"Good morning, boys and girls," you say, putting on a brave and cheerful face. "This morning we are going to write about ... "
Too late! You've already lost your students' interest. The groans have drowned you out! You're determined, however, so you press on.
"Do your best!" you prod the timid spellers, stalled by nearly every word.
"Organize your thoughts," you tell the most prolific, who write faster than they can think.
"Pay attention to your words, your voice, your audience, your sentence structure, your punctuation and capitalization," you remind them all.
"Oh, by the way, be creative. Have fun!"
Can there be, you wonder, any other area of the curriculum quite as difficult to teach as writing?
Certainly, no subject requires elementary school students to master as many skills and muster as much creativity as writing does. Nothing is more important to your students' ability to convey what they know in every other subject.
"Writing," according to California teacher Michelle Bergey, "is a hard subject to teach and very time-consuming, so it's often overlooked in a busy classroom. However, writing well provides fantastic benefits to students.
"A lot of research shows that students who are taught to write have a better vocabulary, develop better reading skills, and do better on standardized tests than students who are not taught to write well," Bergey explained.
Bergey, who teaches fifth grade at Twentynine Palms Elementary School, in Twentynine Palms, California, told Education World that teachers and administrators at her school decided to focus on student writing during the coming year. To prepare for that initiative, Bergey spent a summer creating a Web site she uses to teach writing to the school's fifth graders.
"My goal," Bergey said, "is to have more than enough material for the entire school year so our team can focus on quality instruction and delivery rather than on planning."
The result of Bergey's efforts is Ace Writing, a site that can make teaching writing easier than you ever imagined --and writing more fun than your students ever dreamed!
"The first step for me," Bergey told Education World, "was to take our district's writing rubric and standards and try to make them easier for students, parents, and teachers to understand."
To accomplish that goal, Bergey called on her "good friend" Professor Pen to lead visitors through the site --and through the intricacies of learning how to write. In the section How to Get an A in Writing, Professor Pen displays the district's writing rubric and thoroughly discusses the five areas of writing that Morongo Unified School District teachers consider as they determine student grades. The five areas are :
How to Get an A in Writing, which also includes activities and lessons to help students explore different writing styles, is the cornerstone of the Ace Writing site. Students learn the things they need to know to write well. The rest of the site is the filling --and the frosting --on the cake!
Bergey clearly knows that the work of teaching writing isn't done when students learn the basics. Recognizing a metaphor isn't the same as being able to write one. The ability to spell a word doesn't guarantee the ability to use it correctly. Refining basic skills takes practice, practice, practice --and a few additional tools as well. This site provides both.
In addition to the many activities scattered throughout the section on how to get an A, the site contains several additional sections, including:
The number and quality of the resources is so impressive that Education World asked Bergey how she had done it! "Resources?" Bergey laughed. "Wow! I checked out every possible book, workbook, and Web site I could get my hands on. I started by using our district standards to seek out resources about those topics. I then closed my eyes and imagined how I could present the subject matter in a way that is fun and interesting. I found the online resources by searching, linking, and book marking until I felt I had found the best possible sites."
Bergey isn't finished yet! She is also working on creating online quizzes as well as a question-and-answer forum called Professor Pen's Problem of the Day.
"I love using the Internet in the classroom," Bergey said. "It has so much potential for student learning! I have a pet peeve about the way the Internet is sometimes used, though. If all you're doing is displaying a book on a monitor, why bother? Why not just give kids a book?! So, when I work on anything for the Internet, I keep that in mind. I want to make it interesting for kids, not just put words on a screen."
The little things count. Every section of Bergey's site contains activities, links, tips, and tools to help students learn how to write. Every section contains lessons, links, activities, tips, and devices to help teachers teach students how to write. Put it together and Ace Writing contains enough material and activities to provide weeks and weeks and weeks of interesting and valuable writing lessons.
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