The consensus is clear among all three Palo Alto middle schools: Students need to hone in on their writing skills during these crucial years. In every PAUSD middle school, principals are using the flexible funding they receive from PiE to bolster writing instruction and help students sharpen their ability to write clearly in all content areas, including math and science. But true to Palo Alto’s site-based approach, each school is taking a different path towards this same goal.
Terman: Using Data to Identify Students and Clarify Expectations for Writing
At Terman, the targeted focus on writing includes both teachers and students. The teachers begin by clarifying their expectations for student writing. Principal Pier Angeli La Place explains, “All our English teachers meet for three days to create a common grade-level assessment, which provides a consistent lens with which to evaluate student writing.”
In addition, Terman has been working with an educational consulting firm called West Ed to develop new procedures for gathering data about students that need additional support to reach standards in writing. As Principal La Place says, “Identifying these focal students early allows teachers to intervene through ‘re-teaching’ programs such as the Writing Center. Thanks to our funding from PiE, we can offer high quality after-school academic programs, which are staffed by credentialed teachers and instructional aids.”
Jordan: Expert Help in Writing Supports Students and Teachers
At Jordan, boosting students’ writing skills is a top priority for Principal Greg Barnes. Using Jordan’s PiE funds, Principal Barnes is working with Shirley Zimmerman, a highly experienced English teacher, to help both students and teachers expand capabilities. For students, Ms. Zimmerman is working 1:1 to provide detailed feedback on grammar and writing. For Jordan’s teachers, she is coming into the classroom to help with writing lessons and free teachers to work with individual students. Explains Principal Barnes, “Shirley’s wealth of experience and wisdom in writing instruction make her an invaluable resource to Jordan. Our flexible funding from PiE is instrumental in bringing her to our school.”
JLS: Writing Handbook Provides Common Standards and Conventions
At JLS, PiE funding is being used to provide students, parents and teachers with a shared understanding of writing expectations. As English teacher Kari Nygaard explains, “PiE funding was used to create the JLS Writing Handbook for students, which was one of the major initiatives last year.” The handbook, which includes writing conventions and standards as well as a collection of student writing samples, is being used a common reference for all JLS students this year.
As the students of today turn away from pen and paper to ipad and stylus, it’s tempting to believe that writing is losing its importance. But in fact the opposite is true, as students will continue to be asked to write in a meaningful way as they progress through high school and college. This investment in writing is helping prepare our children to express themselves clearly and correctly in whatever medium they use now…and in the future.