The coaching model for writers came out of desperation. I was hired after resigning as a full-time English teacher at a massive high school to create and run something called ‘study lunch’. Yes, not an attractive idea but the administrators felt the failing seniors needed a space to receive tutoring and support. Also, lunch. Since they were forbidden to leave the school to purchase food and their lunch hour no longer existed, they were given sack lunches from the cafeteria, lunches I was responsible for picking up and carrying out of the kitchen and distributing to many complaints to my failing seniors.  Other than the food and the vague idea that one teacher could manage multiple students with a variety of academic issues; there was no plan.

The first week was slow with students who already knew me dropping in to receive feedback on their college admission essays and a few who were reading As I Lay Dying stymied by Faulkner. Sometimes I overheard whispered conversations in the hallway, students persuading other students to come inside because “She can help you.” During the second week, the room was full. There were students reading five different novels, students struggling with poetry, AP History students writing DBQs and several math students who were out of luck because my education in math stopped after Algebra I. I put students into groups and then I moved from group to group, coaching.

Because this high school was massive and in a very diverse community, there was a variety of academic levels. I soon discovered students hiding in my room, looking for refuge from the cafeteria and someone who made them feel welcome. These students were often really good at subjects like math and biology and if I surrounded them with less gifted students they were able to help. Thus they became my staff and we proceeded, despite the unpopular lunches, to make substantial improvements in both grades and morale.

Ideas For Student Success

Here were my thoughts from the trenches:

  • Return papers quickly, make assignments shorter, more frequent and make at least one out of three have a personal connection to the students.
  • Simplify your materials; make them fun and increase student input.
  • Struggling students love comments. They want to know what you think about their efforts. But after 3 corrections-students don’t read.
  • Provide models. Write models yourself when possible.
  • Try to shorten deadlines for homework and create opportunities for writing in class
  • Have daily writing prompts and daily writing
  • Vary your writing assignments.
  • Vary homework assignments
  • Extend deadlines for students who are making an effort. Keep encouraging them so they know you are looking forward to receiving their work
  • Flexibility is different from leniency.
  • Support is different from enabling.
  • Completing an assignment is the goal. Timeliness is to be aspired to but should not obliterate effort.
  • Build in support throughout the assignment, collect the thesis, return with points, collect the rough draft, return with points, first draft, etc.
  • Find out what students are good at and create assignments that have those components (drawing, writing lyrics, reciting poetry, keep switching things up)
  • Be lavish with praise and optimism.
  • If an assignment bombs, let it go and move on.
  • Admit your own mistakes.
  • Explain why you are doing things.
  • Be as transparent as possible, repeat directions, read through all your assignments and make sure they make sense.
  • Break down complicated assignments and tell students each deadline aloud and in writing.
  • Read due dates aloud, have them written on your board. Underline the actual assignment or pull it out or bullet. Deadlines should be hammered into student’s brains.
  • Have a quickie class assignment once a week that you grade and return the next day. Let them collaborate and put challenged students with an ace partner.
  • Be quick with praise and make sure you find ways to build on success.

I hope you are take-away some tips you can use in your classroom.

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