Monday, February 25, 2013

Writing to Learn: The 25 Word Story

Recently, I ran across a blog posting by Bill Ferriter (6th grade teacher in North Carolina, named Regional Teach of the Year for 2005-2006).  As a language arts teacher, Bill uses a strategy where students are asked to write a 25 word story. 

You might ask...Why write a 25 word story?  In Bill's blog, he mentions an interesting idea. When the primary form of communication for students is through text messages, this means that creating a 25 word story mirrors the length of some text messages.  Students don't always want to write a complex paragraph.  But, they might be more driven to write shorter messages.  Maybe we should ask, "How do we use the short message structure (25 words) to facilitate communication of complex ideas?"
From a social studies perspective, I see how the 25 word story might be spun a wee bit; I see it as a creative write to learn strategy. 

At the end of a learning experience, teachers are asked to determine what students know or understand.  This often happens through asking students to connect what they've learned to an essential question (discussion or writing).  Or, teachers use an exit card.  In both of these processes, students process their ideas to create something brief...and often, written.  Unfortunately, no matter how much teachers model what this writing should look and sound like, there are students who seem to complete the task without the mental effort that we hope for.  On our quest to see rich thinking among students, we ponder the question, "What else can I do to elevate better writing and thinking within these brief write-to-learn opportunities?"

One thing we all know is that structure and clear expectations support students creating work that is more thoughtful.  By using the 25 word story strategy in flexible ways, teachers might be able to establish high expectations that will simultaneously produce deeper thinking in write-to-learn experiences (all without the students knowing precisely what we're trying to do).  We can use this strategy and give students the opportunity to apply convergent thinking. In doing so, we "secretly" force students to reflect on their learning, synthesize ideas, and communicate effectively within a 25 word structure.  While the output is 25 words, teachers are able to formatively assess learning based on 25 words that have been carefully chosen by students.  Using a model for students to do a 25 word summary (25 word reflection, 25 word synopsi, etc.) creates a challenge for students which automatically causes metacognition and deeper levels of thinking.

Below, you'll see the link to Bill's tools for the 25 word story.  You'll also see a chart showing a few ideas for how to use this strategy as part of quality reflection on learning within social studies. Give it a shot!  When you've tried it, come back here and share your discoveries so others can learn from your thinking.

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