Takeaways from TLAC 2.0: Ratio Through Writing

In this blog series, we’re digging into Teach Like a Champion 2.0 and discussing what we feel are the biggest takeaways from the book. Collaborating on the series are Petra Claflin (former teacher and instructional leader turned lead writer for YES Prep’s communications & marketing team), Elisa Gibbs (Middle School Math Specialist & math intervention teacher), and Sarah Murphy Traylor (former teacher and instructional coach & now talent recruiter for YES Prep).

Today’s takeaways are from Sarah Murphy Traylor.

During my 6 years in the classroom teaching middle school English, I emphasized to my students the critical importance of writing.  Strong writing skills allow access to opportunities in college and the professional world.  Instructional leaders can truly set their students up for success by building in time for purposeful writing. To express one’s thoughts clearly in a manner which stays on topic and utilizes language meaningful is a rare and in-demand skill.  All content areas and all grade levels should prominently feature writing in their curriculum.  Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0 highlights writing in its own chapter “Building Ratio through Writing” and I found myself nodding and clapping as I read.  This blog aims to share some of that instructional joy so that your students may reap the innumerable benefits!

Ratio Through Writing—Amount

  • Build Stamina. Developing writing muscles sets students up for success for things like essay writing, standardized testing, and even blogging as part of their professional role.  Time to practice, as Doug Lemov states in another seminal text, Practice Perfect, is instrumental to student success.  Practice makes permanent.  When students do not have the time to do and fail and refine and receive feedback, then their writing will only happen at high-stakes times.  So many times as teachers, we can wrongly assume that we must prevent students from experiencing failure. False. Let this happen in your classroom, teach students to learn from errors and move forward accordingly. Therefore, “Build Stamina” must be part of every classroom, every content area.  Students must have time to write productively and for sustained periods of time.  Break down for students what it must look like to write (what should they do first? What should they do when they struggle?) and begin providing those opportunities in set amounts of time (3 minutes, 6 minutes) gradually building and adding time.  When students have access to the steps needed in order to successfully write for a set amount of time and have worked to grow in comfort level with increasing lengths of time, they are being provided skills which will set them up for college-level success and beyond.

Ratio Through Writing—Quality

  • Art of the Sentence and 6 Word Summary. Summarizing complex ideas or takeaways in a brief, concise manner is a difficult skill to learn. I have clear memories of high school teachers encouraging me to shorten paragraphs which repeated the same information into one sentence that could illustrate the same point.  And allowing students the opportunity to use their writing as a way to summarize complex concepts enables you as the instructor to see what they have learned and where gaps might be.  Consider using ‘The Art of the Sentence’ as a closing to your lesson. Instruct students, “In one sentence, summarize _____” and then allow them to summarize what was learned, the differences between two topics, and so on.  Build in time for students to practice mastering such clean synthesis and see their writing skills sharpen and their mastery increase.
  • Sentence Starters. In many classrooms, sentence starters are provided to students to help with framing sentences spoken aloud.  Having a place from which to start enables students to tackle difficult topics and increases a student’s familiarity with language that should be used when writing and speaking about various content areas.  Sentence starters were a strategy I used frequently in my classroom.  In the early stages of using sentence starters, provide students with the topic, format and other prompts. Below are a few examples of sentence starters.
    • Describe the character of Liesel using the following sentence starter: In The Book Thief, Liesel can be described as __________because…
    • How did Ralph’s actions lead to a “violent swing”?  What did he do, and what was the effect of his actions?  Use the following format:  Because Ralph______, ____________.

Equally as important, scaffold away from these sentence starters as students begin to show strength in particular areas. This is heavily guiding for students, and this much guidance should not be in place for each lesson or beyond their need for it. To always provide so much guidance prevents students from creating sentences on their own.  And that is why Lemov recommends the ‘sentence parameter.’

  • Sentence Parameters.  While sentence starters give students clear wording and structure, sentence parameters provide less guidance and allow for student personalization.  This strategy guides students wonderfully and can look like the following: “Be sure to use the phrase ‘stock character’ in your answer” or “Explain in one well-crafted sentence what Swift says we should do with children and how you know he is being satiric.” (Lemov, 287).  Providing parameters enables students to mirror strong models and sharpen their own skills.  Every single student needs practice writing in a scholarly way in various content areas.  Use parameters and sentence stems to set them up for success in doing so.

When given opportunities to process content through writing, students not only retain information but also strengthen communication skills.  Opportunities for students to write for long periods of time in the correct manner is critical in all classrooms and all subject areas.  The helpful and thorough chapter on Building Ratio through Writing energized me.  When I think back to my own ELA classroom, I know that I worked hard to provide time for students to write and I did utilize sentence starters in order to help them craft strong responses.  However, this chapter opened my eyes to the need for purposeful and frequent time for writing in class as well as more targeted use of sentence starters and parameters in order to bring student writing to the next level.  I encourage you to think of ways to bring these strategies into your own classroom.  Finish this sentence parameter in the comments below-“What will you do in your classroom in order to incorporate ratio through writing?  Summarize your ideas in one well-written sentence that includes the phrase “redefine what is possible!”

Stay tuned for our last post in this series coming next week!

If you missed any of our earlier posts in this series, click here.

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