Thursday, November 30, 2017

Actionable Steps

My coteacher, Andrea, and I are wrapping up a literary analysis paper with our middle school kiddos. One of our colleagues shared an awesome organizer for analyzing quotes from a text... TIQA. Kids write a TOPIC, INTRODUCE the quote they found, include the QUOTE, then complete ANALYSIS on the meaning of the quote.

Meanwhile, one of the other coaches in our district asked me to deliver a brief PD on writing to her third year teachers. I got to reading the front of the Writing Strategies Book (Serravallo) and remembering listening to her speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference - about actionable steps. And so, the writing PD became a session on creating actionable steps for writing tasks, and then my instruction was enhanced when I realized I wasn't doing awesome at this with my students.

You guys, EVERYTHING has to be broken down to a set of actionable steps. EVERY TASK. Telling students, "write a thesis" - that's not an actionable step, that's the goal. You have to show them how to do so. Let me elaborate a bit on goals vs. actionable steps with some examples:

Goal: Punctuate correctly.
Actionable steps: (1) Read your paper aloud, listening for the pauses you will naturally take. (2) When you find the pause, add punctuation. (3) Reread your work with punctuation and decide if if looks right and sounds right. 

Goal: Introduce the quote (for literary analysis)

Actionable steps: (1) Identify who spoke / thought the quote. (2) Think about the setting when the person spoke or thought the quote. (3) Write a sentence that shares the setting and/or action that had just happened prior to the quote. (4) Add that sentence before the quote in your draft.

Goal: Complete Analysis for your quote

So Andrea and I were extra prepared today for our mini-lesson, and we had modified one of Serravallo's strategies. We did a great job with mini-lesson, but then as I was conferring, and sitting with students attempting this, I saw HOW HARD ANALYSIS IS. Friends, so so hard...not impossible, but kids will have to sit and understand that ideas might not just pop up super fast. Analysis, like all the other things we ask our kids to do, would be taught best when we tell our kiddos the specific actions they should take to accomplish the task.

So to recap the big ideas I've learned this week:
1. You can't just tell kids what to do, you have to SHOW THEM. (I knew that, but am reminded again.)
2. Even when you write out great actionable steps, the task can still be super hard, and probably, your teaching can be revised further!

I already have evidence that the analysis our kiddos are doing are going to take them from basic to extra (as I told my kids today, which was met with some giggles and a few eye rolls.) The final drafts will tell it all...including how I can teach it even better next time.

Anyone have more ideas for actionable steps for Analysis? I'd love to hear them and enhance what I've got! We're always better when we're putting our heads together!

Happy Friday Eve! :-)


  1. You've hit the nail on the head -- actionable steps make writing so much easier. We do this when we teach math, but tend to skip it in writing. Just telling kids to "write a mystery" without showing them the steps just leads to frustration. I love your reflection and examples. I'm adding this to The Writing Round-Up this week so other teachers can learn this too.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I think that math teachers do think in this way more often, great observation :-) Thanks for the tweets!


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