The connection between the two may not be obvious at first glance, but I will argue the parallels are intriguing -- and I guarantee I had plenty of time to work through the complexities of the connections before arriving on The Strip.
Let’s start with your own trip … a journey down memory lane. Think about your adult life and the various experiences you’ve had with writing.
In your professional life, you may have had to write a marketing proposal, a website landing page, an RFP, or a cover letter for a new job.
In your personal life, you may have written Christmas letters, Yelp posts, flyers for your kid’s school, or donation requests for nonprofit organizations in which you’re involved.
Whatever the writing task, I would bet the first step you take is finding a model. You probably visit Google and type in something like “Sample Marketing Proposal” or “Effective Flyers for Nonprofit Events.” And if you don’t visit Google for your sample, you may ask a friend or colleague for one. Or your sample may even be something you’ve written before that you can use as a springboard. We all do it. We all do it, because we all need to know what a good final product should look like -- we need to know the “destination.”
It’s the most natural first step. I promise you I couldn’t have made it to Vegas if I didn’t know I was headed to Vegas -- my “destination.”
So why in the classroom do we assign writing without providing students with a destination -- a model text? A model text just like we need when we write?
I would no sooner have taken off on a road trip to Vegas or any other location without first having looked at where I was going. Knowing my destination allows for me to plan what freeway to take, avoid the roadblocks, estimate total driving time, calculate gas requirements, and arrive at the right place.
In the same vein, I would no sooner assign an essay in my classroom without first giving my students a model, so they can find the same success I had in finding my way to Vegas.
Let’s use a literary analysis argument essay as an example. If I ask my students to write a literary analysis argument essay, I show them their destination through sample essays -- examples of well-written essays that show them what’s expected. We spend significant amounts of time evaluating these samples together for their elements of good writing, including: organization, transitions, balance of evidence and elaboration, length, audience, claim. Then, and only then, can students confidently take off for the destination, because they now know where they’re headed.
Are you wondering at this point if all the essays will then look the same?
I can guarantee they won’t. This is because the how of achieving a well-written essay comes with individual style. Just like every driver handles a trip to Las Vegas with a different style -- speed, pitstops, alternate routes -- a student will do the same. This is where detailed directions come into play.
When road-tripping, not only do you need to know your destination, but you also need these detailed directions for getting there. The same holds true for writing -- writers need both the destination and detailed directions. In the writing classroom, the detailed directions come in the form of rubrics.
Rubrics provide the details for how to arrive at the destination, the final product, successfully. Students need to know how they will be assessed, what will be scored, to what extent each category will weigh against the final grade, and any number of other specific requirements for the task. This information helps students learn how to write more effectively. They learn where they took a wrong turn and how to improve their trip next time out.
Without models and rubrics, how would a student know how to improve or what to focus on in order to achieve the next level of sophistication, mastery or competency? Why send them out on the road without preparation? Why set them up for failure? Without the pairing of these two tools, writing becomes just one more rote activity that has little impact on student achievement.
Therefore, let’s provide students with a roadmap for success -- before we set them out on their writing journeys.