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Debra Wade, Mollie Fisher and Brenda Clark, from left, are using a new writing strategy for seventh-graders.
July 10, 2012
DALLAS -- You remember those writing assignments -- the ones that you thought were brilliant when you turned them in, but they came back from the teacher riddled with red pen marks and a less-than-stellar grade.
Perhaps you took your teacher's comments to heart, or maybe you tucked the paper in your notebook in disappointment.
Last school year, LaCreole Middle School seventh-graders were part of a pilot writing project using less dreaded red pen and more individual attention to teach writing -- and not a minute too soon. In 2014, Oregon will introduce a more difficult assessment students will be required to pass.
Dallas School District's literacy committee, created to evaluate new writing and reading instructional methods, began looking into the issue this year.
With less than half of the students at the middle school meeting writing standards, that is no simple task
Juli Ann Lindemann
"Our kids already weren't meeting the current assessments, and in two years there was going to be harder assessments," said Juli Ann Lindemann, a seventh-grade teacher and member of the literacy committee. "We had to re-evaluate everything we did.
"And it's not just us," she continued. "I would say this is a nationwide concern."
Lindemann and fellow teacher Debra Wade attended a conference last winter on a teaching strategy using rubrics -- brief descriptions of skills necessary to pass an assessment -- and teacher-student individual instruction.
With each assignment, students were given a rubric explaining what was expected. Teachers used the same rubric to grade, using the terms "redo," "nearly meets," "meets" or "exceeds" instead of traditional letter grades.
Four seventh-grade literacy teachers -- Lindemann, Wade, Mollie Fisher and special education teacher Brenda Clark -- began using the method second semester.
The teachers found using the strategy, especially the rubrics, brought clarity to lessons and grading.
"Rubrics are simple, concise instruction," Wade said. "They really focused their (students') work on all levels."
Both teachers said knowing exactly what was expected helped motivate students.
Logan Wolfe, who was in Lindemann's class, noted writing wasn't his favorite subject, but he said second semester writing class was better than any before.
"We did a lot more going through the steps and that made it easier to understand what we had to do," he said.
Classmate Cody Janssen said he had been earning A's before second semester, but liked the new teaching methods.
"They helped me for next year," he said. "I felt like I was becoming a better writer and getting ready for eighth grade."
Wolfe said he, too, improved his grades and now feels that writing can be fun -- at times.
"I like it more," he said. "It's a lot easier and less of a task."
In addition, instead of letting comments written on assignments perhaps go unread, the teachers used one-on-one conferences to talk about assignments.
The results? A clear success, according to the teachers.
Seventh-grade writing assessment scores improved from 38 percent meeting or exceeding standards in the fall to 60 percent in the spring. In addition, one writing class was left unchanged as a "control class." The pilot classes had 68 percent of students meet or exceed standards compared to 28 percent of the control class.
Wade said given the amount of work and research used developing the method, she was not surprised by the success.
"We had high expectations and they just came through," she said.
"I think any student who participated in the pilot left better writers than they came in," Lindemann added.
This fall, the strategy will be introduced in sixth- and eighth-grade classes where the hope is to improve upon what has already been achieved.
Lindemann added it wasn't just the students who benefited.
"I was a much better teacher," she said. "I feel like we have a clearer direction than we've had for a long time... I think we have finally found a good way to teach writing."