What if I told you there is an easy strategy to incorporate more writing into your curriculum AND that it improves student engagement, accountability, and achievement? What’s that you say? You’ve heard it all before? And you don’t have time in your scope and sequence to add in writing assignments? Well… What if I told you this strategy takes LESS THAN 2 MINUTES to work its magic??? Now we’re talking!
I had the honor of hearing John Collins, creator and author of The Collins Writing Program, present about the use of different types of writing across the curriculum to improve engagement and comprehension at Harvard earlier this summer. Collins used several of his “Type 1 Writing” prompts throughout his presentation and I saw first hand my own personal engagement and comprehension skyrocket. I mean, here I am writing about the content he shared!
Type 1 Writing poses a high-level thinking question, gives specific parameters (such as a number of lines to write or a number of reasons to support your opinion), and – here’s the key point – is QUICK and is TIMED.
Here’s an example I experienced during my time with Collins:
Peter Vaill has done extensive research on high performing leaders and has found that they share 3 characteristics. Predict what you think these three characteristics are and share which one is most important and why.
You have 1 minute and 33 seconds to write at least 3 lines.
After writing, Collins had participants get with a partner and discuss what we wrote. This is important because often when teachers give students time to talk, the extroverts talk a lot (and don’t necessarily stay on topic) and we don’t hear much from the introverts or those who don’t feel they know the content well, however, if students have written down their thoughts first – even for a quick 1 minute and 33 seconds, students are then EAGER to share what they’ve written, they stay on topic, and EVERYONE – even the introverts – have something to say.
In her book, Tech with Heart, Stacey Roshan states, “Students should have the opportunity to respond in a format that is most comfortable for them. While some are naturally more vocal, others thrive when they have a moment to process and type out their thoughts” (p. 72).
While I love the simplicity of Collins’ Type 1 Writing and I believe that this method provides rich data on student comprehension, I began to feel overwhelmed when I imagined piles upon piles of students’ short answers that I would need to go through to provide feedback and adjust my instruction.
That’s when a brainstorm hit: I could use Stacey’s ideas in Tech with Heart of using technology as a way to ease student anxiety AND provide students with immediate feedback by utilizing technology to collect these quick writing responses.
Stacey is a math teacher and discussed in her book how she uses Pear Deck in her classroom to collect student responses and then display them anonymously to point out great work and also where mistakes happened. I’ve also seen teachers on my campus use ClassFlow in the exact same way. Additionally, I’ve seen students turn in hand-written work digitally by snapping a picture and turning it in with Seesaw or Google Classroom. Whether using PearDeck, ClassFlow, or some other tech tool to collect student writing, I believe that educators can take all the benefits of Collins’ Type 1 Writing and elevate it further by pairing it with technology to collect all responses and provide immediate feedback to the whole class as well as when talking with individuals or small groups.
Here’s how this strategy might flow in a classroom:
Step 1 – Assign a high-level thinking question about your content. Be specific about what they are to include in their answer and their quick, 2 minute or less time limit.
Step 2 – Have students respond using Pear Deck, ClassFlow, or another technology.
Step 3 – Have students turn and talk with a neighbor about what they wrote.
Step 4 – Listen in on conversations and look over answers turned in electronically for one or two you’d like to highlight
Step 5 – Anonymously display some of the writing, providing immediate, meaningful feedback, and lead further discussion to clarify, dispell misunderstandings, and take the learning deeper.
Step 6 – Use the writing responses to guide your personalized and small group feedback with students.
John Collins’ Type 1 Writing paired with a technology to collect and display student work allows all students time to think and process, it allows all students a voice, not just the extroverted hand-raisers, it keeps all accountable to turn in work, and it enables teachers to provide immediate feedback, lead rich discussion, and display all writing anonymously.
I’m already brainstorming how I can incorporate this strategy into the learning I lead with adults. How might you utilize this writing strategy to have students think deeply about your content? Please share in the comments!