“Your school was by far the most represented this year in our essay contest and the quality entries sent in were amazing,” was the message shared with me from my social studies colleague after learning one of our students earned second place in a very prestigious Maryland NACCP Black History Month writing contest.
In past years, the top award winners came mostly from private and charter schools. However, one public school made a statement on how much improvement is occuring with student writers with the adoption of the “constroversial” Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
The recent success is one of many writing awards students have earned this year at my middle school as teachers are beginning to develop writing stamina with middle school students. Actually, there was only one writing contest in which students entered that my school did not receive an award letter.
But…what’s the change that creating all the success?
In past years there was a stigma about writing only occurred in language arts classes. Even students would share with me how their teacher’s did not expect a “real essay,” only a paragraph or two. I would walk away infuriated because I knew my students were capable of so much more, but lanaguage arts teachers were the only one holding up these high expectations.
However, when the CCSS began to roll out and many of the social studies standards were reading and writing standards where students could apply their content towards. In an up roar, I heard social studies teachers complain about not having enough time to be teaching reading and writing in their content.
My argument was simple: Do we not all read in write in every class?
It might have been a forced relationship, but with a little counseling (collaboration) our work together has flourished.
Social Studies and Language Arts teachers are having conversations on styles of writing and how to incorporate social studies into literary and non-literary texts while writing strategies are becoming norms in social studies.
But…how did it start? What made my social studies counterpart turn the corner to focus on writing?
Partially my arrogance (admittedly), but I offered to utilize one of the social studies essay contest in my language arts classes. With minimal history knowledge, I did my homework and brought in primary documents (i.e., journals and newspaper clippings) and an interactive Ellis Island tour to build background knowledge of my students.
Already teaching voice, point of view, and perspective, I incorporated some of the writing lessons previously taught in the year to students.
Our school’s county level winner, published here on our class blog, went onto the state level and took top honors at the state level as well.
Success breeds success
Writing is becoming the norm in my classroom as well as my grade-level. At times, I needed to do some of the heavy lifting to get the ball rolling, but now writing is becoming more natural to all my students. Our class follows a modified version of Nancie Atwell’s writers workshop which we are still tweaking as we go.
In future years with students in grades six and seven learning a similar model, writing stamina in students is only going to continue to grow. Look for some amazing writing out of room B217, which can be found on our class blog at http://dorchesterpress.wordpress.com.