What’s Essential: Part I – Writing in History

Ottoman Empire paragraphs, globalization paragraphs, annotated bibliographies – all were on my grading agenda today. Topic sentences, accurate and detailed evidence, clear and logical paragraph development, and correct grammar remain the goal for each student. The grades I assigned are less important than the comments, since students will have a chance to revise the paragraphs; stronger bibliographies will enable better research papers. So much of my workload has become reading student writing, providing feedback, conferencing about research and writing, and rereading writing. It. Is. Exhausting.

It was all so much easier when my main focus was on content. Now that content and skills are intimately tied together in my assessments, there is so much more to attend to with each one. In my heart, I truly believe that this is the way the teaching and learning of history should be. Clear writing is evidence of clear thinking. Clear but complex thinking is evidence of understanding. Memorizing discrete bits of information is of no use if there is not meaning, context, connection. There is no magical formula I have discovered for how to do this easily. It is hard on the students, and it is hard on me. I found myself at the end of the day wondering if it is worth it.

While one can craft guidesheets and spreadsheets, and provide some structure, the students are ultimately all on their own journeys requiring personalized attention. I have set aside one class per cycle with my Modern World History students to focus on writing – Writing Workshop Day. What we do on those days varies from working on a new assignment or a specific skill to revision of previous work. Some days I have students look at the spreadsheet I use for tracking their skills to reflect on what they are doing well, not so well, and inconsistently. I end up having a lot of conversations, in person and through Google Docs.

We have been talking in our school about what we think is essential. Working with students on their historical analysis and writing feels essential. I just have to figure out how to keep up with the volume. I wish I believed in magic.

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One thought on “What’s Essential: Part I – Writing in History

  1. I could not agree with you more. I have been increasing the focus on historical reading, writing and scholarship as well. Again the challenge is time to allow the development of the skills and the time to provide prompt feedback on student writing. I have it somewhat better by only have 60 students, but still it normally takes over a week to provide feedback to all and that does not include time to conference and process revisions. Going forward, I am planning to grade each step in the process separately (thesis development, evidence, mechanics, etc.) as smaller assignments and then a final summative grade by combining all the parts to form a complete essay. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, my students are really loving the thematic approach.

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