After habitually banging my head in frustration over high school students that can not write a decent paragraph to save their lives, I have fallen back on my Writing Lab training. I have broken my students up into ever-changing groups that focus on one aspect of writing, starting with a basic paragraph outline. I cringed as I did it, because even freshmen SHOULD be able to write a five-paragraph essay. It's starting to really work, though.
Today, I had six groups going independently of each other.
1) Paragraph outlines and paragraphs (banging head commences)
2) Basic thesis
3) Advanced thesis (same assignment as #2
, but they are a lot closer to comprehension and don't need to be babysat as much)
4) Essay outline
5) In-class essay (from last week's outline)
6) Focused revision on last week's essay (today it was conclusions)
Now that my students know what to expect, it only takes a few minutes to get everybody going and the couple of groups that need explicit direction quietly (?) wait their turn. Once they get to Group 4, they are pretty much in a rotation between 4, 5, and 6. As my writers become more skilled, though, I foresee several different groups of focused revisions.
As ecstatic as I've been that I'm finally breaking through to these kids, I've been saddened at the end of the semester, because we will be reading two novels and a play. After talking to my sister, though, I think I've figured out how to keep my workshop: just focus it around the current week's reading. By the second novel, I can probably also add a group that is working toward the traditional end-of-the-novel essay from the beginning.
Yes, part of me is actively cringing at the fact that I'm taking such baby steps with sophomores. On the other hand, though, there is no sense in doing the same thing over and over again if it isn't working. As one of my coworkers reminded me yesterday, that is the definition of insanity. For whatever reason, whether it is apathy or lack of proper foundation building in the lower grades, most of my students are not capable of writing a decent essay at this time.
What have other people tried that works?