Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Write from the Beginning

Years and years ago I taught students with learning disabilities at a year-round public school in California. The majority of the students (administrators and staff, also) were Armenian, and those who were not Armenian were Latino. Very, very few were Caucasian or spoke English as their first language. The school's language arts program for all students was an English-as-a-second-language curriculum. Most of my students were first generation Americans or had newly arrived from their years-long escape from Iran or Iraq. They were the hardest working students I have ever had.


The district's main focus that year was writing. We were all trained in a series of inservice days to use a program called Write from the Beginning. Each grade level was given specific skills to address, specific types of writing to learn, and by Christmas even the youngest students had the rubrics memorized. Writing became the focus in all subject areas. Even kindergarteners were creating brainstorm maps, spider maps, and flow maps, and then writing three-sentence narratives. By fourth grade five-paragraph essays were written weekly in all subjects. Sixth graders were writing full-on researched reports. I knew it was a good curric and that I would want to use it again someday, so I kept my notes.


I've been staring at this curriculum binder on my bookshelf for years now. When should I begin with E? With e? Now? Later? What age would be best? In the end I decided E's zoology block would lend itself well to this kInd of lesson, and he seemed finally ready. You've seen the spider maps I've had him do:

This time I took it beyond a paragraph. I showed him how to write a flow map from the spider map, including topic sentences, transitions, and conclusions. From that flow map, we got this:

Boom. He is on his way to a five paragraph essay. Wait long enough, and they almost teach themselves. :)


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