Friday, November 14, 2014

The Beans Trees Essay

This essay is written after the students have completed an in-depth reading/discussion/analysis unit on The Bean Trees.  The link with information about that unit are here:

I provide students with the prompt for this essay before they ever start to read the book, this allows them to keep the prompt in mind as they read/annotate.  I also encourage them to discuss the prompt at each and every discussion as they discuss the book.  By the time that we begin this unit, the students are VERY familiar with the text and have had significant exposure to the prompt and discussions surrounding the prompt.

Here is the prompt for this essay (as determined by the 10th grade teacher team):

What does The Bean Trees reveal about injustice in society? After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, write an essay that describes and identifies how she uses the elements of fiction to develop a theme on a specific social injustice and addresses the above question. Support your discussion with evidence from the text. 
Here are the specific social injustices we have explored as a class (students pick one of these to write on):
  • Issues of women's rights
  • Issues of immigration
  • Issues of race
  • Issues of poverty

On the first day for this essay, we do a brainstorm/quote round-up.  I start this way just to get the students thinking about/talking about what they will be writing on and to give them basic building blocks for their essays.  Here is the assignment that I walk the students through.  I find this works really well, but the students do need a bit of encouragement to take their discussion past summary and into analysis.  I circulate during discussions and try to help push them to a level where they are considering the message behind the quotes and not just rewording the quotes.

This essay requires that all students integrate a non-fiction article.  Students spend the next day searching for an annotating a non-fiction article about their subtopic during the era this book was set in.  Each group member is required to have a different article.  They annotate for what is revealed about their subtopic during the era that The Bean Trees was set in.  The next day we have four consecutive Socratic seminars - each group discusses their sub-topic and references the articles they located/annotated.  Students create a non-fiction quote bank using these articles for their essays.  Here are the directions that I made for students:
After collecting evidence both from non-fiction sources and from the text itself, the students are ready to write.  I like to teach paragraph by paragraph.  I start with notes on the introduction paragraph.  Here are some of the notes from class:
The color coding really seems to help the students and many of them color code their essays as they write.  I always write (for my examples) on a topic that is not available to the students so that their essays cannot be parroted versions of mine.
In addition to showing the kids what works well, I have found that showing them what does not work is helpful as well.  We review this "bad" introduction paragraph and what is wrong with it in order to illustrate what NOT to do:

The next day, we edit the introduction using the "Track Changes" function in Word.  I start by reviewing basic structure for this paragraph.  I demonstrate how to use the "Track Changes" in Word.  The students edit for an elbow-partner: somehow seated near enough to them to touch.  At the end they email the edited paragraph back to their partners and I demonstrate how to revise using the "Track Changes" functions.  I always like to show them an example of a well-edited paragraph:

The next day, we review and take notes on body paragraph structure.  I start with the topic sentence.  I follow the same basic note idea from the introduction paragraph: highlighting the parts and pointing out both strong and weak examples:

Next, we review how to integrate evidence well.  Here are some notes from that:
Again, I have found it helpful to show both strong and weak examples.  Here is a weak example:
I go on with more examples for the students so that they can see how to transition between pieces of evidence and how to integrate a non-fiction source.  I also give general suggestions for writing the body paragraphs:

In class and for homework that evening, they write their first body paragraph - I should mention that I allow them full access to the notes from their mini-discussion circles on day 1 of this unit and the non-fiction article packets they created.

In class the next day, we edit body paragraph one.  I always start with a grammar/convention lesson that is determined by errors I have seen in the previous paragraph.  I also ask students to contribute to a word bank that is generated from their own writing:  Here are some notes from that lesson:
The students are asked to edit for three things: structure (using the notes from the previous day), grammar (in particular violations of the rules that we review as a class & they are asked to suggest one place where the writer could try some more advanced sentence structures that I teach each day - in this case semi-colons in place of conjunctions), and word choice ( in particular they are asked to replace average/uninterested word choice with words from the "Word Bank" generated as a class.

They revise that first body paragraph.  At this point, I usually have a pretty good idea of what convention struggles the students are having.  Before they begin to write their second body paragraph I do a mini-convention lesson, an example of simple versus more advanced style for transitioning, how to integrate quotes within quotes properly, an example of how to use commas correctly with parenthetical phrases, and in-depth explanation of summary vs. analysis in the commentary/explanation section.  Here are some notes from this lesson:

After that the students are given time to write their second body paragraphs.
We edit.
More lessons on grammar that they are struggling with.
Write the third body paragraph.
Grammar Lessons.

Next, we review the conclusion structure.  Here are some notes from that:

The students write their conclusion paragraphs.
Editing and grammar lesson.  Here are the notes from that:

We go over the yes-test (see below) together and format our essays together.  The students work on a whole draft for class the next day that passes the yes-test.
The students now have a full essay - still considered a draft, but passing the yes-test.  We do something I call "Round Robin" editing.  Here's my protocol for that:

This takes us 2 days.  Each evening for homework the students revise their essays based off feedback from these essays.
Here is the word bank from the unit - we have added to it with every paragraph:

I also have them take an edit home for a parent/community member.  Here is the start of that assignment:
I like to do this to encourage parent-involvement.  I hear so many times that students at the high school level do not communicate with their parents and that parents often feel like they have no idea what their students are working on.  This assignment forces some of that interaction with parents and students.

The final day for instruction of this unit is spent going over the rubric.  I review each section and live-grade an essay.  I am as specific as possible about what I am looking for in each column of the rubric - the rubric I use is generated by the 10th grade team and based off the SBAC test/rubric used by Washington state.  Here is the upper-level of that rubric:

The students revise and turn them in the next day - they are encouraged to use the feedback from their community edit and a self-edit based off the rubric to make any final adjustments.  I am planning to live grade these in an effort to give the students the highest quality of feedback possible.  I will blog about that as I try it out for the first time.

I end the unit with something called "live grading".  Research suggests that feedback is VERY important for students in order to grow their writing skills, but I have noticed that students glance quickly at their rubrics and then put them in the recycle bin when I grade them at home and hand them over.  This year, I am sitting down individually with each student and grading their paper as they watch.  They takes notes on feedback - specifically I ask them to take notes on feedback that they want to apply for the next essay.  The proof will be in their future performance, but I do know that this has caused them to pay much better attention to feedback and that they became better at catching their errors through this strategy.  It does take A LOT of time (but grading always does) and it does require that the students are working on something else in order to free me up for this.  I do think it is extremely valuable for each individual student and am excited to see how it impacts the next essay that they write.

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