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.