Writing is a skill. Students learn how to write by writing. Teachers shape that learning by sharing techniques and strategies. That shaping process is most effective when the timing is right and the suggestions are directed at specific writing samples.
At Andes Central School this year, we are making a concentrated effort to improve our students’ writing. The District has instituted a school-wide initiative that asks teachers to work on a specific writing form every week. In addition, each week we focus on a different writing skill that youngsters can embed in their writing sample.
Here’s how it works. During the month of September the focus is on Personal writing. Personal narrative was the focus during the second and third weeks of school. Students learned how to write personal essays during the final week in September. The targeted school-wide writing skills during the month were using sensory details, “showing not telling”, and using the rule of three.
To assure uniformity in instructional approach, teachers work from a handbook published by Write Source. Writing tasks are not limited to English classes. Teachers in several disciplines are asked to share the load.
The first week’s assignment addressed personal narrative related to mathematics. In a personal narrative, writers re-create an incident that happens to them over a short period of time. The writing task asks Andes youngsters to consider an experience that had something to do with mathematics, an interesting classroom experience or, perhaps, something to do with numbers, time, money, or one of the properties of math.
I thought it might be fun to publish some student work samples. The first assignments served as a baseline covering the entire range from immature to well developed. The students were serious about their work and have established a starting point to measure future improvements
Kelsey Little – Grade Six
I walked into the Salon saying goodbye to my long hair. She washed it then… Snip! Snap! Off came 14” of thick golden brown hair. I felt as light as a feather as I peered into the mirror. She gave me the hair as I started crying, but I felt good to be giving my hair to Locks of Love, an organization that uses donation of hair to make wigs for cancer patients.
I saved my hair to give later at the fair. I found out there, that I had given 14 inches of hair. Everyone around me was getting their hair cut off one braid at a time.
One girl gave about 16 inches of hair and still had about 19 inches left. Friends were cutting each others hair together. A guy had about 11 inches, so they just gave him a buzz-cut. Altogether we got about 300 yards of hair. I am grateful I gave my hair to Locks of Love!
By Hattie Brown, Grade Ten
Staring at a blank page of equations, formulas, and exponents, I felt a feeling of utter frustration as I realized I had been sitting for nearly half an hour and not written a thing. In my mind, math was simply a useless class. English was my real interest. I wrote the essays, did the research, read the books, and was an active participant in the class discussions. I figured if I just passed math class that would be enough. And, that was the beginning of what was soon to be the worst year of math ever experienced.
One afternoon I walked into Ms. Scinta’s seventh period math class to find the test I had taken the day before on my desk. My hand touched the paper, and as I was turning it over in my clammy palms, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a 54. I had thought that my eyes had just been playing tricks on me… until disaster!
The earth literally moved. I felt a dry feeling in my throat and every blood vessel in my head about to pop. I was Mount Vesuvius about to erupt onto the people of Pompeii. There was a storm brewing in me, and shortly afterwards I heard there was some flooding in the area. These things just don’t happen to me.
For the next few weeks, I was a math machine. I studied religiously. Variables and expressions, trigonometry and polygons, it all meant one thing, and that was: Math is the Bane of My Existence. Although that was my feeling for quite some time, I had made progress.
When the test time came, I was a complete train wreck. I was traveling back in time, feeling the same way I did on the very first day of kindergarten. Stomach feeling nauseous, legs sticking together from being covered in sweat, wishing my mother was there. Finally, I took the bull by the horns, calmed myself down, and took my test. The result: a 97.
Nowadays, I take my math tests without the nausea, sweat, and thinking of my mother.
Jennifer Daly, Grade Twelve
Every year, when the new school year approaches, I get to do the one thing that makes going back to school a little bit better, go shopping for new school clothes. For the most part, I enjoy looking at all the cool new styles and trying on a bunch of different outfits. However, there’s always one thing that never fails to happen. All the pants are too long for short people like me!
The fact that the pants are too long only makes work because half the time you can’t just cuff them up at the bottom because it looks weird and they don’t stay that way, so you actually have to tailor and hem them.
This one school year, I had quite a few pairs that needed this done. I hauled out the heavy but “portable” sewing machine and started measuring my pants. After I made sure I had them all measured to the appropriate lengths I began cutting off the extra fabric. I cut and cut until I reached my last pair.
As I went to cut the first leg, I didn’t realize I had left the pant leg folded over and snip, I cut the bottoms of my pants off. The fabric floated to the ground and, then, suddenly, I realized what I had done. I felt my face heat up and turn red. I couldn’t believe I had just done that.
Luckily, it wasn’t folded over too much so I was able to finish the pair without the legs looking too short. Then I had to put pin after pin in them. I poked myself with the prickly pin points several times before I was done. Then I got out the iron. I plugged it in and let it heat up. As I licked my finger and tapped it on the iron to see if it was hot, it made a sizzling sound and I knew it was ready.
I ironed a crease at the bottom of each leg and then I was ready to start sewing. As I touched my foot to the bumpy foot pedal, the sewing machine began to whir and I was off and going. As I worked under the glow of the sewing machine light, I continued to sew pants, occasionally stopping to switch the thread color from denim blue to jet black to brown. After many pairs of pants, I was finally done.
Even though I had measured correctly it didn’t mean anything if I didn’t start in the right place. Cutting the pair of pants wrong taught me to not only have the correct measurement but to also measure carefully, making sure to catch my little mistakes before I turned them into bigger mistakes.