Talking to Teachers: “Writing Beside Them” and the Power of Revision

In this edition of T2T, I am speaking with yet another recent colleague from the American Community School of Abu Dhabi (see my previous post where I talked to Matt Foss an IB Language and Literature teacher). Jordan Moog is a grade 9 Global Studies and AP US History teacher and you will gain a strong sense of her ethos around teaching and learning in the video. Jordan is a continual learner and pushes through her comfort zones in order to become better at her craft. Since the video is about 19 min., below is a breakdown of the main topics we covered. After the video I reflect on our conversation and link to some of the resources mentioned.

  • I ask Jordan: Are you a writer and do you see a space for risk free writing in your subject area? 1:00
  • Jordan discusses how her view of writing has shifted in her subject area and how she is doing things a bit differently this year: 4:02
  • Jordan focuses in on her grade 9 class and a field study on sustainability and how moving to remote learning has helped her to prioritize the learning context: 7:44
  • I ask Jordan: What it would look like for her to ‘write beside’ her students in her Globals or APUSH classes and the use of mentor texts: 12:01
  • Jordan reflects on the power of revision in the learning process: 16:36

Reflection Point #1 — Teachers as Writers

It wasn’t until 2014, when I read Penny Kittle’s book “Write Beside Them”, that I started to put myself at the center of the writing process with my students…where I started to authentically write WITH them. This shift in my teaching practice was monumental in shifting the engagement of my students in their own writing process.

However, writing is something that can be (and should be!) taught across the curriculum, and throughout the video Jordan reflects on where she could find time to write beside her students while also questioning if she will be able to cover all of the required content (especially in her AP class).

She mentions that she does practice multiple choice tests with her class, but has never authentically completed a writing assessment with them. She notes that this is an easy fix in terms of modelling her own metacognition. After writing her first draft on a practice test, she could go over it with her students to discuss how she will use the data from it to move forward in that skill set.

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.

— JANE YOLEN

And, not surprisingly, it is her background as an athlete and coach that helped her to make the connection between practice and improvement. We can’t expect anyone to get better at something unless we give them time to do it and they receive feedback to help them improve.

A Wondering…

I wonder where more writing could be integrated into Jordan’s classroom? Since she already uses reflection writing at the end of a unit…what if she amplified this type of reflective writing throughout a unit?

Small moments of risk free writing that allow students to think about what they are learning and understanding will build habits of writing and thinking that will transfer into other areas (such as on their exams) throughout the year.

Reflection Point #2 — The Power of Revision

Jordan is wrestling with dilemmas that we all face: (1) What am I going to give time for in my class? (2) What needs to be prioritized? (3) How can I fit it all in? (4) What can I/should I let go of?

And I find that these questions can cause us to zoom in and become very myopic—losing site of the bigger picture and of who we are teaching. If we are able to zoom out, we are able to ask questions such as: (1) What do I absolutely need to accomplish to help them succeed academically? (2) What do I know is important to impart on my students to help them leave my class a more competent human?

And most importantly: Where is the middle ground between these two questions, and what practices in a classroom will help to bridge the two?

It was when she reflected on her hope for her students as writers that Jordan seemed to come out of her myopic viewpoint a little and look more at the forest instead of the trees. Jordan wants her students to (1) feel confident in their writing skills and (2) understand that being able to write with intention matters. And it was near the end of our conversation when she started discussing her most recent endeavours into spending time getting her students to revise their work that she saw a way forward:

I want to help my students to be more independent learners capable of contributing their voice confidently…and focusing on revision is one way of doing this.

— JORDAN MOOG

During a PD with Tom Schimmer he stated that: “whoever is doing the assessing is doing the learning”. And although Jordan can’t help but think about the content and exam prep she needs to provide for her AP students for the end of the year, she also knows that helping students to be more independent learners capable of contributing their voice confidently in whatever context they find themselves in is equally critical.

A Wondering…

In an English classroom we dive deep into the writing process, and part of this process focuses on revising a students work so they don’t hand in an SFD (Shitty First Draft – Anne Lemott’s term). How can we expect them to improve on their writing skills in other classes where they are assessed on their ability to write coherently and cogently, if time isn’t given for revision?

And it doesn’t need to be an excessive amount of time because it isn’t about quantity—it is about increasing quality, even just a little bit. Because this is not about making something perfect…this is about a student turning something in that they can be proud of, instead of a shitty first draft.

Main takeaways

Throughout my conversation with Jordan I noticed that she kept going back to how she could make her own learning journey more transparent for her students. She also acknowledged that she would stop making assumptions about what students know (or don’t know) in terms of their writing lives. She wants to focus on how she can help students to recognize their own strengths and areas of improvement in correlation to her subject area writing skill sets.

Essentially, Jordan is recognizing the power of the formative process — of slowing down, of checking in often with her students through reflective activities, and of helping them to appreciate what revision can do for their learning process. I could sense Jordan’s shift of perspective in terms of what she will give time for and what she will show has value during class time. And I can’t wait to check in with her later in the year to see how everything is going.


What do you want to give more time for in your classes? How do you help students to become more independent learners? What strategies help you in the revision process? You can connect with me on Twitter @readwritemore and my website www.readmorewritemore.org

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