Friday, March 14, 2014


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Yesterday my assistant principal was in my room waiting to talk to me while I got my Pre-AP kids set up with their writing assignment for the day. Even though we write all the time, even though they had a Google doc with the assignment and the Focus Correction Areas spelled out, and even though I added in verbal directions, we still had to go through about 15 minutes of questions, clarifications, and complaining.

We don’t pre-write in Pre-AP; we pre-whine. I didn't realize until my principal commented on it that yes, we go through this process every time I give a graded writing assignment. It is how we get ready to write.

And this is actually progress. When I got them at the beginning of the year, they were afraid. Not of me (well, a little of me), but mostly of not getting it “right” the first time. My writing assignments are deliberately broad, and the intent is to give my writers the freedom to go in whatever direction the subject takes them. At first, they were paralyzed. They were so focused on getting their usual "A" that they could barely function without knowing what the “right” answer was supposed to be.

I spend the first month teaching them how to talk the talk. They are not allowed to ask me, “Is this okay?” My answer is always, “No.” They have to be specific and ask about thesis statements, transitions, examples, style, anything at all about their writing, but it has to be something specific. At the end of the first month, when I repeated this request for the tenth time to one of my students, his frustrated response was, “My specific question is what do I have to do to get an A?”

And that is always my largest issue. My Pre-AP students come to me every year wanting to know what the code is to get the A’s they are used to. I tell them on day one that an "A" doesn't always mean they are learning. I tell their parents the same thing. I don’t emphasize the grade in my class. The magic is in the learning process. It’s a hard sell every year.

After the pre-whining today, and after they had settled down to really dig into the assignment, the same student who just wanted his "A" appeared at my desk about halfway through the period with his Chromebook, and said, “Can you tell me if this is okay?” I just laughed and said, “What do you think?” He shook his head at me and went back to work. I have to give him credit. He’s been persistent, just hoping that I’ll give in just one time and overhaul his essay for him. When we came back from our break between class periods, he came back to my desk and asked me to look at his concluding sentence, we conferenced about why it wasn't working for him, and he went back to fix it.

Despite their need to pre-whine, these students have come a long way since September. They have the state writing test in four weeks, and no matter what the scores come back as, they can’t possibly measure the growth of these learners. I’m just glad I won’t be the one proctoring their testing rooms when they figure out that they can’t pre-whine before they write their test essays!


  1. Pre-whining... so clever! It is frustrating when students care more about their grades than their learning, but in their defense, it is the system we've created. Good for you for standing your ground and keeping them focused on the real reward.

  2. "I don’t emphasize the grade in my class. The magic is in the learning process. It’s a hard sell every year" Good for you! This is very difficult. Believe it or not, I still face it with my graduate students.