Teaching Tips: Using Progressions with Primary Writers
In the first blog of this two-part series, Heather shared a possible process for creating student-facing writing progressions. You can revisit those ideas here. In this blog, we intend to offer actionable tips for using these progressions with primary writers. Heather has enlisted the help of her colleague and friend Kari who tried out this work in her role as an instructional coach.
Last year, Kari worked with her kindergarten colleague Rachel on intention-setting with writers. During their how-to unit, they taught kindergarteners to set intentions for themselves by considering where they were in the writing process and then choosing to take actionable steps while writing independently.
After chatting with Heather, Kari was eager to create and try out using student-facing learning progressions with Rachel’s kindergarten students to help them reflect on their writing, as well as intention set, in a new way.
Below, you’ll learn a bit more about what this process looked like in a kindergarten classroom. This blog captures our thinking at this moment. We anticipate that how we introduce and use progressions with primary writers might change over time, and we welcome opportunities to tweak how we use this tool.
⭐Tip 1: Begin with student curiosity.
We can tap into young students’ inquisitiveness as we introduce and explore the progressions. Consider a mini-inquiry. We might envision gathering together as writers at the meeting area. Let’s frame this exploration as a Big Deal. We can lean into open-ended questions to facilitate a conversation around our noticings: What do you see? What do you imagine that is? How might we use this?
➔ Why it matters: By engaging students’ natural sense of wonder, we center student voices and honor playfulness in our writing community.
What happened on the ground: Before joining Rachel’s class, Kari carefully considered the possible developmental stages of writers by leaning into what she knew about Rachel’s class as well as using pre-existing teacher-facing rubrics. By getting curious about students, Kari was able to create a sample progression that was representative of the kindergarten writers.
⭐Tip 2: Model your own process.
Take advantage of opportunities to model how you use the progressions to name something you tried in your own writing and choose something new or different to try.
➔ Why it matters: Making your process visible for students, and thinking aloud as you do so, will help students make sense of the process and begin to internalize it for themselves. When you model your own process, students have the added benefit of seeing their teacher as a writer.
What happened on the ground: Kari and Rachel carefully reviewed the writing samples in the student-facing progression with the class and discussed how the samples differed from one another. This conversation supported students in seeing concrete differences and helped them reflect on their own writing. As the class engaged in a shared writing cycle, kindergarten writers compared their co-created writing piece to the student-facing progressions to determine next steps.
⭐Tip 3: Commit to coaching…and practicing.
If we want students to use a student-facing progression with intentionality, then we must coach them along the way. Conferring conversations, small group instruction, and partnership time are all spaces where we might infuse some coaching and practice.
➔ Why it matters: It’s helpful to remember that the process of using the tool is what supports writers, not the tool itself. Learners of all ages need authentic opportunities to practice using tools. As teachers, we can guide students (less and less over time) so that they can become more independent in using tools like progressions.
What happened on the ground: Kari and the kindergarten writers practiced using the student-facing progressions in different ways in Rachel’s classroom. They revisited the progression during a whole group lesson, used the tool in a smaller group setting, and tried it out in one-on-one conversations with writers. Kari found that students were often “spot on” when reflecting on their work and determining their own next steps, which instilled a sense of greater independence and agency in the youngest writers.
⭐Bonus tip: Add a copy of the student-facing progression to your conferring toolkit.
When conferring with a writer, lean into the tool to celebrate what a writer tried and set intentions for next steps.
➔ Why it matters: This simple tweak can help conferences become more student-centered rather than teacher-led.
We hope you find these tips useful. What other tips would you add to this list? What has your experience with student-facing progressions looked like? Share with us your thoughts and experiences!
Kari Rowe is a gifted and talented teacher, Response to Intervention coordinator, and literacy coach in New Jersey at the same school in which she attended elementary school. She holds a Master’s of Education as a Reading Specialist/Supervisor from Rutgers University. She was recognized at her school as Educational Professional of the Year in November 2022. Prior to beginning her work in her current role, Kari taught third grade for six years. Kari’s favorite part of her current assignment is her coaching work in grades K-4. She strives to help teachers become more confident in their practice and works to provide all learners with responsive instruction. You can find her on Twitter @MissRoweFRSD.
Heather Frank is a Literacy Consultant with Gravity Goldberg, LLC. She is a former elementary school teacher with 15 years experience. Heather earned a doctorate in the Teacher Education and Teacher Development PhD program at Montclair State University. Her research interests, including teacher leadership, professional learning, and literacy, inform her work with teachers and students. If pressed to say what most defines her as an educator, she says it's her curiosity about—and commitment to—supporting students throughout the learning process as they move towards independence. You can read her complete bio here and follow her on Twitter @HeatherAFrank.