Moving from Graphic Organizer to Composition: GO 4Writing!!

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For most effective learning, readers need to conduct close textual analysis and share their thinking through talk–writing becomes a reflection of both practices: reading & speaking.

In my talks with teachers over the last year, I have discovered that many use graphic organizers as a tool for teaching students how to organize thinking, but few use GOs as a tool for accessing text information in ways that scaffold writing about text. In a recent post, Common Core Writing Prompts too Hard or Teaching & Learning a Step Behind?, I offered a simple graphic organizer to support students as close readers and thinkers in their analysis of either a single text or multiple texts. The model can be used for gathering information from text and establishing a reading purpose. Additionally, the format of the organizer provides ease in transitioning between charting information and writing a comparative essay. For more on how to write a comparison/contrast essay, please visit Santa Barbara City College: Writing a Compare/Contrast Essay. The work you will find there is so complete, there is no reason for me to reinvent that wheel! Rather, in today’s post, I am going to extend the use of the same flexible organizer beyond the compare and contrast essay and into writing for any variety of purposes.

This post is intended to support teachers as they guide students to think about text, talk about text and finally, write about text. In today’s Common Core world, new concepts need not be introduced with backgrounding lectures, encyclopedic videoes, or attention gaining movies. Nor should it begin with a mandate “to read and be prepared to discuss…” Instead, teachers are asked to invite students to reading by establishing purpose setting goals. Rather than assigning students of social studies to read “Latin America Since 1945” and take notes, today’s teacher provides a context or purpose for content reading: “As you read the chapter on modern Latin America, pay particular attention to the development of new economies in each region and the effects of those economies on people and politics.” In chemistry, instead of asking students to read the section on Atomic Structure and be prepared to discuss the evolution of atomic theory, the teacher provides a context: “As you read about the unique properties of atoms, note the significant advancements to understanding atomic structure and the progression of reasoning as scientists built on one anther’s experiments and discoveries.” In literature, rather than asking readers to merely read the next three chapters of Frankenstein, direct their thinking: “While reading, note allusions either spoken, thought, or described in exposition.”

Each of these reading prompts provides readers with a structure for organizing the words on the page and the thoughts in their brains. The purpose setting reading prompts ask students to read across the texts gathering explicit information and drawing inferences in light of the information they read. Depending on how the purpose-driven prompt is written, the teacher can support focusing readers to become independent thinkers guided towards lesson goals.

Latin America_Economies, People, Politics ChartHow might a reader structure a graphic organizer for reading prompt? Readers must first be able to identify the elements within the prompt. In each case (as seems to me typical with just about anything we analyze), there will be “things” or “wholes” to which the reader will be attending and there will be “parts” or “aspects.” For instance, in the social studies prompt, the whole or thing readers are learning about is Latin America but within Latin America there are regions: Mexico, Central America, and south America. But the reading prompt is not asking students to attend to every detail, rather, to focus on those aspects or “parts” related to economies and their relationship to people and politics. Below is a diagram for how an analytic reading organizer may appear.

The scientific text asks students to focus on the development of atomic theory by following the progression of discoveries made through reasoning processes and experiments. The whole of this reading prompt: the scientists. The aspects or parts to be considered: theories on atomic structure, reasoning progression, and experiments and discoveries.

The third example, from literature, asks students to consider characters as the whole while examining the aspects of allusions within the text. Note in this chart I have placed the whole as leaders in each column whereas in the previous charts, the aspects were placed as leaders of the column. In practice, students can place wholes and parts wherever they want in drawing their own charts; in my teaching, I prefer to chart with “things” or “wholes” as column heads and aspects as titles for rows.

The next step toward writing about what has been read or learned is sharing through talk. Since students have created these charts independently, they need an opportunity to talk about the decisions they made in placing thoughts, text citations, and inferences in each of the chart cells. Of course, the teacher could collect the charts for grading, but that would shut down thinking on the topic rather than deepen thinking–the goal of all learning. Some teachers avoid writing by having students create graphic organizers as end products, but that is not the purpose of organizers…we don’t organize for the end-sake of organizing. Organizing is one way to analyze content. We analyze or take the presentation of information apart to better understand how the parts relate and work (or don’t work) together. Conversation allows readers to revisit thinking and rehearse for writing–to hear their own brains explaining, justifying, describing, and adapting on the learning journey towards understanding.

Writing, then, is the next step on the learning journey. Writing as restructuring information within the individual’s mind calls upon thinkers to rearrange information in new ways and internalize connections between what they read and what they understand. If writing is to be a rearrangement of text based thought, then the writing prompt must be related to the reading prompt but not a direct restatement. The writing prompt must ask students to extend their analytic charts into a process that will require comparative analysis and a decision of sorts. For instance, the science writing prompt may ask which of the scientists had the greatest impact on modern atomic theory and why; the social studies writing prompt may ask for a discussion of the similarities and differences of changing economies on the people and politics of Latin America. The literary writing prompt may ask for an analysis of the relationship or connection between the allusions and the characters themselves. Could students have an opportunity to talk about the writing prompt before setting pen to paper? You bet.

Or you could give students a chance to take the organizer and highlight the significant points they want to make. In the science prompt, they make a decision about which scientist will be the focus of their writing and then select three progressions of atomic theory and the associated experiments/discoveries dependent upon that scientist’s work. Those they may choose to order by importance by placing a 1, 2, 3 beside the names of scientists for the essay focus. In social studies, perhaps students would take five minutes to highlight similarities among economies and resultant effects on people and politics (perhaps they would find several…and each set of economies/people/politics would be a distinct color). For the literary prompt, they may want to add a row across the bottom and take some notes on the connections between Dr. Frankenstein and those allusions attributed to him, likewise for the monster–and perhaps, note which character expository allusions attributed.

The chart alone is not replete with every thought or detail. To respond to the aforementioned prompts or any prompt, writers will have to do more than copy charted notations into seeming paragraphs. They will have to use linking words that show comparison and evaluation as well as add explanation and evidence to support their decisions. But after having done the reading, analyzed the reading through graphic charting, and shared their thoughts with others equally backgrounded would it be fair to expect the ability to string together sentences using the framework of the organizer?

Your thoughts? How could you better purpose reading assignments to allow students to actively organize information and then restructure that information into a framework that makes sense to them?

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