Students Viewing Writing Through Different Lenses

The last two days in my 8th grade classroom have made me sweat profusely. I have been very intense with my two groups of 8th graders, while we discuss compare/contrast papers. As any language arts teacher know, teaching writing correctly takes a lot of hard work and preparation on our part. I started yesterday by handing to my students an exemplary example that was provided by the Common Core Standards website ( I discussed with my students that the student who wrote the paper was given an assignment to compare and contrast two different characters from two different genres, a movie and a book. I then instructed my students to do nothing but read the piece of writing and have a “conversation” with the writing. I wanted them to ask questions, write down things they noticed, etc. As my students were finishing up their reading I posted two simple questions on the whiteboard:

#1. Underline where the writer of the essay tells you the reader, what the essay is about. (AKA – underline the thesis).

#2. Circle any transitions the writer uses.

As our time was up yesterday, the students needed to finish the 2 items for homework. My last class of the day exited and there were a lot of disgruntled students who blurted out the dreaded term, “I don’t get it!” One of my students approached me afterwords and wanted to understand better was I wanted. He was completely lost by what he read and didn’t understand what the paper was even about. I then knew the students had not looked at the essay from the lens I wanted them to. They were reading it for understanding and they were reading it for comprehension. This was not why I wanted my students to read it. My students were reading it with the wrong lens.

Needless to say, 8th grade language arts class was very intense today after what I deemed a failed class yesterday. Today’s class was much more productive as I discussed with students that we have to put on different lenses or hats when we look at writing and literature. I told them as important as it was to get a general understanding of what the paper was about, they needed to put on their teacher or critique hats and ask themselves the question, “what makes this a quality compare/contrast essay?” After some very intense group work today analyzing the writing and my 8th graders finally putting on the right lenses, I felt very good about the conversations I had with each group. My students seemed to have a better grasp of what I was trying to accomplish.

As teachers we definitely need to guide and teach our students how to look through those different lenses. As sad and disheartening as it is to say, students need to be able to understand what makes a piece of writing exemplary for their own assignments in class, but also for standardized testing. I am proud of my students for working through the challenges we faced these last two days. I am sure we will encounter more bumps on our trip this year.


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