Internalizing the Writing Process: The Planning Phase

How can educators ensure that students internalize the writing process? High quality writing instruction provides students with not only compositional skills, but also teaches writers a process that they can use to complete any writing project from the blank page to a published work. Internalizing such a process empowers students to complete any type of assigned writing tasks as well as how to begin their own writing pieces – allowing students to independently write about whatever they might choose and to transform into authors, journalists, poets, and bloggers outside of the classroom.

boy writing
A sixth grade student at the Gardner Pilot Academy reads and takes notes during the planning stage for an essay contrasting a police shooting in Boston to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

I have adopted the mnemonic P.O.W.E.R., and I find it  extremely useful as a memory aide for the writing process. P.O.W.E.R. stands for Plan, Organize, Write, Edit and Revise, and Rewrite. This mnemonic is introduced to the students during the first weeks of school, and it used for all of our process writing work throughout the year.

I usually select a project centered around the theme of identity for our first process writing piece of the year. As I model writing about my own identity for my students, it allows them to get to know the human side of their teacher, and their published pieces serve as a platform for sharing their own identities with their classmates, myself, and the wider school community.

Seventh and eighth grade students from the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School plan for script writing at local writing center 826 Boston.

As I guide the class through these initial writing process pieces, I explicitly teach lessons around each step of the writing process. I begin by assigning a quick write focused on the following question: How do people who can write have an advantage over people who cannot write? Student thinking and responses to this question inform a class discussion focused around the essential question “How can writing give you power?”.  This initial discussion tends to focus on practical examples from students’ personal and family experiences, such as being able to write a note to a friend, a job application, a check, or an e-mail to a teacher. However, as the year progresses, this question is revisited in the context of reading, discussing, and writing about current and historical news articles, ancient and historical texts, and class novels.

As we progress through each stage of the writing process, I offer explicit lessons that unpack each stage from Planning to Rewriting. Two years ago, the assigned identity piece was writing a “This I Believe” essay. During the planning phase, students listened to, read, and took notes on “This I Believe” audio and writing examples online. Then, the class and I discussed the characteristics of “This I Believe” pieces.

I explicitly unpacked the planning stage by ensuring that each student understood and was able to complete the following sentence stems:

  •   I am writing in the following genre: ____________________ ____.
  •   I am writing this (genre name) so I can ______________________.
  •   I am writing for an audience consisting of ____________________ .

At the end of the planning stage, I ensure I have received each students’ Planning Statements. They tend to be more or less the same for each student:

I am writing in the following genre: “This I Believe” essay. I am writing this “This I Believe” essay so I can express how a life experience shaped my beliefs. I am writing to an audience consisting of my classroom and school community.

Knowing that students have participated in the planning process ensures that students begin their work with the end product in mind.The sentence stems for planning are posted on a chart paper in a classroom, and we refer to them throughout the year as students move through writing projects across a variety of genres. This practice and repetition allows for students to internalize the writing process, committing the steps to memory, so more attention can be given to the finer points of their words as opposed to the steps they take to get them on paper.

This article is the first in a three part series on the topic of “Internalizing the Writing Process”.

My Best Weekend at the Teach to Lead Boston Summit

I’m still recovering from the excitement of the Teach to Lead Boston Summit, which ended eight days ago. After spending a good part of Christmas vacation obsessively begging for votes for my idea,  I was literally jumping up and down when I received my invitation to the summit. For a few seconds.

Then, I got to work on assembling our team of most incredible middle school teachers. I have to admit, I was shocked that four other people wanted to spend an entire weekend obsessing over Writing Across the Curriculum for English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities. Yet, they did, and what happened at the summit?

Well, we met wonderful educators from around the country (and even a few from the United Kingdom). We talked education (and ate amazing food) all weekend long. And most importantly, we came away with a Logic Model – a plan of how to turn our ideas into reality. It was my kind of workaholic’s dream weekend.

Group Selfie (Selvesie?): Our Team and Two of Our Critical Friends
Group Selfie (Selvesie?): Our Team and Two of Our Critical Friends
Me and my teammate Katy Ramón: We have taught together since 2010 at two different Boston schools!
Me and my teammate Katy Ramón: We have taught together since 2010 at two different Boston schools!
Showing Off our Completed Logic Model
Showing Off our Completed Logic Model!
critical friends
We couldn’t have done it without our amazing Critical Friends! Marjorie Brown, Assistant Director, Education Issues Department, American Federation of Teachers (far left) ; Nick Yoder, Technical Assistant Consultant, American Institutes for Research (2nd from left); G.A. Buie, President, National Association of Secondary School Principals (back row, 2nd from right)
I was proud to pose with my fellow National Board Certified Teachers.
I was proud to pose with my fellow National Board Certified Teachers.
Our team is 100% Boston Teachers Union members: Proud to be Serving the Children of the City of Boston.
Our team is 100% Boston Teachers Union members: Proud to be Serving the Children of the City of Boston.
Logic Model
Our Logic Model

Download our Logic Model

The only downside to the weekend was missing my husband and my beautiful daughters, Sofia and Francine. But it was great to receive a text with the photo below that said: “Have a great day, Mommy! Also remember to eat your lunch and drink your water!”

Thank you, Sofia and Francine, for your love and support! And thank you, David, for being the best dad while I was at Teach to Lead!