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Writing Coach

Class of 2017: Marie, Aislin, Tara, Isabelle, Sharina (here is our "who has met with whom" chart)
Class of 2016: Jane, Susan, April

This is a hard job and also one that is extremely valuable.  Basically, you will do the following 4 things each time:
[1] Come in at your convenience, 
[2] choose a piece of writing from the "Writing Coach" tray, 
[3] take the kid to a quiet work spot, and 
[4] help them to improve their writing.

[1]: When to come.  You can work with a kid anytime while our class is in homeroom.  This is from 11:00 to 11:55 every day, Monday from 1:35 to 3:20, Thursdays from 1:35 to 2:25, and from 9:00 to 10:40 during the weeks when our class is not at a Dowling or Malouf intensive.  (calendar).  It is assumed that you will put in an average of 1 to 2 hours per week.

[2]: Choose an essay.  There will be a tray on my desk marked "Writing Coaches" and it will contain photocopies of various students' writings.  It would be best to choose an assignment with which you are familiar and certainly best to choose a kid with whom you think you can work well.  I encourage you to work with the same set of kids for a while, if possible, so that you can monitor growth and build skills from session to session.

[3]: Find a place to work.  This can be a challenge at DCS because we are short on quiet space.  You can work in our room, or in room 2 or room 3 or in room 20.  You can also work anywhere outside if weather permits.

[4]: Help them improve (completed essays).  This is obviously the meat of the matter.  There are many ways to do this, and below are some ideas that might be useful.  Feel free to just "go with your gut" and try anything.  
  1. read their essay out loud to the kid, but without making corrections or suggestions; repeat with corrections & discussion
  2. have the kid read their essay to you, out loud, making corrections or stating their concerns as they proceed
  3. read the instructions for the assignment and have the kid show/explain how they have satisfied the requirements
  4. to test organization, see if you and the kid can "take notes" on the essay (writing topics and bulleted sub-topics)
  5. check the essay for effective and intriguing words, replacing the mundane as needed.  This can apply to phrases too.
  6. see if you can find a kid whose essay is great and have them loan it to you two for modeling and inspiration
  7. use an online service such as PaperRater, to get computer-based analytics and feedback
Help them write an essay.  If the timing is right, you can certainly help any kid with the process of writing an essay that is in the making.
  1. I usually have a page on my site for each assignment.  Check the hot spot.  The page should have instructions, due dates, and sample(s)
  2. In general, I ask kids to complete the following components during the writing process and turn them all in along with the final:
    1. pre-write:  unorganized items or diagrams or drawings loosely related to the topic
    2. outline: an organized list of topics and subtopics which contain info (not just titles like "introduction" or "how I feel about it")
    3. edited drafts:  printed copies of a draft with hand-written edits, usually one with a peer and an improved draft with adult edits
    4. final copy:  usually 12 point font, double spaced.  I usually don't set a minimum length, but I do state a "time-invested" expectation
Email from Chris to April (10/4/15): Thank you very much for thinking about the process and how to make it more effective. My experience is that if any improvements are going to be made by the kids, it will happen during the time that they are actually meeting with the coach. Many kids will perhaps promise and intend to upgrade their papers on their own time without you there, but the follow through is often low. The best learning, I think, happens during the 30 (or so) minutes of 1:1 time with the adult -- even if the result is just one great paragraph rather than a completely revised essay.

The primary goal is not really to turn in to me an upgraded product, but rather that their writing skills increase through practice and intense personalized tutelage, modeling, and support. Take, for example, the following scenario: kid has written a paragraph (or entire essay) that contains too many topics, little support, is repetitive, and uses overly casual language. The kid and coach can work to revise that paragraph on that existing essay, and then write another paragraph on scratch paper or whatever on a completely different topic. Perhaps even a third try on a different day, targeting the same skill(s). THey are certainly invited to turn in an improved copy of any assigned essay, but I guess I'm trying to say that we're investing in a "process over product" experience.

I do like the ideas that you mentioned whereby the coach reads the essay in advance of the meeting and having them share a doc with you or you come copy an essay from the tray is a great way to do that.

Email from Chris to Marcy (10/8/15) I have noticed, as have you coaches have as well, that the kids aren't adequately enthusiastic or receptive to this 1:1 writing idea. Their resistance is somewhat understandable because it is a hard process and requires that they be vulnerable, focussed, and productive. BUT I'm not willing to let them dismiss the opportunity it provides -- they will never have this available to them in school again and the potential for their significant growth as writers far outweighs the preference for complacency that tends to infect the 8th grader.

I'll have to get pretty honest with the whole class about the whole "but that is how I want it" response to a coach's suggestions for improvement. I feel that it is just a way for them to resist challenges and take the course of the familiar.

I'll cc the other writing coaches on this because they should know that I'm going to take a strong stand on this (with the kids) and demand that they participate/contribute fully and produce work that is significantly (!) better than what they could do alone.

Email from April to Chris (10/8/15) Just a few observations of mine, for what they're worth:
* It is easier and more comfortable to work with students we've been in classes with before - because there is a level of trust and respect that has been established. It is much easier to take criticism from someone you trust.
* It always helps when I start off by pointing out some strengths to their writing / or some aspect of their essay that I found especially interesting.
* After I read through the essay, it is usually clear what elements we need to work on (organization, voice, grammar) - but I also ask them what THEY feel they need help with or what they'd like us to focus on. Then hopefully, we can work on both.

Email (portion) from Chris (9/11/16)
When kids explained that the peer editors "couldn't find anything wrong" with their paper, I had to realize that I failed at reframing the word "editing" to more clearly match my goal.  At a cursory level, an editor and author can work together to fix errors or mechanical issues, BUT, those aside, a great editing session involves extensive dialog about the less tangible things like voice, fluidity, cohesion, and character. Followed by a coach-assisted rewrite process. 

Writing Rubric

Six Traits Writing Rubric