5 Westside schools seek to right their writing

       What's the best way to teach writing?
       Five Westside elementary schools have been meeting regularly this winter to iron out a standard of “best practices” they can all use, according to Terry Martinez, principal of Washington.
       The standard is to be in place by Friday, Feb. 17, when representatives from Washington, Bristol, Buena Vista, Pike and Whittier will get together to score papers in a first-time-ever, inter-school writing comparison.
       It's not as if the schools are that far apart, instructionally. As might be expected, all place importance on spelling, grammar and clear exposition. The question is how best to impart such information to kids, in ways that inspire them to take pen in hand.
       “Teachers don't always get a chance to share what they do outside their own buildings,” Martinez explained. “This (developing a standard) is helping us get the best practices out there.”
       The papers were being written this week. Students are composing personal narratives about “kindness,” Martinez said. The only limit is time - one hour for the first draft and another hour for revisions. (The rules for grades K-2 are less rigorous.)
       The scoring activity will be in the afternoon of the 17th, because students in District 11 go home at 12:30 that day. Kindergarten staff will meet at Buena Vista, first-grade at Pike, second-grade at Bristol, third-grade at Whittier and fourth- and fifth-grade at Washington.
       At each grade level, staff will be looking at four entries from each school - its best, a medium, a low and one that shows a need for special help.
       Putting poorer efforts in the mix should help spur ideas from different teachers about potential remedial efforts, Martinez said.
       There is a timely reason for the standards effort. According to Martinez, most Westside students have not scored highly in the writing category in the annual Colorado Student Achievement Program (CSAP).
       The general concept of a common writing standard grew out of the regular monthly meetings of Westside principals - including those at the five schools - this winter. Teachers and literary resource teachers (LRTs) are now working out the details, Martinez said.
       Another healthy offshoot of the effort, within his own school, will be to identify individual students who have writing difficulty as well as those who show promise, he said. During the one-hour time period set aside to write the first draft, he noticed that “it was tough for some kids, having to keep their focus for that amount of time. It's almost as if they have to build up their endurance.”
       Competition between the schools is inevitable in a scoring scenario such as the one Feb. 17 (even though it's not being called a contest and no prizes are going to the best writers). “But if we can up the (academic) ante as a result, that's good,” Martinez said.

Westside Pioneer article