The Power of Non-Examples
I have seen better writing from this year’s students than I ever have in my fourteen years as a teacher, and I think I know why. But first, a bit of background.
I run a Writing Workshop, where a typical day features a mini-lesson, an independent writing time where students practice the lesson in their Writer’s Notebooks, and a sharing time. The lessons are often based on the Six Traits of Writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. We look at examples of good writing and try to emulate them.
I have used this classroom structure for many years, but something about this year has been different. Now, it could be that I just have a more advanced group of students, but I don’t think so. They are similar to other groups. Instead, it is including non-examples of good writing that I think is making a difference.
What is a non-example? A non-example is the opposite of a mentor test and shows the students what not to do. For example, a lesson on organization included a notebook entry that was obviously poorly organized, along with ones that were excellent. I have incorporated these non-examples into many lessons, and it is having a huge effect. (Note: the non-examples should never be writing from current students) During the lesson, we are able to verbalize the advice we would give to the writer of the non-examples, and the students are internalizing this advice and putting it into action.
Have you tried including examples and non-examples in your writing lessons? If not, give this a try and see if you like the results!