Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It's Writing Wednesday!

In California, The Palo Alto Unified School District is putting a great deal of focus on the teaching of writing:
According to representatives at the district-sponsored seminar, "The Teaching of Writing," on Feb. 2, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has made it a top priority to expand the writing program into the higher grade levels.

"Writing is one of those basic foundation skills that is essential to all of us as a communication tool in our lives," said Dr. Marilyn Cook, Associate Superindentent of Educational Services at PAUSD. "Writing is thinking made physical. It has to do with our wholeness as people, and that is why our curricular approach [to writing] is serious and thoughtful."

The new curricular method to teaching writing in PAUSD schools has been in development over the past few years and has already been implemented in the eleven Palo Alto elementary schools.

The approach relies on using a matrix that outlines certain requirements for particular grade levels, as well as forming close connections between writing and reading and creating more opportunities for students to receive feedback from teachers on their work. Recently, these techniques have been expanded into the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Currently, the district is planning to expand this method of teaching into the ninth and tenth grades as well.

"Our philosophy is that teachers need to help the students move through the process of writing," said Dr. Burton Cohen, Director of Secondary Education. "It [teaching writing] is not flipping a switch."

Throughout the seminar, the district representatives perpetually expressed a strong desire for current students to feel passionate about writing.

"We want our teachers and students to be going at writing with gusto," Cohen said.

"I have always loved writing and I want the younger generation to love it just as much," said Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Elementary Education.

The speakers also emphasized that writing would play an important role in the future of the younger generation as well.

"Given the speed with which this world is [changing], who knows what our children will face twenty years from now," said Cook.

"No language exists without culture," Cohen contributed. "It forms language and it keeps language dynamic, so it is important that our children have writing to reflect the culture that embodies them."

Parents at the seminar seemed impressed by the proposed curriculum. One parent raised her hand during the question and answer portion to comment on how much she appreciated the discussion.

"I wish I could have been taught to write this way when I was in school," she said. "I'm really happy that our children have so many benefits in their education."

The seminar was the second of three that have been going on at the PAUSD office in the past few weeks. All three address the new approach to teaching a core part of the curriculum, the first being on assessment, the second on writing, and the third on fostering social, emotional and physical health and resilience.
One of the things that I've noticed about the various writing curricula that's been used in our district is how the mechanics of good writing have been de-emphasized. It was as though some curricular mavens think that the writing of grammatically-correct sentences featuring good punctuation and spelling are not all that important.

I disagree. I believe that students need to have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of good writing in order to become effective communicators. But what do I know? As our district is constantly reminding us, through their actions if not their words, I'm just a teacher.

It is in the spirit of effective communication that we offer
this handy list of 90 commonly misspelled words from the district's website.
See our latest education-related posts right here.