I experimented with a graphic organizing tool in an effort to improve student writing organization. But, what I found was a possible link between student anxiety and submitting work late.
In an effort to scaffold the writing skills of my students, I regularly require them to use a paragraph outline tool. The tool reminds student writers to include all of the required parts (topic sentence, supporting evidence, etc.) as well reminding them to assemble those parts in a logical structure. I required students to employ this scaffold tool for every paragraph we wrote early in the school year. And then, based on assessment results and what I observed, I gradually relaxed on the notion of requirement and began to merely suggest it when necessary.
I still felt that the writing of my students needed something more. In December, a colleague in my Twitter learning community shared an image of a number of different graphic organizer tools.
I looked at them and realized that I could re-purpose one of them for an upcoming project.
This particular tool broke down paragraph writing even further, concentrating on the idea development stages that occur prior to creating a paragraph. This graphic tool is divided into 5 sections. Students will complete one such page for each of the three supporting reasons of the paragraph. In the center of the page there is an oval. In this oval, students are to write their topic sentence. In the top left corner, students write one of their reasons. In the lower left section, students write down the examples, details, quotes they will use to support their reason. In the upper right section, students must write down the arguments that oppose their reasoning. Then, in the lower left section, students draw a picture that represents their reason. This drawing can be a symbol, stick people, a cartoon – anything that challenges them to convert an abstract idea into an image.
I tried out this tool following the winter break, on a paragraph we were working on about whether or not young people should be banned from using social media. I first asked students to use the graphic organizer tool, and then I had them plug the resulting information into our existing scaffolding tool I regularly used. My expectations were not that high – I really felt that by this late in the school year, student writing was beyond the use of a graphic organizer. Students – echoing my feelings – moaned and groaned when I introduced it. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the work students shared with me.
First, the resulting paragraphs were much more structured and logically organized than usual. Even students who regularly struggled to assemble clearly presented arguments produced better work.
What really surprised me though was the impact on work submission. Usually, about 40 to 60 percent of my students submit their work after the deadline. For this particular assignment, 95 percent of students submitted their work on time.
This raised some questions about the late submission of student work and student anxiety.
Is it possible that students hesitate to submit their work because they didn’t feel confident in the work they produced?
Were they deliberately dragging their feet until they could take their work home to have a second set of eyes (either a parent of a tutor) look at it and see if it met my expectations?
Are we making the stakes so high (at least in terms of student perceptions) that they will withhold their work in order to avoid or delay evaluation and, subsequently, a perceived punishment?
If anyone has any research in this area, I would love to take a look at it. In the meantime, I plan to dig for more information on this kind of connection. And, I will work with my students to try to change their perception of failure. I’ve kick-started a Failure Friday advisory event at my school (where we share stories of epic failure and what we learned from it) but clearly more needs to be done to help kids lose that anxiety associated with not being perfect all the time.
And, I am going to continue using graphic organizers and scaffolded structures for my writing projects. I just need to get used to student whining and complaining!!