Collins Writing

I asked yesterday if any of you used Collins Writing and Mike Hetherington said, “I still use ‘type two’s’, primarily as a quick assessment tool.”

Basically, the Collins approach groups writing assignments according to five types:

  • Type 1 — Write to Capture Ideas
    Brainstorming; one draft. Evaulated with a check or minus.
  • Type 2 — Respond Correctly
    A correct response to a question; shows what the student has learned. Used as a quiz grade.
  • Type 3 — Edit for Focus Correction Areas
    Meets up to three standards called Focus Correction Areas. One draft; revision and editing are done on first draft.
  • Type 4 — Peer Edited for Focus Correction Areas
    Read aloud by peer. Two drafts; second draft revised by author.
  • Type 5 — Publish
    Multiple drafts; writing is of publishable quality

One of the things I wanted to know from those of you who have used Collins is what you thought about the Focus Correction Areas. The idea is to choose three areas upon which you base assessment of the writing. This is something that can be used in writing across the curriculum. A science teacher might focus on correct use and spelling of vocabulary terms describing a chemical process, for instance. A social studies teacher might ask a student to describe a country and require the student include information about major cities, culture and population, and major exports. I recently assigned a one-paragraph essay to my students and asked that they include 1) an appropriate topic sentence and three supporting details, 2) three dependent clauses (one adjective clause, one adverb clause, and one noun clause), and 3) one verbal or verbal phrase (participle, gerund, or infinitive). For the last six weeks (give or take, because Jewish holidays have disrupted our schedule), my students have been learning about phrases and clauses. I especially emphasized verbals when we discussed phrases. I thought this assessment might be a good way for students to show me what they learned about phrases and clauses and incorporate them into their writing as well as use what they learned about writing paragraphs. I don’t know how it turned out yet, because we’re out for the holidays this week, and not all the students had finished the writing. Some of the students did seem to like the idea that I was looking for three things. Other students seemed anxious, but frankly, those were students who haven’t done well with the grammar we’ve learned this year. A small tangent — I personally feel that unless students translate what they learn about grammar into better writing, it’s pointless to teach it. My principal, who taught English for 30 years, seems to feel this assignment was a good one.

Another critical element of Collins Writing is portfolio assessment. I am doing portfolios in all my classes this year. I think with the 9th graders, we will actually go in and revise writing from the portfolio. With my 10th graders, I’m actually using them as a tool so students can see how far they’ve come with writing. I ask students to complete a chart stapled inside the file folders that serve as their portfolios. The chart has four components: Assignment, Grade, Positive Remarks, and What Do I Need to Fix? If it does nothing else, it encourages students to reflect on their writing and look for patterns across their writing in terms of common mistakes. I think portfolio assessment can be tough to do in large classes. My largest class has 19, which is pretty big for my school. My classes average from 12-15. That makes portfolios more manageable.

In theory, the Collins Approach looks like it could really improve student writing. Instead of overwhelming students in their writing, it sets clear expectations for the assignment and holds students accountable for meeting those standards. It should also make evaluating writing easier. I would be anxious to hear about any experiences you have had with Collins.

4 thoughts on “Collins Writing”

  1. I have several problems with the Collins writing program. My students are seniors and think skipping lines is babyish and they use the FCA's to their advantage and are always in search of a loophole so they can hand in something that fulfills the FCAs witht he least amount of creativity and work. Seniors also feel that reading aloud in a one foot voice is babyish as well. They are all poor writers (ESL, Special Ed) so they do not learn much from the peer edits.

    I feel that the program requires too great an amount of essays. I have done 10 essays so far this year and I was told this is too few for valid judgment.

    The thing I dislike the MOST is that teachers are EVALUATED based on student writing and their portfolios. Because of the level I teach, my folders will never be as impressive as those of an honors' teacher!

    Students enjoy using Type 1's for brainstorming and 2's for quizzes, which are good practice for openended questions, but overall I think the program's base is questionable and poorly implemented, at least in my school.

  2. Mary, I couldn't agree with you more. Our administrators bought into the Writing Collins Process without consulting teachers. Maybe in the lower levels, this system works, but it does NOT in the high school for the reasons you mentioned. Our high school students' standardized test scores in writing have gone down significally since implementing this program.

  3. It sounds to me like the problem is not with Collins at all, but rather with your school district. First, basing teacher evaluations off of student performance is absurd. There is such an enormous variety of factors affecting a student's performance–hereditary disabilities, intelligence, cognitive processing, attention, physical health, mental health, motivation, cultural values. . . Imagine evaluating a doctor poorly because her lifelong patient developed heart disease! Honestly…

    As for your other problems with the program, have you consulted with your colleagues? When was your last professional development session on Collins? I suspect your district has failed you in that regard as well. My suggestion is this–if your students are handing in junk hand it right back! Doing double the work is a punishment your students might find worth avoiding. If they don't want to skip lines or read their pieces out loud consider the value of doing so. Toss one or both aside if you like. Also, you could have your students compose on the computer as an alternative. However, if you agree with Collins on the importance of skipping lines and reading out loud then explain the reasons why this is beneficial to your students. Sometimes communicating your beliefs and the theory behind them to your students is all that is missing. In my opinion skipping lines and reading aloud are not babyish they're practical (and what many professional writers do), but having an attitude about doing so shows immaturity. You might want to point that out to them as well…

    If they still whine about it be authoritative–it's your classroom.

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