Writing Strategy: Verbalize It

Sitting in a doctoral class a few weeks ago, my professor had everyone stand up in front of the room of 20 seasoned professionals and share the outline of what might eventually be our dissertation. I would speculate the room totals over three decades of experience in public education and is quite intimidating. However, taking our thoughts about our dissertation topics and saying it aloud made such a huge impact.

Verbalizing in my own classroom:

Similar to other teachers, I took the idea and used it in my own classroom.

Struggling Writers:

In the middle of my day I have a group of characters that avoid writing by whatever means possible. They are quite the witty and clever group, but have a fear of writing because they are not great at it (yet).

The class was fine tuning its ability to write counterclaims and rebuttals for an upcoming argumentative writing task. To enhance instruction and work across curriculum, I love using texts that relate to whatever is going in social studies class down the hall. Knowing they have gone over the Bill of Rights and were recently taught the first 10 amendments in depth, I chose a short text which investigates a young lady who got in trouble for allegedly smoking in the school restroom.

Our close read followed by literature circle-style small group discussions made the group experts on the topic. However, many of them were stopped dead in their tracks when asked to answer the prompt which asked whether the school was allowed to conduct the search and seizure (4th amendment). Students were offered an organizer with a skeleton to help (if they needed or wanted it), but nothing was working.

I’ll admit, I was frustrated by the lack of effort being put in. However, then I thought back to my doctorate class and verbalizing the dissertation topic. I asked one student who was well on his way to give me his first line, “The school district had every right to search the female student because there was probable cause due to the 4th amendment.”

“Billy, you now have your claim. Now, what is your next line,” I asked.

Shocked he was called on, Billy stuttered a moment, “According to the rules of the amendment, there was probable cause in this case.”

“Great start,” I shared. “But what exactly is the probable cause?”

From across the room, “Mr. Cook, the girl smelled like smoke and another student reported it to the teacher,” Travis stated.

“Okay, now we have some evidence and a warrant (explanation of the evidence), but is that enough for the audience to understand my argument?” No echoes across the room. “Well, Angel what’s my next line.”

“Since it happened in school, the school is the person in charge of the student,” she said.

“The guardian,” one student interrupted.

“Thanks, Drew,” I stated. “Now we need to update Angel’s sentence.”

“While at school, the principal and teacher is considered the guardian of each student and has a duty to keep each students safe,” Angel restated.

“And…so what…don’t forget to use the sentence stems if you need them,” I chimed in.

“As a result, the school is legally allowed to check her purse and came across a lighter, cigarettes, and a small baggy which looks like marijuana.”

“Fantastic! Is there more information to add?” as I point to another student.

“Another reason is there have been court cases that have supported similar situations in other schools,” Cristina said.

“Do you remember the cases? Knowing them would give you a source for your evidence,” I shared.

“It was the New Jersey case I think, but I can look it up in my [social studies] my notes,” as she shuffles through her desk. “It’s New Jersey v. T.L.O. We learned in Social Studies that case was the first big one that allowed principals to search students if they have probable cause to keep others safe.”

“Wow, you must have all paid a lot of attention in social studies. Now lets put that knowledge down on paper,” I said as students were busy writing an argumentative response to the article.

Simple goes a long way

It’s not hard to share ideas verbally for many of my students, but writing is a struggle. By sharing the exact words we were going to use on paper, many of my students gained confidence to write their response. Later that night reading looking over their writing, I am sure there are many pieces that need to be reviewed regarding word choice, but students ideas on paper were off the charts!


About briancookeducator

Husband, Daddy, teacher, #Mountaineer, coach, and aspiring school leader | Thoughts are my own.
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