As several classes have started taking the PARCC exams in English and math this week, I have been reflecting on an area of our program that many of our students find most challenging – writing. At a school where words and ideas matter, our curriculum emphasizes writing. We want students to see how all disciplines value writing and to help them to develop proficiency in writing for different purposes, in different genres, and for different audiences.
As early as fifth grade, students are pressed to use clear and specific language, craft increasingly complex sentences and begin to use textual evidence and quotes to support their ideas. Learning basic rules of grammar and practicing sentence diagramming enables them to “establish a baseline in the fundamentals.” The opportunities to write are varied, from essays based on close reading of primary source documents, to letters to politicians about policies that they would like to see change, to letters to writers asking them questions about their work to research papers. Essays grow increasingly complex as students get older, with the expectation that they will deepen their analysis and include more types of evidence, textual detail, and library research.
We also value narrative writing, encouraging students to write myths, personal narratives, poetry, and scripts. In theater class, students create original scenes, and students in English class often adapt scenes from books or plays or write new endings which they may act out in class. Poetry is an area of writing that students study and work on in several grades, and many students contribute their work to the school literary magazine, Open Mic. Some of our students are featured in My Voice Matters: Telling Our Stories and Making a Difference. This is an anthology of student writing published by the Washington D.C. chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. In several different grades students also write memoirs about their experiences as children and young adults, noting how vivid language and detailed setting can help make a story from their youth come alive.
At Washington Latin we value writing as a means of communication and self-expression. And we have seen our students respond favorably to the instruction they have received. One of our tenth graders won an essay contest that will enable her to spend almost three weeks in Greece this summer. I look forward to reading more great writing in the months and years ahead.
Follow me on twitter @WashLatinHOS. Beginning this week, I have started to tweet personal connections to the topics about which I write in the weekly Legenda letters. Tell me what you think!