Buttering someone up is an idiom that has long made me smile. Perhaps it is my deeply rooted devotion to butter (the dairy state doesn’t play…you can’t live here if you dislike butter) or the visual of someone taking a stick of butter and applying it like deodorant, but either way, I buttered up my students the other day and it worked deliciously.
Basically, I slathered it on like this:
- Remind students of how awesome they are at writing thesis statements because they have been doing it for years.
- Have students apply their reviewed knowledge of quality thesis statements to their own papers in order to double check their awesomeness at this skill.
- Elevate them to the role of “expert” in the area of thesis writing in order to have them make suggestions to their peers about clarity and depth of their awesome thesis statements.
Underlying all of this was my firm knowledge, butter in hand, that many of their thesis statements were currently far from awesome. However, this certainly wasn’t because my students lacked the skills to clearly convey their ideas, it was most likely because they had procrastinated in writing their drafts, checked out to the warmer temperatures and sunshine, or hadn’t taken the time to really carefully reflect on what they had written in favor of working on something for just about any other class.
So basically, the issues of every paper written by a high school student in May.
In order to encourage some honest reflection and move their work forward, I employed the following strategy:
1. First, I shared with students a thesis statement I wrote to accompany an informative paper I was writing along with them. We talked about the different elements present in my sample and how they matched up with what students knew of writing complex thesis statements. One area we worked through together was my struggle with a negatively connotated word that was pushing my informative thesis statement in the direction of argument. Having students help me change the word, demonstrated what I was going to ask them to do in small groups shortly. (Much praise here and reminders of how awesome they already are at writing thesis statements.)
2. Next, we reviewed the non-negotiable elements of effective thesis statements. I asked students to highlight their inclusion of those elements and/or comment on their papers with what was missing so they could return and revise. We included that an informative thesis statement needed to present non-debatable facts, organization of those facts into a logical roadmap for the paper, and inclusion of a “so what?” element to clarify purpose for their audience on the specific elements of the topic the paper would cover. At this point, we circled back to my thesis statement and looked one more time with theses specific elements in mind. (Again, more buttering up in the form of high praise to their identification skills and encouragement to now apply that thinking to their own work)
3. I then asked students to spend ten minutes or so, writing their thesis statements on our mini whiteboards, revising as they went. They were to write notes on the side to indicate areas they needed help on or questions they had about the effectiveness of their statements.
4. With markers in hand, students then gathered in small groups, “presented” their thesis statements to their group members by reading aloud and asking questions, and then worked collaboratively to strengthen their sentences. (Before they got to work, I reminded them of how highly qualified they all were to assist others and how as a classroom of writers, each student could provide insight to his/her peers on improving the work)
Honest conversations around the room included such statements as:
“I see what you mean. That part made sense in my head, but it needs to move over here.”
“I like it, but I’m still asking ‘so what?’ Like, what’s your point about stereotypes?”
And my personal favorite, “Dude. That thesis is awesome. Can I steal that idea to have a dependent clause first? My audience needs to think about historical examples of Congressional corruption before they can really understand how bad it’s gotten.”
Dude. Did you just reference syntactical choices to more appropriately orient your audience for your paper? Mic drop.
While students worked in small groups, I was able to conference with several members of the class one-on-one. In addition, I noted a few kids I would need to pull into a small group during the following class period to continue guiding their work on these statements.
With the messiest looking whiteboards I have seen in quite some time, students returned to their seats and kept working on both their thesis statements and the necessary adjustments to their papers to reflect their revisions.
I could have easily reviewed the parts of an effective thesis statement and walked around to take a look at what kids had already written. But by helping students see each other and themselves as resources, most of the class improved their clarity and complexity significantly and my involvement was minimal.
In a community of writers, everyone is a resource. Sometimes it just takes a little grease, er butter, to get the parts moving and the collaboration started.
What are your ideas for helping students see themselves as writing resources in the classroom? Please leave your comments below! And, Happy Teacher’s Day!