What the teacher did: I briefly shared some news updates with students, e.g. Florida passed a new gun bill: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/us/florida-gun-bill.html.

Students took two revision laps through their rough draft letters:

Lap 1: Students were given a checklist and asked to self evaluate their own drafts. Here is the checklist:

_____Do you have the “proper” salutation?

_____Do you establish who you are?

_____Do you call the lawmaker to action?

_____Do you support your reasons with strong support and reasoning?

_____Do you support your reasons with outside sources?

_____Do you recognize a counter-argument?

_____Do you refute the counter-argument?

_____Do you use an outside source to refute the counter-argument?

_____Do you thank the reader?

_____Do you repeat your call to action in the conclusion?

What the students did: Students self-assessed their drafts and revised.

What the teacher did: Explained the second revision lap.

Lap 2: In this lap, students were asked to find at least two different partners to respond to their letters. Each respondent was asked to leave at lease one question and one comment. I modeled this with one student draft (displayed without the student’s name on it). I read the paper out loud, and wrote the following questions and comments:

·      “Do you have a statistic to back this claim?”

·      “I want to hear more of your thinking here.”

·      “I am wondering if your conclusion is too ‘soft.’ You don’t want the lawmaker to think about it. You want the lawmaker to do something.”

What the students did: Students responded to their peers’ papers.

What the teacher did: I circulated the room and conferred with students.

At the end of the period, I encouraged students to use the questions and comments on their papers to drive one more revision of their letters. I reminded the students that their letters are due tomorrow.

Some reflections on the lesson:

·      This checklist was not collected. It was simply a tool to encourage students to revisit key elements in their letters.; I told them ahead of time that I would not be collecting them.

·       A concern: using a very specific mentor text (and a checklist with it) carries a danger with it—many of the letters are looking the same. Any time my students’ writing acquires a sameness to it, I grow concerned.  I try to stay away from formulaic writing as possible, but these letters are feeling a little bit formulaic. Looking back, I realize that I should have given them another very different model—one steeped in story. A “Dear Lawmaker, let me share a story with you” approach may have produced letters with a very different feel to them.  On the other hand, there are specific features that are often highlighted in a letter to a lawmaker, and I do feel my students have acquired a serviceable approach to talking to power.

AuthorKelly Gallagher