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Moving Students Forward as Readers Writers and Thinkers

By Sarah Agran

      ‘Tis the season of gifts and thankfulness. This made me reflect on the students who have come to me over the years, already excellent readers and writers. I have tended to view these students as a gift, allowing for more time to be spent on the students who need more support. In interviews and meetings with administrators, I am constantly asked, “What are you doing to move the “Close to Proficient” students to “Proficient.” Nobody ever asks, “What are you doing for that bored kid reading two grade levels ahead?” However, these students are just as deserving of the gift of my time and attention, as their needier peers so how do I help these “gifted” students move forward?

      Barry Lane, in After the End, makes brief mention of how he pushes for process writing and a holistic curriculum because it encourages children to think instead of passively accept information. Gifted students are used to filling in blanks, and zipping through multiple choice questions with ease, leaving them time to engage with their choice activities. These students are excellent at absorbing new information but they are not always challenged to think. Working in an environment where writing and learning are a process instead of a set of end goals is the first step in pushing them forward.

      When writing is a process, instruction instantly becomes differentiated at an individual level. In my Writer’s Workshop, students are working on their individual pieces and conferring with me on a regular basis. I am not only pushing them to grow their work but I am also teaching them how to use peer conferencing to improve their writing instead of just asking, “Is this good?” Asking better questions of their conferring partners forces students to have to think about their writing goals and audience in a more critical fashion, which in turn improves their writing before the questions are even asked.

      In the content area, writing/communicating about a topic involves not only thinking about what one already knows, but asking what one needs to know to speak with authority. This allows for any writing to become a personal inquiry in which students research, write, reflect on their message and focus, and then repeat the process. An important caveat is that increased ability does not mean increased length, but rather an increase in depth and critical thinking.

      I’d like to gift my students with the ability to be “lifelong learners,” but this is a phrase we bandy about frequently. It is important to remember that learning is not memorizing. Learning is a process of exploration, reflection, and communication. The more learning becomes a process, in which I am the guide and head conferrer, the more personalized it becomes. Therefore, before they leave for winter break, I’d like to give each of my students the gift of being challenged, as well as the lessons necessary to help them learn to challenge themselves.

Sarah Agran graduated with an education degree from Penn State in 2002 and has since earned certification in seven subject areas. She has taught in classrooms from grades three through eight. Sarah is currently subbing for Lower Merion and Colonial School Districts looking for her “forever school.”  She is the mother of an adorable two-year-old and blogs about teaching, parenting, and life at Sarah believes in coffee and the power of human connection, both of which can be found, along with her presence, at your local Starbucks.

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