BY: LIZ KEIPER
I think self-knowledge is the rarest trait in a human being.
This year, my New School Year Resolution was to assign more writing to my students while at the same time increasing their positive attributions towards writing and their view of themselves as writers.
Wait, you wanted to assign more writing and also get them to like writing more?? Yup, you got it. J
I believed that this was a possible task in part by reading Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher. Gallagher surveyed his students about their attributions toward writing at the beginning of a semester and found that many of them would rather participate in many painful activities rather than write—that they were terrified of writing and hated it.
Gallagher attributes some of this to the abundant push in schools for writing five paragraph essays. He claims that while the five paragraph essay is useful for teaching organization and argument support, it is also bland, artificial, and boring.
Would Shakespeare have fallen in love with writing if he only ever wrote five paragraph essays? Have you ever read a five paragraph essay that truly moved you in the core of your being? Probably not.
Gallagher found that assigning writing pieces to his students that were not simply five paragraph essays, along with writing pieces modeled after the craft of seasoned authors such as is outlined in the book Writing With Mentors, helped his students actually get better at the craft of writing and like it more.
I decided that this year, every other Monday was going to be Writing Monday and that my students would write pieces that were modeled after writing by acclaimed authors or modeled by myself. Either way, they had an author who was good at writing to show them what a good example piece looked like, sounded like, was organized like. I have taken model writing ideas from Write Like This and Writing With Mentors along with excerpts from other books and columns I’ve read. Regardless, I want the material to be engaging so that my students are more motivated to develop content in their writing.
A few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to have my students take the personality quiz on the 16 Personalities website. This site bases their personality evaluation on the Myers-Briggs theory of personality types. It asks a series of questions which determine a person’s levels of extroversion vs. introversion, observation vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, judging vs. prospecting, and assertiveness vs. turbulence. It then gives a description of that personality type along with strengths and weaknesses, other famous people who have that type, information about career paths, relationships, and more.
I decided to have my students take the personality quiz and write a two-part response to their personality type.
Part 1: Explain what the 16 Personalities website says about your personality type. (This was meant to exercise their summarization skills and their ability to take large amounts of information and explain the essential parts.)
Part 2: Argue whether this personality type is accurate for you using specific examples from your life to prove your point. (This was meant to exercise their argument skills and to give them practice with giving examples as support for a particular argument.)
Honestly, I just came up with this writing assignment because I think that personality types are fascinating and fun, and I thought my students would enjoy seeing their personality type and writing about it. What I didn’t know was how much insight this would give me about my students.
I started out by showing them the 16 Personalities website. Then I showed them the website’s analysis of my personality type, INFJ “The Advocate.” Then, I showed them a response that I had written to my personality type. I showed them my Part 1 response to what the website said about Advocates, and I showed them my argument about why The Advocate type fits me so well. Then, I told them to get on the website, take the quiz, and start writing.
They were hooked.
First of all, I didn’t anticipate how deeply they would be engaged by a personality test, but I quickly saw that they were by in large excited to see which type they ended up with. Because they were so engaged, their responses were also by in large thorough and well-developed.
Good, I thought. This was a winning writing assignment.
Then, I began to read their responses, and my mind was blown.
It was like I had been given access to the cores of each of my students. They were writing in great detail about what every teacher spends all year trying to figure out about their students—what motivates them, what makes them tick, why they respond in a certain way to particular situations. I have never gained so much insight on my students from one assignment as I did from this writing piece.
I now see my students in a new light. Now, when a student is being what I perceive as a royal pain during a class discussion, I remember their writing assignment when they told me that they were a Debater personality, which means that they enjoy countering arguments and playing devil’s advocate. Now, when the class clown starts acting out for attention, I remember that they are the Entertainer personality type, and I am more able to capitalize on their affinity for humor. Now, I know which of my students are motivated by competition, success, affirmation, group work, independent work, compassion, harmony, attention, dedication to causes, altruism.
I highly encourage you to take the personality test for yourself, be vulnerable in telling your students about your personality type, encourage their own self-knowledge by assigning this writing task, and then reap the massive benefits in your ability to teach them by reading their responses.
The self-knowledge that they will gain and the insight that you will gain about them are invaluable.
Liz Keiper is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @KeiperET1.
WVCTE is wondering…
- How do you engage your students in real world or mentor text writing?
- What are your favorite writing assignment which give you insights into your students?
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