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  • Heather Frank

Reimagining Progressions: Setting Intentions with Writers in the Primary Grades

As we begin a new calendar year, I find myself revisiting an idea I heard in a podcast years ago. A psychologist spoke about why they focused on using the term setting intentions with patients rather than setting goals. I don’t remember the specifics of the podcast, but here is the gist of what’s stuck with me through the years:

  • Goal setting is future and outcome-focused. When we set a goal, we are striving to achieve, meet, or do something at some point in the future. When we set goals, there is an absolute outcome: we achieve (or do not achieve) our goal. That can leave us feeling disappointed or inadequate, and even when we achieve our goal, we might not feel the success or happiness we anticipated.

  • Intention setting is present and inward focused. When we set intentions, we are being mindful of who we are becoming and how we want to show up in this world. Intentions don’t offer a definite route, but frame a way of being. Setting intentions allows us to be mindful of who we want to be and to give ourselves grace along the way.

I revisited these ideas again when a kindergarten teacher approached me about student-facing writing progressions. Teachers in her district used homegrown writing progressions as a tool to celebrate what writers were trying and to decide on possibilities for next instructional steps. I started playing around with a student-friendly tool that even the youngest of writers could use to set intentions for their writing lives, and I want to share my process with you.

Step 1: Use a teaching progression or grade-level expectations to imagine how writing can grow. I began this process by getting curious about what writers might be doing or trying in their writing. I used an opinion writing progression to name out how different aspects of writing (i.e. meaning, structure, and conventions to name a few) might develop and grow over time. By starting with curiosity, I was able to celebrate writers’ approximations throughout this process.

Step 2: Create writing samples that reflect the range of possibilities for writers. I leaned into the grade-level characteristics of a opinion writing to create this mockup of a piece that meets expectations. I included different aspects of writing in this sample, including structure, elaboration, and conventions among others. Once I had a baseline piece, I developed additional writing samples that might capture the pieces writers were creating.

As I bounced ideas off a thinking partner, my colleague, and friend, Dana reminded me of the value in ensuring ALL writers could see themselves in this progression. For that reason, I added a writing sample that included only sketches.

Step 3: Identify the “new” characteristics in each piece of writing. In recognizing that the progression could easily become cluttered and less writer-friendly, I tried to be mindful of how much “stuff” was on each sample. I ultimately decided on adding a sticky note with a + and a student-friendly label to name and show the new characteristics in each sample. I thought this approach would be helpful as students set intentions for their own writing and could also be used by a teacher to guide and coach writers.

Step 4: Double-check the progression, and finalize. Once I had identified the new characteristics for each sample, I checked the progressions to ensure cohesiveness. Specifically, I looked to see that each new characteristic built upon previous ones. In the process, I also discovered some repetitions. In these cases, I went back to the teacher-facing progressions to clarify expectations for student writing and adjusted the sticky notes as necessary. While I created this digital progression below for my own process, I would use a hard-copy with students, so that they could physically bring their writing to the progression and match their writing.

There you have it—a student-facing writing progression that young writers can use (with support) to set intentions for their writing lives. I shared the idea with a colleague who was very interested in creating a progression for informational writing and trying it out with kindergarten teachers and writers. In the next blog, you’ll have a chance to learn tips for introducing and using a student-facing progression in the primary grades.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. How have you used student-facing progressions to guide writers in setting intentions? What successes and challenges have you faced in the process?


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