California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
According to researcher Douglas Reeves, writing improves reading comprehension and student performance in several academic areas, including social studies, science, and mathematics. He also asserts writing, particularly when paired with analysis, editing, and rewriting, will improve students’ abilities to communicate and succeed on state and local writing tests.1
The California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) requires all students to demonstrate their writing ability. As a result, the middle grades become a gateway for preparing students with the writing skills they need to succeed in high school and beyond. The seventh-grade writing proficiency results from the California Standards Test provide eighth-grade teachers with an important tool for assessing student progress and targeting strategies intended to bring students up to grade-level proficiency before the transition to high school.
The Web-based project, 826, seeks to improve writing skills for middle grades learners.
The 826 Valencia is a Web-based project dedicated to supporting sixth through twelfth grade writing skills in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 826 Valencia's Student Writing Gallery includes samples of student writing in English and Spanish. The 826LA provides a variety of free programming for students ages 6–18, designed to
challenge and enchant while strengthening writing skills in the Los Angeles area. The 826 National is a Web site dedicated to helping students, ages 6-18, with expository and creative writing at seven locations across the country.
To help teachers improve student writing, the Alliance for Excellent Education released a report titled Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools. It calls for effective writing instruction in middle and high schools. The report describes 11 components of a schoolwide writing program that will help students learn to be effective writers:
Rancho Cucamonga Middle School, Cucamonga Elementary School District, is a 2006 On the Right Track school
After only five students passed the seventh-grade writing proficiency test in 2002, teachers at Rancho Cucamonga developed what they called a “writing wheel” to help students learn writing skills and prepare for the seventh-grade writing proficiency test. In addition to regular classroom instruction in writing, three times a year the seventh-grade team devoted a two-day block to the writing wheel that covered persuasive essays, expository writing, and response to literature. They divided the seventh-grade class into two sections. Half of the class spent the first day on the multipurpose writing wheel, where teachers helped students learn a new genre. The other half of the seventh graders spent the day in mathematics projects and remediation.
In the morning, all the students working on the writing wheel received direct instruction in writing techniques related to one genre, such as expository writing or fictional critique. In the afternoon, the students used the techniques they learned that morning to write a paragraph.
The next day the student groups switched so that those who received mathematics remediation the previous day had their turn to learn the writing strategies. In the afternoon, the students returned to their individual language arts classes for intense guided practice. Teachers developed recipes so that students could follow an easy-to-remember formula for each genre of writing. The writing wheel is not an elective.
The teachers at Rancho Cucamonga found that the collegial dialogues and shared teaching of writing helped all of them to reinforce key writing skills in all subject areas throughout the year.
Santa Cruz County Office of Education
The Santa Cruz County Office of Education conducts yearly staff development sessions on the writing program, Step Up to Writing.
The Step Up To Writing strategies support standards-based, state-adopted writing programs already in place in our local schools. These user-friendly strategies remove writing barriers as well as de-mystify the writing process for all students. The Internet provides many examples of Step Up to Writing materials. For example, a poster that includes science writing tips was posted by
PS3—a project that grew out of the Bay Area Schools for Excellence in Education (BASEE).
Wiseburn Elementary School District
Working with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the Wiseburn Elementary School District staff created the Seventh Grade Response to Literature Writing Rubric. The five-point rubric helps students and teachers see expected proficiency levels for conventions, word choice and sentence fluency, and ideas and organization. The attached rubric includes a chart for teachers to list student scores. During professional development exercises, teachers discuss exemplars showing how an essay was scored by a team of teachers.
English language arts instruction
English language development (ELD)
1Douglas B. Reeves, Reason to Write: Help Your Child Succeed in School and in Life Through Better Reasoning and Clear Communication. New York: Kaplan Publishing, 2002, 3.
2Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools (PDF; Outside Source), Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007, 4-5.
Back to Top
California Department of Education
1430 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814