Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Best Kind of Student Writing

no frozen green beansThe CNN article “Kids Take on Lunch Lady—and Win” describes how second graders undertook a letter-writing campaign at William V. Wright Elementary School to convince the cafeteria workers to stop serving frozen green beans. After reading Andrew Clement’s book Frindle, in which the main character considers organizing a cafeteria boycott, students at the Las Vegas school discussed ways to protest the food in their own cafeteria. They wrote letters to the cafeteria workers, including comments like these:

"Dear Mrs. Duits, The food is so yummy and yummy. But there are one proplem. It is the green beans," wrote Zhong Lei.

"We love the rest but we hate the green beans," wrote Viviann Palacios.
As a result of their letters, the food service department of the Clark County School District talked to the students, had taste tests, and agreed to tweak the cafeteria menu.

In the world of test-driven curriculum, such a writing activity may seem silly. In truth, it’s the best kind of student writing we can ask for. The NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing explain:
Writing . . . should not be viewed as an activity that happens only within a classroom’s walls. Teachers need to support students in the development of writing lives, habits, and preferences for life outside school . . . . As much as possible, instruction should be geared toward making sense in a life outside of school, so that writing has ample room to grow in individuals’ lives.
The students who took on the “lunch lady” at William V. Wright Elementary learned more about persuasive writing than any amount of test preparation could have taught them. Preparing students to write persuasive letters for standardized tests is meaningless compared to teaching them to compose letters for an authentic audience and purpose with concrete outcomes they can understand. When writing matters beyond the classroom walls, students become better writers. That’s the best kind of student writing!

1 comment:

Lee Barrios said...

How true it is that students are much more interested in writing about the world around them. One year when I was teaching persuasive writing using editorial form, Ann Rice and Al Copeland were feuding over his choice of architecture for a restaurant on the historica St. Charles Avenue. They bantered back and forth in the local newspaper with full page commentary. We decided to take a field trip to research the situation and write our own editorials on the subject. First we rode the street car down St. Charles Avenue to familiarize ourselves with the architecture of the area. Then we visited Ann Rice's historic home in the Garden District and ended up with lunch at Al Copeland's pseudo-art deco restaurant on the Avenue. Students developed definite opinions based on first hand experience. What a great day! Lee Barrios