Not the Same ‘Ole AP Writing Teacher

Wow. Thanks for following my blog. I’m grateful. I appreciate your inquiry into our Snowfall writing project. It’s made me do some thinking, and you’ve inspired me to turn my response into a follow up post. Thanks for that.

Here’s my best shot at answering your questions:

1. Do you have any completed student assignment that you would be willing to share? and 2. What vehicle/medium did you use for to students to publish their work?

No student samples yet — this is the first year I’ve had students complete something quite so extensive. In regard to publishing their work, we aim high, so students will do a bit of research to see if they can submit their articles somewhere for publication. When they were first selecting topics, we discussed audience, and students had to justify what kind of magazines would run a piece about their topics. For sure, students will publish their finished articles on their blogs. They each have their own blog in which they write weekly.

3. What were your specific requirements for the assignment?

Since I am pushing toward authenticity, I intentionally did not start with a rubric. I’m sure John Branch didn’t have a rubric when he started writing “Snowfall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” either. I want students to take ownership of this work, so I want them to think through the parts and pieces that will make their work turn out the best.

Students and I read five pages of Branch’s piece together, and I encouraged students to read the rest of the article online in their own time. All I really told them was that we were each going to write a full-length feature article, and this Pulitzer Prize winner was our model. I am trying to break habits of skating through writing assignments with weak ideas and weaker research. Many of my student are used to getting A’s without having to actually learn anything. This bothers me. That is partly why, although they got to choose their topics, I had to approve them and be sure there was some depth to what students were thinking in terms of what they could discover in their research.

While it may sound strange, I do not have specific requirements other than–

1. show me that you have learned several different modes of writing, including how to embed and cite research,

2. include several different images, including photos, video clips, info graphics, charts, etc that make your article multi-media and convincing,

3. prove that you take pride in your work by revising, evaluating, improving, and learning as you move toward publishing your best work.

I do keep tick marks in my records of students who submit their work to me for review on time and who use their time wisely in class, but those benchmarks become daily grades and will not influence a student’s final grade on the piece he finally publishes. Most likely I will allow students to give themselves a grade when all is said and done. Without question they always grade themselves harder than I ever do, and I have to score them up a bit.

4. Any other information that you could share with us would be greatly appreciated.

Every week we work on some aspect of this writing. Last week we read some descriptive writing, and students finished up their narrative intros. I read aloud the prologue of The Emperor of All Maladies–a Biography of Cancer (also a Pulitzer), a non-fiction text that begins with a narrative intro, similar to the narrative at the beginning of Snowfall, although different at the same time. We connected our thinking back to Snowfall, and students moved their “remember it” paragraph to the top of their page and revised to make emotional stories that would draw their readers into their articles. They read and evaluated the writing of their peers– aiming for the WOW factor (our way to gut-read a text), and they revised to make better.

Later we talked about definition as a mode, and students began writing a paragraph that defines their topics and includes a position statement. (We are including a persuasive slant more than Snowfall because of the argumentative focus of AP Lang.)

I showed students how to use google forms to conduct surveys, so they could gather their own data instead of relying on whatever they found on the internet, and they took a survey I created that I will use in my own feature article I am writing beside them. Every step I ask students to take, I take as well. They can see my piece develop and change and grow as theirs does. Soon I will introduce info-graphics with the hope some students will include those in their full-length article. I think info-graphics are so cool.

So, that’s about where we’re at with this huge and engaging writing project. I wish we could stop everything else and only work on this piece– we had a district checkpoint, and we have an AP mock exam looming, so we have to move back and forth into the genre of test taking. But … maybe, this slow process is for the best: I am able to show how the skills needed to write on demand are the same as developing a long process piece–only s.l.o.w.e.r.

We are in process, and that is exactly what I want. Kids are learning and growing as writers, and that is so much more important than rushing into a finished product.

I hope this helps. Please ask if you have other questions. I am happy to share and share and share. I am thrilled that others are doing this same kind of exciting and engaging work with students. We are teaching the writer and not the writing, and that is beautiful.

Warmest regards,


Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

One thought on “We are in Process, and that is Beautiful

  1. Erika B. February 3, 2014 at 5:13 pm Reply

    There are so many times that I’d love the opportunity to get into the head of an author or poet and really debunk their ideas…what they’re thinking…how they maneuver through their thought processes, but rarely have the opportunity to do so. Here, I do.

    Amy, this post is unique and so, so informative. I love the bold words: authenticity, audience, depth…and so forth. I love the natural way in which you guide us through this really beautiful process you and your students are journeying through together.

    My one request, access to these best drafts! One, so I can learn. Two, so my students…alllll the way up in NYC, can see and learn as well.


What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: