Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Write Stuff

This week I hit a double winner: the realization that spring break is just a few short days away and news that the results from the year-long (once per quarter) writing benchmarks are in and over 95% of my students have improved by at least one level.  While spring break did kind of creep up on me, the news of my students' improvement pleased me, but did not shock me.  I spent last year honing my students' narrative writing skills, but left the academic writing skills up to their content teachers.  By the end of the year, my students were able to craft entertaining narratives such as "How Ms. Ninja Found a Rich and Exotic Husband" and "A Day in the Life of Ms. Ninja's Dog" (complete with illustrations).  I chuckled over their narratives and marveled at their drawing skills (the dog in the story did strongly resemble my pug/beagle mix), but left for the summer knowing that I had in some way failed my students as their academic writing skills remained in need of improvement.

Determined to do something, I vowed to change things this year and created weekly academic writing tasks given in the form of homework assignments.  Much to my surprise, the majority of my students not only completed these assignments each week (even if they sometimes left the reading log portion of the assignment blank), when the writing task called on them to answer, Should Ms. Ninja continue to give writing assignments as homework?, the answer was an overwhelming yes.  The students backed up their opinions with reasons such as "I now find my social studies/math/science assignments easier to complete" and "I will need these types of writing skills when I become a nurse."  Here are some other writing tasks that students have completed this year:

  • Explain how to solve a math problem (using words).
  • Look at this diagram (the inside section) of a human body.  Use it to explain what happened to the pupusa that Ms. Ninja stole out of Jose's lunch bag and and ate for lunch.
  • Explain the step-by-step process involved in cooking your favorite food.  Remember to include a list of ingredients.  
  • Compare and contrast the qualities of two types of family pets
  • Think of a new activity that your school should offer.  Write a letter to your principal outlining your reasons for permitting this activity at school.
  • Look at this diagram of the water cycle and explain what happens to water at each stage.
  • Pretend that you are running for President of the United States.  Write a campaign speech outlining your top priorities.
  • The Ninja family earns $2,000 a month.  Analyze the list of potential monthly expenses and create a budget.  Remember to include reasons to justify your monetary decisions.

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