Warren Combs has devoted his professional career to the application of best practices in the teaching of writing. His book with Eye On Education, Empowering Students to Write and Re-Write, was published in 2010. The book provides teachers with detailed strategies and lesson plans to help teachers give their students the confidence to continuously improve their writing. The book also includes real student writing samples.
The video above is a book preview video for Empowering Students to Write and Re-Write.
Eye On Education: What led you to write Empowering Students to Write and Re-Write?
Warren Combs: The President and Publisher of Eye On Education, Bob Sickles, asked me to write it. But I must admit that I had been asked to write books before. This time, the request seemed like a good fit. My system for teaching the writing process, called "The Writing Cycle," had much success in school and district implementations. Schools that used to see 30 to 50 percent of their students meet a state writing standard posted success rates in the 80 and 90 percentiles after using my writing process. Yet, there was no written explanation of what makes the system work. With Empowering Students to Write and Re-Write, teachers have a complete roadmap. There is no doubt in my mind that any teacher could take the book, quickly read the first six chapters, and then launch the Writing Cycle into practice the following Monday.
EOE: What can teachers do to create a positive atmosphere for the revision process?
WC: Write with the students. When teachers define and insist on a positive atmosphere for their own, personal writing in class with students present, the right atmosphere is created. Any other strategy for establishing a positive atmosphere for re-writing in the classroom is way too much work for teachers. When I started demonstrating key writing practices in classrooms of students, I wore myself out trying to verbally explain expectations of good revision. It took me about three years to get so worn down that I finally took the advice of a former student. I sat down and revised my own writing in front of the students, modeling the intense engagement that I wanted the students to emulate. Since then, in every classroom I visit, the students work much harder at their writing than I do. That’s the way it should be.
EOE: Why do you believe revising writing is such a difficult process for students? What is the most important thing teachers can do to help students go through this process?
WC: Revision, like any learned skill, is challenging for anyone who has not been given the tools they need to be successful. Besides writing with their students, teachers need to quantify expectations at each step of the writing process and then let the students self-assess. Teachers need to keep quantifying until the students automatically exceed the expectations on their own.
Here’s one example of what I mean by quantifying expectations at each step of the writing process:
|Step of the writing process
||Example of quantified expectations
||Brainstorm 6 ways to respond to the topic; pick 1 to write about
||Jot down a list of 6-8 vivid points to flesh out your main idea, then pick 2-3 of them to develop.
||Write 4-5 paragraphs (minimum of five sentences to a paragraph).
||For a first draft that has undeveloped body paragraphs: 1) Circle 4-5 sentences that make a picture come to your mind and 2) Write everything you can think of about two of the circled sentences.
||With two partners, identify and correct 75% of the errors in capitalization, punctuation, usage and spelling.
I know those quantities aren’t magical, nor do they ensure good writing. But I've seen the strategies prompt students to pour more than enough of their thoughts on paper so that teachers can help them fine-tune what they are trying to say. When teachers quantify expectations, they seldom hear, “How long does it have to be?” The kids are too busy thinking about how they are going to express their own thoughts.
Learn more about Warren Combs by clicking here. And stay tuned for the second part of the Author Spotlight, tomorrow!