Connecting the dots…

First off…a reminder that my ‘beat’ for this 2019/20 academic year will revolve around the concept of ‘connection’. My first post was related to establishing habits of daily writing at the start of a school year by way of relationship building. 

Connection #1—Early Set-up of the Formative and Revision Processwe are quote

Inspired by: A colleague that I truly appreciate working with at The American Community School of Abu Dhabi (@acsabudhabi), Matt Foss.

Also inspired by: the words of Aristotle who wisely noted that: “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

The Initial WHY?

Students need structure (heck, I need structure!)

Over the past years, I have tried different ways to encourage students to use the formative process with more validity and to make revision a habit, not just a one-off. Throughout the year I could get a majority of my students on board with using the formative process more purposefully, but the revision process was harder to get the buy-in. And the buy-in always happened too far into the year. Although the ones who did take advantage of both opportunities early on found it beneficial, it was always the same high achievers.

I knew that something needed to change. I knew that I needed a way to help all students connect the dots between their success potential and their engagement with the writing process before AND after an assessment is due.

That inspiration came from my teaching colleague. He had a basic structure in place, I just tweaked it to make it applicable to any written assessment across both IB and AP classes. And what we have now is consistency across all grade 11 and 12 classes in the English department—winning!

Time Management

Student’s have a lot going on, and grade 11 and 12’s (of which I teach a lot of this year) have the added intensity of either the IB or AP program AND figuring out what the next chapter of their lives will hold. With all of these moving parts both academically and personally, the least we can do is ensure that how they navigate our classes does not add to their stress.

And I have found that having clear timelines with endpoints helps develop better time management strategies.


This whole process started with my colleague’s idea of having a bit more structure during the formative process. Him and I are continually trying to be better at structuring students for success…and at the start of this year we were at it again. The idea of self-directed learning surfaced again…and the conversations turned to how we best learn.

Long story short…we came to the following concept: when students can see a visible pathway to excellence, intrinsic motivation increases. Thus, providing a concrete process where the potential for improvement could not only be seen, but also seemed achievable, was critical.

Okay…but HOW?

Step 1: We agreed, as an English department that we wanted the process to be completely transparent—students should be able to connect the dots from one step to the next (and with increasingly less guidance). 

Step 2: We took Matt’s original document and we revised it to make the process more explicit and clear. 

Step 3: We discussed it with our administration—we wanted them to know the what, why, and how so that they could also speak to it.

Step 4: We shared it with with students, parents, and other colleagues.

The process (Linked Here) is for the IB and AP classes at my school. However, we also have a version for grade 9 and 10 (Linked Here)…it is similar, just a bit less intensive.

There are two parts to this process:

  1. The Formative Process—to ensure students are handing in their best work (not just a first draft) when an assessment is due.
  2. Revision—to ensure a more effective (and efficient) process to improve their work and develop their self-directly learning skill set.

[There is also a safety measure in place where students are not able to participate in the revision process without first completing the formative process requirements.]

Process screenshotEven though students will be guided through the process, it is their responsibility to complete the steps in a timely manner.

How Is It Working?

I am still trialing this process, but what I can say is that it has been well received. When I unveiled it to my classes at the beginning of the year, one of first students to comment had an initial positive impression—he thought it was very clear, and he could see how it could help him. However, after pausing for a second, he then added: “Is there some sort of trick to this?”

Although at first I laughed, it also made me reflect: The fact that this student even asked that question means that at some point he feels like he was duped. This question revealed a disconnection and a distrust in this students’ belief in a system that should be structuring him for success—sigh.

To date, I have been through the first part of the process once  (as we are only 7 weeks into the new year). It was for a paper 1 response with my IB Language & Literature SL class. We just ended the first 5 steps before fall break, and I will be collecting data to assess initial thoughts on the framework (I will update you on my next post with the collated feedback).

I will be interested to see how many of them take the opportunity to complete the second part of the process and revise to improve their learning. Fingers crossed it is a bunch of them.

give the pupils quote

The Long Term Benefits.

I believe that the following will be directly impacted through the use of this process:

  1. More buy-in to the formative and revision process as a whole.
  2. Development of self-directed learning and responsibility skill sets (which also happen to be two of the approaches to learning at ACS).
  3. Increase in access points for feedback (self, peer, and one-on-one with the teacher).

On a Side Note…

A few years ago, I picked up the book, “Write Beside Them“, by Penny Kittle, and in it she talks about showing what is importantthat where we spend our time will connect to what we are showing as being of value. Currently, in my class, we spend TIME every day reading and writing, both have weight and value. And although I verbalize often how important the revision process is, I have never given it the same weight and value.

However, through the use of the process discussed in this blog post, that will hopefully change. By dedicating TIME and making the process more VISIBLE, I hope that students will create new connections with each other and with their own learning.

Do you require students to complete certain tasks before handing in a final draft? Do you have a process for revising? How do you increase student engagement in the formative process? Share your ideas with me on Twitter: @readwritemore

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