During workshops, I sometimes survey the teachers in the room:

Rate yourself on a 5 pt scale.

A five equals, “I can write for publication with confidence.”

A one equals, “I do not like to write, preferring to avoid it when I can.”

Yes, I know… rating scales should avoid an odd number range because people tend to gravitate to the middle number, in this case the 3. But in this instance, who wants to be a 3? If your surgeon self-rated his/her skills at a 3 on a 5 pt scale, wouldn’t you get a second opinion?While a self-rating of 1 is rare, 30% of the audience, at best, self-rate a 4 or 5. Writing skills are so important for students, yet the perception of less than half of their teachers feel confortable or confident with their own writing skills. Such revelations is food for a conversation on a later article, the intent now is to emphasize the need for writing activities that provides a structure for effective coaching and learning.

In a previous article, I talked about RAFTs as a framework for engaging students into writing for purposeful topics. Mentoring students to become better writers is an important process. RAFTs is an effective strategy that can support the coaching process. 6+1 Writing Traits by Education Northwest is the reference that I use in the following conversation. The rubrics are useful for coaching.

Students quickly pick-up how RAFTs work. When combined with teaching the writing process, there are rich opportunities for coaching students on developing their author’s craft. Teachers facilitate feedback conversation where they can pose questions that enable students to uncover the editing needs of their writing. Let’s use a RAFTs example from the previous blog:

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 7.41.14 PM

Role: When the writing needs clarity about author’s intent, students should reflect on the role they are playing, and the intentions and needs of the point of view. This could affect word choice and details that may need to be added and/or changed.

Some Coaching Questions:

  • Word Choice: If the story happened today, what words would Juliet, age 13, use to express her emotions a marriage and family?
  • Details: What details would Juliet share with Romeo to convince him regarding the topic?
  • Details: Which of your details would Juliet have more to share based on her experiences from the play?

Audience: The details and organization of the writing may not communicate clearly to the target audience. Coaching questions could lead to the student considering their audience’s needs and what information would elicit a positive response. Word choice, organization, and details would be areas for writing instruction. Sentence fluency could be another factor depending on the reading level of the audience. Lower elementary students may need a simpler sentence structure than an adult audience. Do we want a 6th grade sentence simplicity or more complex writing structure for an academic audience?

Some Coaching Questions:

  • Organization & details: How are your main ideas ordered so that Romeo would be most receptive? Let’s talk about each together.
  • Word Choice & Sentence Fluency: Knowing Romeo’s personality, how might he react to the tone of this writing?
  • Details: Let’s identify discussion points that Romeo might need for context and/or information to be convinced by Juliet.

Format: Our choice of medium should align with the target audience. Teachers and students explore together the question: Does the medium allow for effective communication of content and complex ideas as intended by the author (Role)? This question looks at organization, details, and word choice that are appropriate to the medium. For example, PowerPoint and Keynote presentations work effectively with minimal text.

Some Coaching Questions:

  • Presentation, Organization, and Word Choice: How should this medium be used to keep Romeo’s attention?
  • Presentation, Word Choice, and Details: What could be used to connect with Romeo through emotions and/or logic?

Topic: How well does the content align to the topic? Organization and details are important coaching conversations to ensure that the focus is addressed.

Some Coaching Questions:

  • Organization and Details: Let’s identify where the content deeply supports the topic and where the information may not relate to Juliet’s discussion points.
  • Details and Word Choice: Where do the main ideas help Romeo agree, and where might he respond with a counter argument based on the topic?

students working3

There are more questions that teachers could devise based on the RAFTs components, the content of the writing, and the students’ understanding and intentions regarding the topic. These coaching conversations will give students a scaffold structure for understanding the assignment and how authors craft writing for a purpose. During the course of a few RAFTs experiences, students will strengthen their dialog for coaching each other by using the components as feedback starters. The teacher’s modeling of the conversation will guide students to coaching each other, which leads to empowering them as stronger writers.

Part I: RAFTing the Writing Rapids

Part III of this topic will address how to differentiate RAFTs to meet the needs of all learners.