Developing Self-Awareness through Structure and Style

Sep 16, 2016 | Posted by Janet Spitler

In our blog series “Trust the System,” we have been discussing the importance of teaching the units and skills of the Structure and Style™ Writing Method system in the correct order. (You can read the original post here, the post on asking questions here, and the post on making decisions here.) By following the order of the units as taught in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style syllabus, you will be teaching the skills at a pace that allows your students to enjoy the process and find their own unique voice. As you do so, you’ll find that your students will develop self-awareness of their preferences and learning styles and will learn to play with words. This increases their enjoyment and engagement with the writing process.

One of the first times students learn something about themselves is when they choose key words for an outline. I always look forward to the day when a student can’t remember the basic idea from the key words we chose as a class. First, you get to remind him that we aren’t testing him, we are testing the outline (I don’t think the students really believe that until the outline doesn’t work and they see our calm reaction.) Second, the class begins to see different students experience having to go back and see the original source text to remember the idea. Asking them what word they read that made them think, “Right! Now I remember!” reveals what types of words are key words for them. If they are older, ask them what part of speech the word is functioning as. Frequently the students will see a pattern of preferring a certain part of speech. If you teach younger students, you may hear them chant, “I’m a verb person!” or “I’m a noun person!”

Another part of the writing process that helps students learn more about themselves is adding the stylistic techniques. They will start to notice the techniques they are learning in the books they read. As they use each one, they may realize that the ones that are easier for them to create seem to fit their personality. When they check over their papers for which requirements they have included, they may notice that the ones they like to write are already in their rough drafts. Through this process they are finding their voice. When you grade papers, you will begin to recognize the students by their work. And when you read their work aloud in the classroom, the students may guess whose paper it is.

Eventually, many students will come to prefer working with narrative structures like Units 3 and 5 or expository structures like Units 4 and 6. While they need to know how to write both, and our syllabus provides for that, the opportunity to go back and forth between the types of writing also ensures that students won’t get bored or frustrated. It is so satisfying to help the students who prefer narratives add them as illustrations to an essay and to help students who prefer expository writing add facts to their stories. As they move through the syllabus, they will be equipped to address any type of writing assignment, and they will know more about their own preferences while gaining confidence in their ability to tackle something they find more challenging.

When teachers learn something new, it can be stressful to figure out how to apply it in the classroom. In this series, our desire has been to help you understand not what else you need to do, but what you are already doing when you are faithfully teaching the Structure and Style method. Trust the system and enjoy the process as your students discover more about themselves and become confident and competent communicators. Your enjoyment will be remembered, so don’t be surprised if your former students eventually seek you out just to share something they’ve read or written.

Janet Spitler, IEW's Schools Division Director, heads up our efforts to support full-time schools with ongoing training, teacher mentoring, telephone contact, and classroom-specific materials. With abundant classroom experience, Janet shares her experience of building a linguistically rich environment to develop a love for language and a community of learners. While she cherishes the time she spent influencing students and parents, today she applies that same dedication to the classroom teachers who use this method. She is accredited as an IEW® Instructor at the highest level.

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