“What’s your purpose in this essay?” I asked a student who brought in his first writing assignment early in the school year.
“What?” he responded, confused.
“What are you hoping to achieve through this writing?” I asked, realizing he did not know what authorial purpose was.
“To get an A,” he responded.
The CCSS asks students to write for a variety of purposes, but they too often do not understand authentic purpose in real-world writing. If a student’s only purpose is to earn a certain grade on a paper and only perceives his/her audience to be the teacher, then he/she will not be prepared for the variety of writing situations one faces in life. Getting students to define their own purposes in writing situations requires frequent readings of mentor texts that show the diversity of purposes authors can engage in. It also requires students to have the language to identify a purpose as an author.
Recycling the strategy of the Word Wall and making a Purpose Word Wall is a great scaffold toward enabling students to identify specific purposes as writers, giving utility to the Word Wall strategy that has otherwise minimal use. To make it, I give students note cards and instruct them to write three verbs that could be used to identify what someone could want to achieve through a piece of writing. Students then stand up with cards in hand. Standing at their desks, students take turns reading their words one at a time. If a word a student has on his/her list is read by another student, then it is crossed off after being said and cannot be said again. Once a student has said or crossed off all of his/her words, he/she sits down. The goal is to remain standing until the third round. This activity gets students actively engaged with the words and gives them ownership over the final product.
Once all words are read, table groups then deliberate on the most specific verb amongst them. This discussion eliminates vague purpose words such as “talk” that are not precise for one’s purpose. A scribe then writes that precise purpose word on the back of a note card. Each table group gets to post their word on the Purpose Word Wall, which becomes a resource they can draw from all year long as they interpret purpose in the texts they read and establish their purposes as writers themselves.
Being able to define a precise purpose allows a student to respond to the question, “What’s your purpose?” with a statement such as, “My purpose is to criticize…” or “With this piece, I want to examine…” Responses like these reflect authentic authorial purpose.
I recommend that every class in which students write has a Purpose Word Wall, helping students determine more authentic purpose for their writing, other than to just complete the assignment. In health class, for example, student might determine a purpose to persuade teenagers not to start smoking in an anti-drug poster, or, in social studies, they might write with the purpose to examine the migratory patterns of a group of people. We as teachers may have an idea of what we want students to achieve through an assignment, but how well are they meeting the intended learning if they cannot articulate their own purpose for creating a text?
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.
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