Saturday, January 29, 2011

Don't be Pointless

I invited a good friend into my classroom the other day. My father-in-law has always told me to surround myself with people that could do my job or better. Wendy James could definitely do my job and do it well. It is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to have so much collaboration in the Saskatoon Public School Division.

I had asked her out to help me with raising the bar for my kids writing. In all of their writing, we are aiming at developing:

  • higher order thinking
  • creativity
  • choice
  • writing mechanics

In our blogging we modify our writing checklist (I don't want to grade their blogs) every two months. I have included out February checklist below.

□ don’t be pointless
□ best effort
□ evidence of pre-planning- web, outline
□ higher order “verbs
□ evidence of reading/jot notes- use word for first copy
□ 200 words minimum
□ visual
□ topic and concluding sentence

Wendy engaged them in activities which really stretched them to think about how to bring their thinking and writing alive. She really helped me in my journey to provide engaging and relevant thinking and writing activities.

You will notice that on our checklist the first item is "don't be pointless". I love this idea and will use it as a framework for all of their work (and mine) in class. Let me try to explain. We are going on a "how people worship tour" this month. We are visiting a Hindu Temple, a Mosque and a Synagogue. Among other things, we are creating a venn diagram (gliffy) comparing the three worldviews and doing a writing assignment about them. Bernajean Porter would be rolling her eyes at me with the word about.

I am quite proud of the fact that I asked the kids if this assignment was higher order or lower order, they knew it was low. I asked them if it was deep learning or superficial, they knew it was superficial. Thinking or consuming, they knew it was consuming. Fine. Wendy helped me to get further.

The writing assignment was to use google squared to create a comparison chart of the three religions. The students had to find out five things about each and organize this into three paragraphs. We discussed in class that this was not deep thinking and it was primarily research. The point for me was that I wanted them to know somethings about each prior to the trip. We knew this wasn't a great thinking activity although the venn diagram was better.

The writing had a point for me as a teacher. What Wendy's activity addressed was that if the kids just write about the founder, the country of origin and the main idea, the activity from their perspective is POINTLESS! Their writing is pointless if they have not been asked to have a point!

So we asked them to take an interesting fact and take a stand on it. An example would be that one of the main ideas of Judaism is the coming of the Messiah. Another is that Hinduism is one of the the oldest religions and that it is one of the most inclusive ones. It would not be hard for many students to explore their thoughts on these, to make a point, to choose an argumentative style, to back up their arguments with facts and criteria.

In this way, student writing will reflect their thinking, not just about something. How often can we expect students to write in an engaged and meaningful way if what we ask them to do is pointless?!


  1. Thanks for inviting me into your class, Tim. Such a pleasure to work with your students and you.

    We started with an activity where the whole class argues against the teacher on the subject and side of their choice. That really helps them understand what makes an effective argument before we co-constructed criteria. Then when we looked at our work for facts and arguments, it was easy to see that we had mostly facts.

    Tim was the person who brought up the idea of writing being pointless if it is only facts. What a memorable way of phrasing the problem. I will use that idea again and again. Thanks, Tim!

  2. Such a pleasure working with you with my students! When are you coming back?!
    Their blogging will no doubt improve as we refine our criteria and teachers begin to model writing with a point!