Authoring new plan; Paradise ISD launches writing initiative

Published Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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Writing His Story

WRITING HIS STORY – Paradise fifth grader Seth Payson works on a writing assignment in Karla Moore’s class last week. The district is requiring teachers to assign writing lessons in each class. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Thursday afternoon, Karla Moore’s fifth grade social studies class traveled back in time to 1773 to chronicle the Boston Tea Party for the daily newspaper.

“They can tell it from the point of view of a patriot or loyalist, or write about what King George thinks of the Boston Tea Party,” Moore said.

The social studies assignment is part of Paradise ISD’s new district-wide writing initiative. Students will be writing at least one paper in each class throughout the year, including math, science, social studies and physical education.

Sixth grade science teacher Amber Fletcher, who is part of the literacy team that drafted the district’s plan, said the aim is to improve students’ skills in a variety of areas through writing.

“We want to not only improve our writing, but also our kids’ listening, reading and speaking skills. It’s all intertwined,” Fletcher said.

“If we can improve our kids’ writing, that will also improve their reading and comprehension in every content area and not just for writing or reading class.”

The initiative was inspired by the results of Brockton High in Massachusetts. Under the leadership of Susan Szachowicz and with a focus on writing, the school went from seeing 75 percent of its students failing state tests in 1998 to more than 90 percent passing in 2014.

“That was our inspiration,” Fletcher said. “If they could turn around that much, surely it could improve us.”

Paradise ISD took it a step further, looking to implement the writing initiative at every grade level.

The literacy team of teachers from different subject areas on different campuses pulled resources from a variety of areas to develop a strategy. They also met with teachers to brainstorm on the things they were currently doing in class to improve reading comprehension.

“We had some good discussions just to show they actually do that in every content area,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Patti Seckman said it wasn’t hard to get teachers on board with the initiative. Fletcher pointed out the literacy team was not core reading or writing teachers.

“If we’re on board with this and see the importance, it’s easy to relay that to the other subject areas,” Fletcher said.

The district has allotted two-week periods throughout the year for certain subjects to make the writing assignments. Teachers are required to locate an article relevant to their topic of study during that window and then write a prompt to guide the paper.

All writing is done in class, starting with teachers presenting the prompt and leading students through organizing thoughts in graphics. Students then write the first rough draft before self-editing with the district’s grading rubric. They can then can do a rewrite of the paper.

All the writing is scored by a common grading system. All the papers will also go into the student’s folder for review and to show their growth as writers.

“The portfolio can travel with them to the teachers for the next year,” Fletcher said.

The students are graded on grammar and punctuation, the same as in English classes.

“You don’t just write well in English/language arts,” Seckman said.

Seckman added the focus of the initiative is not driven by results on the State of Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

“This is more life driven,” said Seckman, pointing out it will help students in a competitive job market.

Social studies was the first subject to give the assignment. Moore said her students always did a lot of writing in her classes because it helped with the comprehension of the material.

Paradise ISD teachers and administrators will be monitoring the progress of students and the program throughout the year.

“We hope everyone sees the importance of what we’re doing. This is the future,” Fletcher said. “They need to be able to speak well, understand and comprehend.

“I’m also the mother of a fifth and second grader. I’m excited to see how they do.”

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