Slice of Life Challenge day 7 #sol17

Just because we taught it doesn’t mean they learned it…

Title: “Rainbows”

After surveying the room for just a moment, I quietly decided the most accurate word to describe this group of sixth graders was ‘busy.’  For two weeks now, these sixth graders had been investigating the question of whether or not zoos were, indeed, worthy of public funding.  In other words, are zoos really good for animals?  An argument piece.  Twenty-four writers leaned into their outmoded Dell computer screens, some of them looking as if they were searching to learn the meaning of life itself.  A few typed feverishly, while others just stared, heads in hands covering their temples, contemplating a partially finished draft.  It looked like some of them, too, were perhaps hoping for divine inspiration to animate their fingers in order to produce much-needed revisions.

Clutching my demonstration notebook close, I settled into a chair next to Scott.  Immediately I noticed his screen looked a little different than everyone else’s.  At first glance, his draft resembled a series of rainbows, with colors painted over his words like the streaks of tempera my daughter Lexi loves to fashion across paper in art class.  Leaning closer to Scott’s screen, I asked, “So, how’s it going with your writing? What can you tell me about all these colors?”

Stretching his arms in the air and leaning back in his chair, Scott informed me with great confidence, “Well, I’m making sure I have enough evidence.”

I peered closer, squinching my face in an effort to better read his words and study the efficacy of this new highlighting strategy.  Scanning each of the three rainbows adorning Scott’s draft, I searched for quotation marks, statistical facts, expert opinion, explanations or definitions…  Anything that resembled “evidence.” There were none of these things. Turning my head from the screen to face the writer, I also noticed there were no texts visible anywhere in his writing space.  No articles, charts, books, notes…nothing.  Let’s probe a little more, I thought.  “Can you say more about that, Scott?”

“Well,” he began, “I am making sure I have at least three pieces of evidence for each of my three reasons.  That’s what the colors are for.”  Ah, that’s what the rainbows are for.  Got it.  However, what he was adding was unfortunately not “evidence,” but more of his opinion.  I thought I might have my teaching point here.

I moved this conference forward by paying him a compliment on the clarity of his claim and reasons.  “Look how strong your reasons are, how separate!” I gushed at the end of my compliment.  “Now Scott, may I offer you a tip?”

Scott looked at me and nodded.  I proceeded to explain that the word evidence, typically in this type of writing, often means proof offered from a printed text.  I directed him back to the notes I knew he had taken; and after explaining with an example in a mentor text how this might look, Scott was able to successfully incorporate a quote he had pulled regarding the confining nature of zoo animal enclosures.

As I left that day, I was struck by one particular aspect of this conference. I knew what I taught Scott today was not the first time he had “learned” the concept of text evidence.  Well, more precisely put, it was probably not the first time he had been “taught” that concept.  And so I suppose it could be argued that he was just not “following directions.”  But I think there is something more to be learned here; and that is that what’s “obvious” to us is just not always obvious to kids.  For whatever reason.  So we must remember that just because we “taught it” doesn’t mean they “learned it.”

A cherished mentor once taught me, “People learn through frequency, repetition, and duration.”  And I would assert that that means kids, too.



Author: Lanny Ball

For more than 29 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy specialist, working and living in the great state of Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a former co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting writing teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops,

13 thoughts on “Slice of Life Challenge day 7 #sol17”

  1. I love how patient you are in this conference. It’s a good reminder to ask those questions and then reflect on where to go next. Part of me was thinking “Why are you wasting time make your font different colors?!” and wanting to ask the student that…..but your approach- far better. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lanny, I’m enjoying these windows into the classrooms (especially 6th grade!). I can say that the National Zoo is now off of Q’s itinerary for our summer trip. I don’t know if he’s learned “evidence”, but he’s certainly internalized it and taken a position. Thanks for your work and your mentorship.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your descriptions of the different poses and facial expressions of this group of writers is priceless. And reading through your conversation with Scott was really inspiring. You handled that moment brilliantly.


  4. I’m just like them, always looking, seeking, and waiting for divine inspiration to arise! I struggle with kids and adults alike, always assuming that what’s obvious to me…must be the same for them. It is during these assumptions that I often make the most mistakes! Something I am sure I will learn over and over again in life, similar to how Scott must be taught proper textual evidence repeatedly. What a good read during my lunch break!


  5. Argument is one of my favorite things to teach, whether to middle or high school students. They get so passionate about the work!

    Even though he was misguided in his interpretation / remembering of how to use evidence, it’s certainly commendable that he was problem-solving on his own with the color coding and had set some writing goals for himself.

    I love your description of this classroom moment and how it brings us back around to the importance of re-teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post is a great reminder to me as I am trying to teach students to write scientific conclusions with a claim, evidence and reasoning. I am wondering why they are struggling but I know in the back of my mind that this is the first they have been expected to write an organized piece. So, I need to keep reteaching. Thanks. I also love your open probing to find out what was going on in your students mind. It was a true picture of their understanding.


    1. How old are your students? I just finished an extensive research project in argumentative writing, and experts agree this type of writing requires a highly complex set of skills for any age. Good luck with your students! And thanks for your comment 🙂


  7. Agreed. You were so patient to try and figure out these rainbows. It’s always fun to sit side-by-side and listen into a conference. So much to learn from the teacher AND the student!


  8. Scott may have missed a tiny bit of the requirements, but I love that he had figured out a way to organize his writing. He obviously has had important guidance. Repetition, repetition, repetition…I’d complain more about repeating myself all day if I didn’t know that those three Rs are how I learn best. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My middle school reading class is working on a paragraph about theme in their independent reading books, and I’m conferencing with them about “evidence” too. It is so interesting to see what they do and don’t know, neither of which is guaranteed to correlate to what I’ve taught!

    Liked by 1 person

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