Performance Task Writing . . . What It Means For Kids

This past week as summer vacation ended, I had to switch my mind from writing mode to teaching mode. Although I do teach writing to middle school students, it’s a lot different than the type of writing I do for my books, 18 Things and 18 Truths. I realized that many of you probably have children and may not know the new College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing that our nation adopted, so I thought I’d list them here. Of course, the devil is in the details and what these standards mean exactly differs for each grade level, but it’s still good to familiarize yourself.

Text Types and Purposes:

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or typing a new approach.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single setting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

What does all of this mean???

It means the days of having cold writing prompts are over. No more writing a story about a strange green light you saw when you took out the trash or why Florida is a nice place to visit. Instead, students will read a complex text such as a poem, an excerpt from a memoir or a nonfiction article, and they’ll have to respond to that piece with a specific task.

For example, students read “O Captain! My Captain!” and analyze how Walt Whitman used allusion, analogies, and word choice to write an elegy for Abraham Lincoln.

This way, we’re not expecting students to bring a whole lot of background knowledge to the table with a ‘cold’ essay prompt, because background can vary greatly from kid to kid. It also means we’re connecting reading and writing in a more meaningful way since they are already so intricately connected. The new standards are definitely steering students more towards college writing, where you write research papers for almost every class as if your life depended on it . . . and it’s always connected to your reading for the course.

The sad part for me is it takes away a lot of the creativity in writing. Granted most of these students aren’t going to grow up and become published fiction authors. I get that. And the new series my district adopted is fabulous, sooo many great resources! But it also feels like teaching for dummies. There are anchor texts that I must teach from. In previous years, we didn’t have a textbook for Language Arts. We had academic plans that told us what skills to cover each week, but the way we taught those skills were up to us! I brought in novels from the best modern day authors and let classes vote on which one they wanted to use that quarter and our writing took off from there. I read a different novel for each class period all quarter long (so I read a total of seven novels at once between my 150 students). With the  new curriculum, I doubt I’ll even get to read a novel with my classes because this new stuff in their textbook is so complex. If I do read a novel, I have to pick from a list of ones written by really old dead white dudes that probably won’t interest my students.

I thought I’d have a break from this with a Creative Writing elective, which would be great because those aspiring authors could take my class and we could delve into more creative writing in there. But like a lot of electives, it got cut from the schedule in favor of me teaching more core classes.

But I’m still super excited about the new school year because I know I can make this work. Why? Because I bring the awesome. You can laugh, but I know I’m a great teacher! The fact is, the problems we have in education will NEVER be solved by paying millions of dollars to adopt the latest series aligned to the newest standards. Those teachers who failed to succeed at teaching the old series will probably fail at this one. Programs don’t determine a student’s success, teachers do. Programs aren’t the be-all and end-all of education. Teachers are the problem, and teachers are the solution. I guarantee you that even with this wonderful new series, the same teachers who sucked before will still suck.

What we need in education are more teachers like these . . .


I’d like to add that I work at the top performing middle school in our county, and what makes our school great are the teachers! I feel so lucky to collaborate with them on a daily basis 🙂

What about you? Do you think a new program could ‘fix’ the worst teacher you’ve even known? If you have children, are you happy with the writing curriculum at their school?


16 comments on “Performance Task Writing . . . What It Means For Kids

  1. I think it’s important to teach the analytical aspects of literature, but it’d be nice if educators could teach the creative writing aspect as well. But you’re right, the teachers make all the difference.

    • Yes, I agree! The truth is, that’s what most of college courses are and students are seldom prepared for the complex texts, so we must change things up a bit. But every time they bring in a new series, for some reason, they always take out the good pieces and components of the old instead of fusing them together.

  2. Yes, Jamie, you do bring the awesome! I know that even though you’re restricted in choice compared to what you had before, you will still get your students excited about learning. You’re creative and enthusiastic, and those are two things that make a teacher great. I’m going to reblog your post, I liked it so much.

    We haven’t adopted a curriculum for math or ELA as yet, so we still have a bit of leeway in how we adapt our lessons to the Common Core standards. Personally, I love that students are reading fine texts and analyzing them, because by doing that, they will better understand how to apply literary devices in their own writing. Perhaps reading fine literature will inspire them to write their own new literature as well. Certainly having a teacher like you who writes fiction will be an inspiration to them.

  3. Too bad. I’m sure analysing texts and everything has its place, but it should never blanket imagination. There’s been so many different teaching methods introduced over the years, all which are supposed to improve teaching and results. A teacher will be good (or bad) depending on them, not which method you shove in their fingers.

  4. I’m of the opinion public schools pretty much discourage creativity in favor of conformity, but that’s another story. In reality, encouraging creativity boils down to us as parents, eh? I suppose that’s one thing that’s alive and well in my children because of home schooling. We’ll see if it sticks with them. =)

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