As Lower School teachers, we enjoy spending significant class time teaching students about reading and writing. We know that over the course of our students’ educational journeys, they will be asked to write a wide variety of pieces, from prose to poetry, book reports to journal prompts.
One major focus tied to our English Department learning outcomes is to demonstrate a command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage, such as punctuation and spelling. Despite the seeming simplicity, this is actually a monumental skill for students to apply consistently. Quite simply, it comes with time and practice. If we treat writing instruction as a simple sum of grammar and mechanics, we risk losing the opportunity to do something more and different with them as we teach and they learn.
One of the advantages of our small class size is being able to offer individualized instruction, including a more holistic approach to writing instruction. In addition to shoring up grammar and mechanics skills in 3rd grade, we work on helping children explore their writing styles and use this knowledge to improve their writing. One way we have begun to do this recently is to discuss patterns of talking and writing. The “dot writer” is someone who writes as though they are making a list. Dot writing is missing virtually any detail. The “dash writer” writes longer sentences, but does not have all their ideas connected. They frequently drift from one topic to another. “Linear writers” compose their texts in a way that connects one thought to the next, so it all makes sense. This is usually the kind of writing expected in high school and college. The “spiral writer” writes in a way that one idea leads to the next, but sometimes does not stay on one topic.
After we discuss these patterns, the students work with me to determine the style of their writing. The students who are dot writers work on including details and writing about one topic, while the students who are dash writers work towards organizing their ideas and sticking to one topic. Linear writers work to hone other aspects of their writing such as word choice and figurative language. Finally, spiral writers work towards narrowing their topic when writing academically and learning to use their natural style to weave creative narratives.
The benefits? Not only do they simply become better writers as they practice their skills and hone their strengths, but the students love having the language to describe how they are writing and what they are reading. They often recognize these patterns in what they read, and leads to students thinking more deeply about writing.
So are you a “dot writer” or a “dash writer”?