This week all my students are participating in writing boot camp during class. What makes writing boot camp different than just a week of writing instruction? It’s very focused. It’s intense. It’s about the mindset.
Doing a little internet research, I found several keys to running a successful fitness boot camp. I think these apply to an academic writing boot camp as well.
- Research: Spend time finding out what skills students need additional focus and which ones they already know how to do.
- Start with good management: Figure out how to divide the skills across the week, how much time to spend on the skills, and what resources are needed.
- Craft the boot camp so it offers something new or different: This week has to feel different from the other weeks in class; it has to be special. It may be that students are allowed to bring in snacks/drinks or spread out on the floor. It may be that all instruction is focused on this type of writing. It may be that music will be playing while they write.
- Focus on quality class structure: Students have to buy in to the boot camp. The first day is the most important. They have to feel like they really accomplish something and are encouraged to do the hard work in the days to come.
- Invest in marketing: Build it up in the weeks prior to the boot camp. They should know a challenge is coming but feel excited to meet the challenge.
- Invest in resources: Make sure there are mentor texts, access to writing materials, and other handouts for quick teaching of a skill.
- Start small: Students have to feel that they have accomplished something (as do you!), so start with something small on the first day that they can use to build on the rest of the week.
- Time class properly: Boot camp has to be structured. Time every part of it so that the pace is consistent. Use phrases like, “You have 10 minutes! Ready! Set! Go!” It should feel like a mental workout!
- Create a feeling of camaraderie: This is a group experience. The teacher should be walking around reading, encouraging, guiding, gently correctly. The class should celebrate each others work and improvements.
- Structure class like group personal training: Make class adjustments for each class period: change length of times, resources, or focus skills as necessary. Give as much personal and small group attention as possible. Reflect not only on each day but each period.
- Reward: Make a big deal about completing boot camp and the accomplishments/growth made during the week.
This is a general overview of our writing boot camp.
We have 50-minute class periods (except Wednesday which is 45 minutes).
Previous to Boot Camp (see more about this in last week’s post):
- Read three short stories (of your choice, must be approved) and write journal entries on each.
- Choose one short story and complete close reading lens analysis with six lenses.
- Establish a theme statement for the short story.
- Write a 100-words on author bio, context, and summary of short story.
*The minutes indicate quiet student work time and do not include the instruction time in between.
1. Collect and review all previous work, data, evidence. (2 minutes)
2. Write a flash draft (or quick write) about theme in the short story. (5 minutes)
3. Revise or reword theme statements, as needed. (5 minutes)
4. Deciding on best lenses to prove development of theme (all analysis is a form of argument). Choose three out of the 6. (5 minutes)
5. Write a thesis statement; focus on active verb. (7 minutes)
6. Gather information for context in the introduction. (5 minutes)
7. Write a working introduction (subject to change). (10 minutes)
1. Finish introduction– make it tight. (3 minutes)
2. Focus on one lens and gather appropriate evidence. (10 minutes)
3. To use a quote or not to quote? Summary, paraphrase, and quotations (mid-workshop teaching point)
4. Flash draft for first lens. (5 minutes, 1 minute break, 6 minutes, 1 minute break)
5. Writing partner review. (10 minutes)
6. Brag about something your partner did.
1. Look at mentor text for writer’s craft moves for literary analysis. Chart.
2. Discuss possible structure of body paragraphs (write about each lens separately or blending lenses).
3. Work on body paragraphs (7 minutes, 1 minute break, 10 minutes, 1 minute break, 12 minutes)
4. Share out best sentence.
1. Discuss strategies for conclusions.
2. Continue writing paper—work on whatever is needed. (10 minutes, 1 minute break)
3. Work with a writing partner to discuss writing and trouble shoot problem areas. (10 minutes)
4. Continue writing. (15 minutes)
5. Make a goal list for final boot camp day.
1. Discuss revision and proofreading strategies.
2. Write independently. (10 minutes)
3. Work with peers and conference on final touches. (30 minutes)
4. Reflect on boot camp and name the one thing you are most proud of from this week.
What my students said:
Overall, students appreciated the experience, even if they didn’t all love it. Some really struggled with the timed parts. Next time, I will be clearer of how they can use their time and that they can finish later what they don’t finish in that timed session. However, I will not change using timed writing sessions. Our students have to practice timed writing and many of students will take AP the following year. It’s good practice for them, and I believe it kept my students more focused and productive.
Another concern several students raised was that they felt unsure about what they were supposed to be writing. I think this came from not being given a formula to follow. I will not give a formula, but I may do more small group sessions during some of the time writing stages or offer small groups before or after school for more direction, in the future.
As for the positives, I’ll let you hear their voices:
- I loved that it pushed me to do more in my writing than I ever thought I could.
- I liked the examples and text given to us in order to aid in our writing.
- I liked how it pushed me to think faster and write more thoroughly.
- I’m learning to fix mistakes that I habitually make in my writing.
- I liked having the option of asking any question right when I had the problem in my writing.
- I am most proud that I have been about to identify errors in my own paper and identify good things in my own paper.
- I liked that we had the opportunity to revise our papers as we were writing them.
- I have learned to weave lenses into my writing the correct and efficient way.
- The fact that I was able to write for a long time made me happy.
- I liked the freedom of choice.
- Writing boot camp has helped me know how to analyze a piece of text.
- Writing boot camp helped me realize that I could do a lot better.
- Writing boot camp has helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses in writing. It has also helped me learn to pull information from text.
- I think writing boot camp was great! At first, I thought it would be just terrible, but it turned out to be really fun and challenging in a good way. I love that we had a chance to really analyze a story.
I think this idea is a keeper. Now just to get some “I survived writing boot camp” t-shirts…
Bonus Read: I really liked Katy’s post (Not) Going Fishing on the Turn and Talk Blog. One, I am just a Katy fan, and I really liked her voice in this blog. But most importantly, this post challenged me to think about how and when and why I question in the class. One thing I learned through this writing boot camp process was how much time I actually do have in the classroom. Now that we are finished with boot camp, I want to make sure I keep maximizing my time. Becoming effective with questioning is a way to do that. Effective questioning is purposeful. Thanks Katy for the fun metaphorical reminder!