Turn up the HEAT for student learning!

Robin asked me to share a little more information about the descriptive writing assignment I mentioned Thursday. And as I am ridiculously proud of this assignment and the amount of student buy-in, I am delighted to do that.

We'd been practicing description, both as a good strategy that they could use anytime in their writers' notebooks and to encourage awareness/inclusion of the five senses in narrative writing. But I wanted to do something to turn up the HEAT on it rather than just assign an object or setting and make them describe it.

HEAT is an acronym I learned from Laurie King at a conference on 21st century skills that I attended this summer. It stands for:

*Higher order thinking

*Engaged learning


*Technology use

King breaks each concept down into levels; check out her handout on it
here (probably there are copyright rules attached to this so I wouldn't go reproducing it willynilly).

I wanted my assignment to get hotter - maybe not habanero, but at least jalapeno. So I started with authenticity. I think writing (or anything, honestly) is way more fun when you have a real audience that cares, and I wanted my kids to have that. What if they described an object that is meaningful to them, either because of who gave it to them, or because it belongs to someone they care about? Then that person would be a built-in audience for it. The students could dedicate their writing to that person as well.

Now, as to how to get the pieces to the audience, I decided it would be much cooler if the kids could type their work and include photos of the items. That would help them with their technology skills and make the work more interesting. Then we could put them together into a class magazine, so each kid would have their own writing and everyone else's too. (I'm not doing my whole core all together, just each class. They don't need 120 pieces in this. 20 to 25 will be just fine.)

For format, they had two choices, a paragraph or an ode. I used Pablo Neruda's "Ode to My Socks" and excerpts from
Maniac Magee (about Cobble's Knot) as mentor texts; both are about objects that are meaningful to the writer or character. We analyzed the mentor texts, and created lists of features that they could choose from when they wrote their own. Both texts include a ton of figurative language, heavy use of the five senses, and interesting and unusual word choice, so my writers all had to include those, but picked whatever interested them most from the other features we'd noticed.

The goal was to distribute them at parent/teacher conferences, but they won't be ready for that, so instead we'll use them in class on October 20th (the National Day on Writing) for a celebration, and then send them home.

This was a wildly successful assignment. The kids freakin' loved it. Although some chose items that I wouldn't have personally thought would be that meaningful (a video game controller, for example - the student in question loves video games and his parents gave it to him, so he's dedicating it to them), others chose in the most amazing objects. A sister's quinceanera dress. A birthday card from a stepfather. A brother's first dollar bill. A porcelain doll from a grandmother's doll collection.

My writers were so focused on their work, so engaged in what they were kicked so much ass. The eighth grade AP came into the library while we were working on typing the pieces yesterday, and read some of their writing, and talked to some of the kids. She couldn't get over how hard they were working and how much they cared about their writing.

The only reason they aren't finished is that the typing, formatting, and photo inserting took longer than I'd anticipated, and we can't get back into a computer lab for two weeks, so we'll have to wait to complete them. Maybe 20% of the kids got done. Hey, I'll know for next time.

I'm so damn proud of them, and I'm so convinced of the benefits of HEAT in student work. Every assignment from now on, I'll try to find ways to turn the HEAT higher, because my kids deserve that.

Robin (and anyone else who cares), I hope that explains it! If anyone wants to see the assignment sheet I created, leave a comment and I'll email you a copy.


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU so much for sharing. I am going to use this with my freshmen and maybe modify it for my sophomores.

At the beginning of the year, I had my students do an "autobiography" assignment...I gave them some choices. They could write about a difficult decision in their life, a major accident, a significant person in their life, a major accomplishment, etc. They had to write about it and what lessons they learned from whatever they wrote about. It helped me get to know my students and see what writing skills I would be working with during the school year. I loved it and will tweak it a bit for next year's students.

I couldn't believe some of the things my students shared with me - I found out that many of my students have very rough lives.

Thanks, again, for sharing!

-Robin :)

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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