Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Confidence Built on a Positive Attitude--Susan and Butch

Week of May 15—Writing Lessons My Students Taught Me
Tuesday, May 17—Confidence Built on a Positive Attitude—Susan and Butch

Fourth graders in my state take a state writing assessment. They are scored from zero to six using a complex rubric. The prompt that the students write about is confidential and they don’t see it until the timer begins on the day of the test. Students never know if they will receive a narrative or an expository prompt and when they open their test booklets they have 45-minutes to plan and draft a piece that has a beginning, two or three middle sections, and an ending, supporting details, transitions, great word choice, and more. The tests are then packaged up and sent away for strangers to score (using the rubric) and the score are later returned to us. Teachers cannot help students in anyway, cannot read the writing, and never see the writing until it is returned on a CD months after the test. (Most states have similar tests, I’m sad to say.)

Let me pause to point out that most adults could not complete this test successfully. As a writer, can you imagine being required to create on the spot and make your writing of high quality?

The scores from our state writing assessment came back over a week ago and our students did as well as I had hoped and better than I anticipated. 91% passed with the mandatory four or high score, but most of our students scored higher-level scores of fives and sixes. Friday I called each student to the hall to sit at table and talk about their writing and I told them their scores.

I never expected that I would get something out of the experience. But I did. One thing I was amazed at was the confidence and positive attitude about writing many of my students exhibited.

Susan is the tiniest fourth grader in our school and she has the largest personality. She never stops talking and visiting in class and her laugh often erupts at unexpected (and unwanted) times. Here’s a bit of our conversation:

Sanders: Susan, I have your FCAT writing score. Tell me, how do you think you did?

Susan: Oh, Mr. Sanders, I did great. I think they probably had to create some new higher scores for my paper.

Sanders: (At this point, I decided to have some fun and put on a serious American Idol judge’s face.) What in the world would make you think that?

Susan: Mr. Sanders, I poured my life out on those two pages.

Sanders: All nine years?

Susan: Yes, all of it.

Sanders: Well, that makes it even more difficult to tell you. (Long pause. At which point Susan put her hands to her mouth.) You made . . . a six!

Susan: YES! YES! YES! (Shouting, jumping, hugging.) I knew I could do it! I knew I had a good story! I just knew it!

Butch is another fourth grade, but quite different from Susan. Butch’s father died some time ago. His mom comes in and out of his life and he is raised by family members and family friends. Butch has learning difficulties, obvious ones, but ones that were never tested or diagnosed until halfway through this school year. His impairments are so serious that he was allowed an accommodation in testing where he dictates his answers to a scribe. Butch has a reputation for enthusiastically throwing himself into whatever he is doing. He gives 110% to just about everything he does.

On the day of our assessment, Butch dictated his entire plan and story to me. Periodically he would stop and reread what I had written and ask me to change a verb here, a noun there, add punctuation, or additional detail, and so on. This was our conversation:

Butch: What did I make, Mr. Sanders?
Sanders: How do you think you did, Butch.

Butch: You heard my story. I think it was good.

Sanders: What would make it good?

Butch: Details, of course. And my voice was in it. There were two middles that each told one whole part of the story. I think it was really good.

Sanders: You’ve had a good year in writing.

Butch: Do you know I’ve gotten better each month? My scores have been better and my writing has been better.

Sanders. That’s true. And that’s why you scored a five on your test.

Butch: I knew I could do it!

Susan and Butch both display confidence rooted in a positive attitude. The I-think-I-can-I-know-I-can-I-told-you-I-could attitude comes from different places. Some kids seem to be born with it, like Susan. Some kids have it nurtured by family. Some acquire it through successful experiences. And some kids, like Butch, miraculously acquire it despite the odds.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Check your attitude and confidence today. We’re adults now, so we can’t expect that someone else is going to help us develop positive attitudes and self-confidence. (Though sometimes people enter our lives and help with that.) Today, become your own supporter, cheerleader, and positive-attitude maker.

NOTE: All names of the children in this week’s posts have been changed to protect the confidentiality of my students.


The Storylady said...

I love the stories of your students, Rob. I'm very excited to start visiting classrooms next fall with my book. I hope you look it up and find it useful in your lessons. It's "Cliffhanger Writing Prompts," coming out with Scholastic Resources July 1.

By the way, the word verification for leaving a comment was "funho"! Perfect!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great stories, Rob! Thanks for sharing. :D

Rob Sanders said...

Thanks, friends!