How to determine if the Collins Writing Program is being implemented in your school?

Dr. John Collins, Featured Blogger

By John Collins, Ed.D, Founder and Managing Director, Collins Education Associates

How do you know if the Collins Writing Program (CWP) is being used in your school? The first recommendation to any school would be to perform a formal Collins “folder review” to find out exactly what is/isn’t being done. But what if your school doesn’t have the time or resources for a formal review? Here are a few things that do not take significant time that will help you determine if you are a “Collins School.”

During class visits, walk-throughs, instructional rounds, or any other time
you find yourself in a classroom, look for the following:

  • Collins terminology used by both the teachers and students
  • Writing folders, notebooks with assignments in Collins format
  • Assignments on display with Collins format
  • Any physical evidence (posters, focus correction areas (FCAs) on board, reference to CWP in class objectives, etc.)

While in the hallways, ask students the following questions:

  • Do your teachers assign much writing in or outside of class?
  • Do you know the difference between a Type One and a Type Two assignment? Does your teacher assign these types? If so, how often?
  • Do you know what an FCA is?
  • Does your teacher ask you to read your papers out loud so you can hear how they sound and listen for mistakes?
  • Do you do peer editing (an aspect of Type Four writing)?
  • Does your teacher ever correct a paper in front of the class to model what he/she is looking for and how the paper will be evaluated?
  • In your ELA classes, have you ever taken a paper that you had written earlier in the year and edited it for a new skill?
  • Do you think you are becoming a better writer? Why?

In informal discussions with teachers, ask the following questions:

  • Do students seem to be able to produce more text in the same amount of
    time when you give a Type One assignment?
  • Do students come to expect frequent Type Two quizzes?
  • Can/do students ever suggest FCAs for assignments that you give?
  • How frequently do you give a Type One to a Type Five assignment?
  • How do students react when you ask them to read their paper out loud to themselves or have another student read the author’s paper to the author?
  • Do you ever change FCAs for different students in your classes? Or, do you change FCAs to challenge the most advanced students in your classes?
  • Have you put into practice any of the Collins Writing Program highly recommended assignments: the short persuasive essay, the ten percent summary, comparison and contrast, and vocabulary cards? How do they seem to be received by the students?

During faculty meetings, professional learning community meetings, and department meetings, try the following:

  • Select a Collins Writing Program Question of the Week/Month (from the list of seven questions for teachers in the previous section). Ask one of these questions as a Type One – “In ___ number of lines, answer (insert question here) in ____ minutes.” Ask faculty to share with one another or publicly.
  • Use Collins assignments the way you expect teachers in classrooms to use them. For example: List four strategies to prevent bullying that we discussed at last month’s faculty meeting and discuss which one you think is the most effective (Type Two).
  • Consider informal reviews where you collect two or three Collins
    Portfolios, Cumulative Writing Folders, Primary Cumulative Writing Folders,
    or Teacher’s Implementation Folders per week and give written feedback to the students and/or teachers. A few folders are not overwhelming or time consuming, yet even this informal review lets faculty and students know that you are concerned enough about implementation to check and give feedback.

In conclusion, one of the best ways to ensure that the Collins Writing Program, or any program, is implemented is to simply look for physical evidence and ask specific questions. While this recommendation sounds obvious, the combined experience of our many associates over three decades of work in schools tells us these practices don’t always happen. We find that most school leaders assume that a program is being used if the professional development experience that introduced it was well received. But teachers need more: they need help to refocus their energies, change habits, and sort through priorities. By using the questions and strategies listed here, you can provide the leadership necessary to sustain change without significant costs in time or money.