Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Writing Matters for Middle School

There's been recent concern about middle schoolers and writing, especially boys, and what schools can do under some of the real and difficult conditions they face. One nonprofit has created a program it thinks will help middle schoolers, especially boys, with writing and teachers with the teaching of writing. Writing Matters promises an engaging interactive curriculum that uses humor and models to help middle schoolers with their writing and professional development for teachers to help schools keep up a consistent program of best practices even under difficult conditions.

At the Writing Matters website, you can take a guided tour through the features. The program is based on three specific challenges in education: how to engage middle schoolers at a time when performance tends to drop; how to engage boys in writing, especially as boys continue to be less likely to meet state writing standards than girls; and how to prepare teachers to effectively teach writing especially as schools experience rapid teacher turnover. An important part of using Writing Matters is the professional development offered. Teachers are offered a one-day workshop that addresses the writing process and the most effective use of Writing Matters in the classroom. Literacy specialists and coaches take a multi-day workshop.

Writing Matters basically has four components:
  • Eight writing genre study units that are research-based and address specific genres of writing, like editorials, test prep, and responding to literature. The units are "developed by nationally-recognized author-educators," like Georgia Heard for poetry and Heather Latimer for short fiction and memoir. Each genre contains multiple mini-lessons on craft and mechanics specific to the genre and the writing process in general.
  • Animated Story-Based Lessons are a second component. These are meant to make the abstractions of the writing process more concrete through modeling and humor. Two students, DD and JT, model the thinking process and ways to approach writing projects, specific challenges and concepts.
  • The Interactive Online Writing Room is a place where student writers at any part of their process can get peer and teacher feedback. Each student can develop a portfolio that can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. It's a collaborative environment also and includes tools for teachers to track student progress.
  • The Class Publishing Tool is a class e-zine where student writing can be published. Teachers design the e-zine and decide whether to keep it private or allow other classes to also access the e-zine.
There's a guided tour at the Writing Matters website but it has no controls, so you can't pause, rewind or fast forward. The Program Overview page is pretty informative and has links to demo lessons and clips of animated lessons.

I'd love to hear from teachers using Writing Matters or who have experience with it.

SOURCE: "Program Overview" 2007
SOURCE: "Guided Tour" 2007
photo: screencapture from the Writing Matter's Guided Tour

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