Writing: A College-Ready Skill
By Janet Price
ISA Senior Director of Programs
Writing is a vital skill in most workplaces in the U.S. Yet according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report on writing, only about 27 percent of 8th and 12th grade students in the U.S. are writing at the “proficient” level. Often, bright students with high academic achievement struggle with writing and don’t get sufficient practice with it in the classroom.
One school was facing this very problem – bright students who couldn’t perform at grade level in writing.
The school principal decided it was time to do something to support better writing skills for students, so they could graduate prepared for university studies. He began working with ISA coach Carlton Jordan on a plan to increase writing practice across all content areas and grade levels. By combining course content with writing exercises, students could get more concrete practice with the basics of writing without being drilled in grammar or losing other valuable learning experiences.
The program launched in January, and the remaining half of the school year involved an intense series of writing exercises, from assigned essays to “exit tickets” – brief written pieces reflecting on the work done in class that day to help students get used to writing in an informal, no-pressure environment. Each month, one content area was chosen as the “anchor” for each grade level team, so that each discipline got an equal amount of focus.
Grade level teacher teams were essential to the execution of the writing program. Teachers coordinated their curricula, supported each other, and made decisions as a group to best serve their students. This system allowed for more personalized and synthesized work without the need for the principal and other administrators to impose top-down management.
Each content area varied the style of writing that was required. For example, language arts classes would focus on reading responses to literature or nonfiction, whereas social studies courses would focus on data-based questions, requiring students to look at a variety of primary and secondary sources and use the information to support a thesis in an essay.
At the end of the half-year intensive program, student scores on the PARCC tests had improved considerably. The school is now working on implementing a year-long program to reduce the level of work intensity while maintaining positive outcomes.
The program is evidence of how casual and continual exposure to necessary skills makes it easier for students to approach topics without mental and emotional drawbacks. When good teachers are given the tools and support to help their students succeed, everyone wins.