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Voices from the Middle, Vol. 21, No. 3, March 2014

Table of Contents

Issue Theme: Narration, Persuasion, Argumentation: Teaching Writing with Purpose

  • Calls for Manuscripts

  • Editors' Message: Writing Is a Job Requirement: How Can We Prepare Every Student? [FREE ACCESS]

    Diane Lapp, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey

  • First Do No Harm

    Carol Jago

    Abstract: Many middle school instructors confuse their role as a writing teacher with that of a copy editor. Rather than correcting every word students produce, teachers should respond to student writing kindly and critically. We also need to help students read their own work with a revising eye.

    Keywords: Writing Across the Curriculum, basic writing, writing assessment

  • “It’s a Juggling Act Sometimes”: Peers and Teachers Supporting Students’ Writing Lives

    Shelley Stagg Peterson

    Abstract: Drawing on research and my own experiences as a classroom and university teacher, I propose that reader-based feedback is a natural fit for peers and that criterion-based feedback is best provided by teachers, though both teachers and peers can give both types of feedback. While scaffolding is needed to support students' provision of criterion-based peer feedback, extensive formal teaching should not be needed to support reader-based peer feedback. In addition, teachers should encourage students to elicit feedback from peers as they develop a stronger sense of writing as a meaningful social practice, especially when feedback is focused on their own purposes for writing.

    Keywords: Middle School, peer feedback, writing processes

  • Spanish, Mathematics, and English: The Languages of Success in a Grade 8 Class [FREE ACCESS]

    Jane Hansen and Kateri Thunder

    Abstract: The English Language Learners in this eighth-grade, “standard”-level mathematics class used talk, reading, and writing in the languages of English, mathematics, and Spanish to succeed. Their mathematics workshop was open three days a week, and almost the entire 90 minutes of their block was devoted to work time, during which the teacher constantly conferred with the students. Overall, the mathematical procedures were problematic for these students. They needed translation of vocabulary, of course, but their need to understand English within mathematics posed a specific challenge because common English words became problematic in mathematics contexts. At year’s end, all passed their state test.

    Keywords: Vocabulary, Writing Across the Curriculum, differentiated learning, ESL/ELL

  • A Call for Action: Engaging in Purposeful, Real-World Writing

    Lori Czop Assaf and Joël Johnson

    Abstract: Knowing that students have little ownership when writing is presented as a school-based exercise, we describe how a seventh-grade English language arts teacher engaged her students in a persuasive writing unit. Understanding the importance of a spiral curriculum (Bruner, 1977) and deep scaffolding (Brown & Broemmel, 2011), we illustrate how using multiple, complex mentor texts, inquiry-based instruction (Ray, 1999), and a variety of writing activities facilitated a deep understanding of persuasive devices and a sense of purpose and audience. Students not only learned how to write persuasively but also came to understand the power of writing in the real world.

    Keywords: Mentor Texts, persuasive writing, inquiry-based instruction, scaffolding

  • Developing Argument Writing through Evidence-Based Responses to Student-Generated Questions

    Wolfram Verlaan, Evan Ortlieb, and Sue Oakes Verlaan

    Abstract: Effectively writing text-based arguments is the first of the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing. One of the more significant challenges that educators face when teaching argument, however, is ensuring that students adequately comprehend the text that forms the basis for the writing assignment. How can teachers ensure student comprehension at both the recall and inferential levels? In this article, the authors describe how using student-generated questions to a text forms a foundation for effective writing by: a) fostering increased engagement with the text, b) increasing inferential comprehension of the text, and c) providing authentic subject matter for students' arguments.

    Keywords: Standards, Reading Instruction, Critical Literacy, writing processes, CCSS

  • Aristotle in the Classroom: Scaffolding the Rhetorical Situation

    Paula M. Carbone

    Abstract: Preparing students for meaningful participation in democratic society begins with constructing arguments around issues important to them. Argumentative writing is important not only for students' abilities to enter the conversations on topics of individual, community, national, and international importance, but also for developing critical thinking and understanding of academic writing in general. This article describes a process for bringing rhetoric to the classroom for facilitation of students' writing fluency—formulating ideas and expressing them in writing. First, the author discusses helping students understand what rhetoric means. She then explains how to model Aristotle's triangle and the rhetorical square to scaffold construction of arguments.

    Keywords: Argumentation, critical thinking, persuasion

  • Accuracy in Digital Writing Environments: Read Up, Ask Around, Double-Check [FREE ACCESS]

    Thomas DeVere Wolsey

    Abstract: Increasingly, students are held accountable for the accuracy of what they write—by their teachers, by state and national standards, and on assessments of their learning. This article outlines three approaches to accuracy in writing that go beyond spelling and punctuation. New expectations include the use of sources to inform writing in many discourse modes. Digital environments have the potential to improve the accuracy of student writing. This article proposes that students learn to read digital and traditional materials in order to inform their written work, use digital tools to interact with peers during writing processes, and double-check their work for accuracy.

    Keywords: Critical Literacy, Inquiry, Storytelling, basic writing

  • Four Reasons to Write List Articles with Middle School Students

    Denise N. Morgan, Leslie Benko, and Gayle Marek Hauptman

    Abstract: In this article, we examine the benefits of writing list articles with students. Within a unit of study approach to teaching this kind of writing, students naturally meet many of the writing Common Core State Standards. Drawing from the writing experiences of 260 7th-grade students, we highlight what students gain from their opportunities to write list articles.

  • Young Adult Literature: Teaching Argument: Resources for Teachers [FREE ACCESS]

    Barbara Moss, editor

    Abstract: This column provides middle grade teachers with print and digital resources for teaching students to read and write argumentative texts. It includes reviews of digital resources such as Room for Debate, a New York Times blog, instructional units from the Delaware Department of Education, and nonfiction young adult books.

    Keywords: Nonfiction, YA Literature, Argumentation

  • Teaching the Common Core: Writing in Common: Lessons from Kentucky Middle Schools

    Brenda J. Overturf

    Abstract: Kentucky was the first state to adopt the CCSS, so how do middle school teachers there ensure that their students meet those Standards? Brenda Overturf takes us inside three successful classrooms from three schools where different curricula and different approaches have four things in common: Writing-focused professional development; the view that reading writing, speaking/listening, and language are interwoven and inseparable; teamwork; and an awareness that it takes time to reach a comfortable level of familiarity and competence with Standards implementation.

    Keywords: basic writing, CCSS implementation, writing standards

  • CODA: Writing as Struggle: Embracing the Power of Practice

    Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, editor

    Abstract: This article explores the complexity and struggle of becoming a proficient writer and the manifold payoffs of doing so.  This complex challenge of composing specific narrative, informational, and argument text requires teachers who provide specific assistance with the conventions of particular text structures, as well as lots of focused and scaffolded practice to master those conventions. 

    Keywords: Text Complexity, basic writing, Argumentation, text structures

* Journal articles are provided in PDF format and can be opened using the free Adobe® Reader® program or a comparable viewer. Click here to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Reader.

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