Dr. John Collins: Rewriting How to Engage Students  

Founder of The Collins Writing Program, Dr. John Collins talks about his Engagement-Driven Writing Program – Coming Soon to ONEder Academy!


By Anna Wolfe

Dr. John Collins knows that all it takes for students to become focused and confident in their writing is to give them clear objectives on which to center. His expertise and passion for education has led him to provide teacher training to schools for over 30 years, as well as host more than 15,000 workshops and teach from the elementary to the graduate level. As a classroom teacher of seven years, Collins developed a unique process for teaching writing in a way that engages students across the curriculum and in every subject. The Collins Writing Program went on to be highly successful; it is used in thousands of classrooms to empower millions of students in the United States and abroad, and is now available on ONEder Academyour ever-expanding suite of life-changing curriculum packages and content designed for today’s student!

How did you become involved with Teacher Training?

I was a teacher for about seven years — mostly a writing teacher…When I was a relatively new teacher, I ran across research from the University of Pennsylvania that said there was no correlation between the amount of red pen marks a teacher puts on a paper and [students’] writing improvement. That was startling to me; I thought that the harder I worked at grading, the better my kids would get. This study said “no,” …so I said, “Okay. If there’s no correlation between how much red is on this paper and improving writing, what do I do?” I thought, “Well, maybe what I should do is cut down the red by focusing on the most important things.”

I tried to figure out what the most important things were and it evolved into something that I called “Focus Correction Areas,” which are a cornerstone of the program. In other words, tell the kids what’s most important that they have to do when they’re writing and then give them feedback on those things.

How is your writing program different from other programs?

One of the most common responses we get from teachers is that it takes the fear away from writing. Teachers who use the program will teach the students what they need to do to be successful and students become aware of what that is.

…We advocate that writing is a way to get kids engaged, not just to make a final product. When I ask students to write, I have physical evidence whether they’re doing it and if they’re engaged. We really emphasize the engagement element of writing as well as the power of writing to teach. A lot of writing programs focus on the English teachers or the language arts teachers, whereas we focus on writing across the curriculum — in every subject.

What are the “important things” for teachers to focus on?

For me, everything starts with content — the “what are you saying?” If you don’t have good content, everything else doesn’t particularly make sense.

…When the student begins to write, they have a pretty clear idea of what they need to do, and then they get feedback that they’ve done it, and now they feel so much better about their writing — which is very much like all the experiences I had as a student all the way through graduate school. The paper never seemed to be done, you know? It was never-ending. First you had to put more in, then you had to take more out, then you had to do this, then you had to do that… I think our students feel that way as well. They write a paragraph, and they really think it’s quite good about something that’s quite straightforward, and they find five or six red marks on it. They think, “Oh my gosh. If I wrote five paragraphs, how many mistakes will I have made?” They just don’t want to do it. It’s a very reasonable response. [Our program] makes writing feel like a more attainable goal to students and sets a realistic expectation, which ultimately helps them be happier human beings.

Explain to us the “five types of writing.”

Type 1 writing is capturing ideas. It’s particularly helpful in classrooms because when students are doing it, they’re all working — as opposed to many classrooms when we have a discussion to capture ideas and there’s usually just a small minority of the kids who are involved in the discussion. Type 1 writing gets everyone involved. It’s very easy to grade, it’s always timed to add energy, and there’s always a quota.

Type 2 writing is correct content. For example, if I want students to write an essay about science, I might ask a number of short questions about the content before they wrote the essay, to make sure they understood the content.

Type 3 has focus correction areas. So not only am I going to ask you to write an essay, but I’m going to ask you to write an essay that focuses on three skills.

Type 4: I’m not only going to ask you to focus on three skills, but I’m going to ask you to get a peer to review that essay with you — on those skills — so that another set of eyes has reviewed the paper before the teacher has to look at it.

Type 5 writing is the error-free writing — the writing that we all aspire to do. We usually have editors to help us get there.

Why is now the time to make your curriculum available digitally and specifically, through ONEder?

I’ve been working on this program and refining it. It’s my life’s work. Our program has expanded from the United States to Canada, and to Australia and beyond. When you’re passionate about something, you want to get the word out.

Over the last five to 10 years, when people have a question, they go online. To share this information with teachers — information which I know works effectively and I know will cut down on their work and help their students be happier — online has become the way to do it.

Dr. Collins has partnered with ONEder to make the Collins Writing Program curriculum available online on ONEder Academy, the nation’s leading blended curriculum suite!

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